“Live Long” With Healthier Chinese New Year Food Alternatives

06 February 2024
Happy multigenerational family enjoying Chinese New Year dinner together.

Enjoying a Chinese New Year meal with your family. Photo by Envato Elements:

Chinese New Year in Malaysia is a vibrant celebration of family, tradition, and, of course, food. From the colourful yee sang to the bubbling steamboat, every dish carries a layer of symbolism and cultural significance. But amidst the celebratory feasts, it's easy to forget that some of these beloved dishes can be detrimental when it comes to health. This year, let's embrace the spirit of the new year with a twist – by incorporating healthier alternatives into our cherished Chinese New Year food. We can truly “live long" and enjoy the festivities guilt-free.

Yee Sang

The iconic yee sang, a vibrant salad symbolising prosperity and abundance, often comes with preserved vegetables and raw salmon slices. This year, let's replace the preserved radish, carrot, and turnip with their fresh counterparts. Shredded lettuce, vibrant purple cabbage, and crunchy capsicums add a burst of colour and essential vitamins. Don't forget the power of fresh herbs like mint and cilantro – they not only enhance the flavour but also provide a boost of antioxidants. Fruits such as oranges and strawberries are a delicious addition to the yee sang.


The steaming broth of a Chinese New Year steamboat is a magnet for family and friends. But skip the store-bought soup cubes and instead, create your own recipe with a homemade broth simmered with soybeans, anchovies, or even chicken bones. This adds depth of flavour while reducing sodium and unwanted chemicals. Ditch the processed fish balls and imitation crab sticks. Instead, choose unprocessed seafood such as fresh prawns, scallops, and squid. Don’t forget the vegetables! Fill your steamboat with leafy greens, mushrooms, and colourful bell peppers for a nutrient-rich feast. For meat lovers, opt for lean cuts like chicken breast or fish fillets, and even tofu – a versatile protein source packed with plant-based goodness.

Nian Gao

The sticky nian gao that symbolises prosperity and rising fortunes is traditionally deep-fried. This year, give it a healthier twist by steaming it instead. The result? A fluffy, slightly sweet treat that's just as delicious but significantly lighter on your digestive system. You can even add flavours by adding some shredded coconut on top for the fragrance and a hint of saltiness.

Chinese New Year snacks

Instead of succumbing to the lure of store-bought Chinese New Year cookies and snacks, laden with sugar and preservatives, why not whip up your own to impress your friends and family? Bake a batch of almond cookies with less, less sugar, or try your hand at homemade oatmeal cookies with brown sugar. The satisfaction of creating your own treats is unparalleled, and you'll know exactly what ingredients went in – a win-win for your health and taste buds.


Dumplings, little pockets of joy filled with savoury goodness, are a Chinese New Year staple. This year, skip the deep-frying and steam them instead. The simple and delicate flavours shine through, and you'll be surprised at how satisfying they can be without the oil. You can also make them with vegan fillings like a mixture of chopped vegetables and mushrooms.


While munching on peanuts and sunflower seeds is a Chinese New Year tradition, there are healthier alternatives for the nut-lovers. Edamame beans, boiled and lightly salted, offer a satisfying crunch without the heaty oils and high fat content that you’d usually find in packed dried snacks. Roasted chickpeas are also good for you, they are a protein powerhouse with a delicious nutty flavour.

Soft Drinks

Sweetened beverages are often the go-to drink during Chinese New Year, but this year, try not to touch the sugary sodas. Use sparkling water for the fizz (minus the sugar) and add a splash of freshly squeezed citrus juice, berries or any chopped fruits of your liking for a natural sweetness and antioxidant boost. Your taste buds and your body will thank you in the future.

Dried meat (Bak Kwa, Lap Cheong)

Instead of relying on dried meats like the flavourful bak kwa and lap cheong, often high in oil, sugar, and preservatives, consider a healthier alternative. Opt for a mix of dried meat and minced meat, or even better, use only real meat when cooking your Chinese New Year dishes. This not only reduces your intake of unhealthy additives but also ensures you're getting the protein and nutrients your body needs.

Care for your health while enjoying Chinese New Year

Although Chinese New Year is a time for celebration, it can also be a time to take simple steps so that we don’t have the post-CNY food regret! By making small, conscious changes to our Chinese New Year feast, we can embrace the spirit of the new year with a healthier outlook. So, this year, let's fill our plates with vibrant vegetables, lean proteins, and homemade treats.

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