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How to Have a Healthy and Flourishing Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year falls on February 10th, the Year of the Wood Dragon.

Also known as Spring Festival, it’s the most important holiday of the year among Chinese communities and many East Asian populations.

According to the 2021 Census for England and Wales, the population of the Asian and Asian British ethnic groups had multiplied from 7.5% (4.2 million) to 9.3% (5.5 million) of the overall population in 10 years. It has been shown that the largest Chinese community in the UK (33%) is concentrated predominantly in London (Office for National Statistics, 2022), which makes the city the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia.

Various events will take place such as fireworks displays, parades, performances (including the traditional dragon dance!), and plenty of food stalls.

The festival is celebrated by gathering with family and friends and typically an array of traditional dishes to symbolise good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.

Though the customs may differ in every region (or even household), some common dishes could commonly be found on every feast. 

This article will guide you through different food customs and traditions associated with the Lunar New Year festival and offer you healthy eating tips to help set you up for a nutritious year ahead.

Traditional and Yummy Foods to Ring in the New Year of The Dragon!

A reunion dinner is usually held on New Year’s Eve when the entire family gathers to exchange good wishes. Let’s take a look at some traditional foods with lucky sayings that are enjoyed to bring good fortune to the year ahead. The Chinese names, appearance, or preparation methods of these celebratory dishes symbolise various blessings such as happiness, auspiciousness, luck, longevity, and wealth.

  • Whole Fish – Increased prosperity and luck

The pronunciation of ‘fish’ is ‘yu’ which sounds similar to ‘surplus’ in Chinese. When fish is eaten, it is believed to bring plenty of food and money to the family for the coming year. It is important to leave some leftovers of the fish for the following day, as this signifies that the prosperity will overflow. The fish is also typically served with the head and tail intact, which is believed to ensure a flourishing beginning and end for the coming year.

  • Whole Chicken – Good luck

Chicken sounds like ‘luck’ and ‘family’ in Chinese. Like with fish, 

serving the chicken whole is significant to represent family unity and togetherness, as well as offering the family blessings of good health and fortune.

  • Shrimp – Happiness

The word ‘shrimp’ is pronounced like laughter in Cantonese.

It is commonly incorporated into New Year’s meal to signify liveliness, joy, and happiness. It is believed that the more shrimp you eat (within reason of course!), the happier your new year is likely to be.

  • Dumplings – Wealth

The shape of dumplings resembles ancient golden or silver ingots, which bring wealth and amass fortune for the year ahead.

  • Longevity Noodles – Longevity

Longevity noodles symbolise blessings for longevity. They are made longer than everyday noodles and served uncut, representing a long and happy life.

  • Niangao (Glutinous Rice Cake) – Success

Niangao is made with glutinous rice flour. Since its name is a homonym for ‘getting higher’ and ‘year’, it is considered that this sticky sweet treat symbolises progress, success, growth, and advancement in business, work, or study.

  • Tangyuan (Sweet Rice Balls) – Family Reunion and Togetherness

These chewy, sweet rice balls are made with glutinous rice flour. They are usually stuffed with milled black sesame, red bean paste, or crushed peanuts and can be served in a hot broth or syrup. Also, they are traditionally associated with family reunions and togetherness due to their round shape and pronunciation of the name ‘tangyuan’,

  • Kumquat (Tangerines) – Prosperity and Good Fortune

Kumquat is a homonym of ‘luck’ in Chinese so they are often displayed or eaten during Chinese New Year to bring good fortune throughout the year. Similar to other citrus fruits, their bright orange colour resembles the colour of golden ingots, so people often connect them with renewed prosperity.

Healthier Alternatives and Simple Swaps to Celebrate the Festival 

Lunar New Year holds immense significance for those who celebrate it with many customs and traditions. It is a time for families to gather and enjoy seasonal treats to wish each other good health, prosperity, happiness, and luck. However, for some people, they might have specific health goals so here are a few suggestions to keep being healthy whilst enjoying your favourite festive goodies!

Dumplings are typically filled with a combination of minced meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped in a thin and tender dough skin. They can be pan-fried, steamed, and boiled to people’s preference.

  • Try to opt for boiled or steamed dumplings as there will be less oil so much better for heart health.

  • If you are making dumplings from scratch at home, try mixing a bigger portion of veggies into your fillings which can help add extra fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

  • For the protein content, choose lean meat, or substitute with diced shrimp for lower calories and saturated fat.

Longevity noodles can be either fried or boiled with hot and simple broth.

  • Opt for wholewheat noodles for extra fibre (fibre is great for gut health, satiety, and better blood glucose levels).

  • Try to add more vegetables on top of your noodles, such as pak choi, bean sprouts, or Chinese cabbage.

  • Choose boiled noodles over fried versions. Experiment with homemade broth with a low-salt stock, herbs, spices, a lean source of protein (such as shrimp and skinless chicken breast), and vegetables.

Fish is usually steamed whole, served with drizzles of soy sauce, and topped with ginger, chili, and spring onions.

  • White fish such as cod is a great source of lean protein which can help with weight management and fullness levels.

  • Opt for low-salt soya sauce.

  • You could also reduce the amount of salt by using more herbs or spices (chili, green onions, coriander, scallion, and ginger) to enrich flavours without adding extra salt.

A red and gold candy box is usually filled with different treats and sweets during Chinese New Year; such as roasted nuts, pistachios, candied fruits and vegetables (lotus roots, coconut wedges, winter melons), peanut candy, and chocolate wafers.

  • Try to reduce your servings of sweet foods and maybe just have one of your favourites.

  • Enjoy some fresh fruits as desserts or snacks as well.

  • Try to limit foods that are high in salt. Substitute with unsalted nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, almonds, and Brazil nuts. They contain mostly unsaturated fats and are much better for your heart health.

Top Take-Home Tips for Healthy Eating During Chinese New Year

  1. Ensure not to skip meals or "save your calories" for the celebratory meal. You may end up overeating as you'll be so hungry and with so much yummy and tempting food, it will be more difficult to control your food choices! Perhaps bring along high-fibre and low-fat snacks such as fruits or oat cakes.

  2. Experiment with serving your meals on a smaller plate or bowl as this may help with weight management goals if this is important to you.

  3. Where possible, prepare and cook food with less oil, salt, and sugar.

  4. Be mindful of your sweet foods, such as niangao, tangyuan, chocolates, sweets, and biscuits - could you challenge yourself to simply enjoy one or two?

  5. Drink plenty of water or choose coffee, tea, no added sugar squash, or diet soft drinks over sweetened beverages.

  6. Also, be mindful of your alcohol intake - perhaps try alternating between a favourite alcoholic drink and a diet soft drink (or sparkling water).

Let’s leap into the year of the dragon with enjoyment and mindful eating! Happy Lunar New Year 🐉

When it comes to celebrations such as New Year's, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and maybe even the lead-up to (your) wedding, do you feel anxious about what there will be to eat and you'll "fall off the wagon"? If so, you might be restricting your dietary choices too much. How would it feel to have a more sustainable approach and one that is balanced? Book your free 15 minute discovery call to find out how I can help.

This article was written and edited by Mei Wan ​FdSc, BSc (Hons), RD, MBDA, an HCPC Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist; and Geri Woo, Registered Dietitian, supported with sourcing the information.


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