Whether your family actively celebrates CNY or not, I think we can all agree that CNY snacks are always the best. Unfortunately, while we all love eating them, this deliciousness comes at a terrible price.
“Hmm… I wonder why I can’t wear these anymore,” I would think as I struggled to fit into a pair of jeans that used to fit perfectly fine before CNY.
To make matters worse, I was recently diagnosed with diabetes, which means that the vast majority of CNY snacks are now on my “do not eat” list. However, just because I can’t eat all these traditional snacks doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy my family reunion!
To help out anyone else who might be concerned about their health this CNY, I’ve listed healthier alternatives to some of the most popular CNY snacks that you might find on your own dinner table:
1) Pineapple Tarts
No CNY celebration is complete without a plate (or more) of pineapple tarts! Pineapples have been considered lucky for centuries because of their golden colour as well as their name (‘ong lai’ sounds similar to the word ‘auspicious’).
However, pineapple tarts themselves are a relatively recent invention. Back when Malaysia was covered in rubber estates, pineapples would be grown alongside rubber trees. With such a huge supply of fresh pineapples, the Peranakans began experimenting with new ways of cooking them — resulting in the pineapple tarts that we all still love and enjoy to this day.
They may be delicious, but each pineapple tart can contain up to 82 calories!
The most unhealthy part of this snack is, well, the pastry bit. If you just take out all that butter and sugar, the pineapple itself is still a perfectly delicious treat — and healthy, to boot. If you’re not a fan of raw pineapple, you can always grill it with honey and lime to create a wonderfully sweet and juicy snack.
But if you’re too busy to get on the griddle, you can get some freeze dried pineapple so that you can enjoy the tangy taste without any of the guilt.
2) Bak Kwa
Who doesn’t love Bak Kwa?
Considered a Hokkien dish, Bak Kwa is believed to have originated from a time when meat was a rare delicacy that was only eaten during special occasions. During this period, any leftover meat would be carefully preserved by slicing them into thin sheets and marinating them with a combination of sugar and spices.
Later on, this dish would be brought over to Malaysia by immigrants. They adapted it to local tastes by grilling the meat over charcoal rather than air-drying it, thus giving Bak Kwa the distinctive smokier flavour that we all know and love.
Just one is never enough — which can be a problem considering that every single Bak Kwa square is packed full of sugar and calories!
If you’re trying to watch your weight, try satisfying your meat cravings with grilled chicken instead.
I know, I know. “It’s not the same!” You cry out in agony. But give it a try and you might be surprised at how good it is. You can even copy the candied taste of Bak Kwa by marinating the chicken in a honey based sauce before putting it on the grill. That way, you can enjoy the same great taste without all the added salt, sugar or fat.
3) Kuih Bangkit
Made from a combination of tapioca flour and coconut milk, Kuih Bangkit is a traditional Nyonya treat that has found itself on many CNY tables over the years.
The name “bangkit” (meaning “rise”) comes from the fact that these cookies will rise during the baking process. Originally, Kuih Bangkit were made in the shape of currency, but over time they’ve evolved into the animal and flower shapes that we all know and love. Sometimes, sesame seeds are sprinkled on them to represent fertility.
Unfortunately, all the ingredients that make this kuih so satisfying — tapioca rice flour, coconut cream and sugar — are high in saturated fats. Taking one or two may be alright, but if you overindulge on this delicious treat, you may soon find your waistline expanding!
For those seeking a less fatty kuih to snack on, consider stocking up on oatmeal cookies instead. They may not have the same melt-in-your-mouth texture, but oats are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. They can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, making them the perfect treat for anyone who might be concerned about their health.
Ah, nuts. They taste so good, yet disappear so fast. If you’ve attended a CNY gathering before, you’ll know how popular peanuts can be.
Traditionally speaking, peanuts are believed to represent longevity and good fortune. This is because the word for peanut (“huasheng”), sounds similar to “sheng”, which means giving birth (don’t ask me, I don’t make the rules here). As such, eating lots of peanuts is meant to represent the wish of having many children.
Normally, peanuts are a perfectly fine and healthy thing to eat. Unfortunately, nowadays a lot of peanut snacks often come loaded with salt and sugar, which kind of defeats the purpose.
If you can’t roast your own peanuts, consider trying a healthier alternative such as edamame instead. These are fun to pop out of their little pods, but the best part is that they’re packed with all sorts of nutrients such as calcium, iron, Vitamin C and more.
5) Yee Sang
What kind of CNY celebration would it be without Yee Sang? A very sad one, that’s what.
Yee Sang (also known as Lou Sang, Yu Sheng, Lou Hei, etc.) is basically the Chinese version of a salad with raw fish. Seriously, I know it sounds gross, but it is actually really good.
Nowadays there are a billion different varieties of Yee Sang (we’ve even made a list of the best ones in KL!), but the original Yee Sang was created in Seremban back in the 1940s by a man named Loke Ching Fatt.
What? Replace Yee Sang? What blasphemy is this?!
Seriously though, while the fish and all the different vegetables may be healthy, the plum sauce and oil adds far too many calories to be comfortable. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Just cut down on the oil, swap out the plum sauce with something like maple syrup and boom! A perfectly safe and fine Yee Sang that everyone can enjoy, guilt-free.
However, if your relatives insist on having a traditional Yee Sang (plum sauce and all), you can do what I did and just get a normal salad bowl with smoked salmon. It’s basically the same thing anyway, right?
Bonus: Cut Down on the Fried Stuff
Look, I get it. We all love our spring rolls, dumplings and dim sum. They’re like delicious little balls of goodness that you can pop into your mouth all day long.
However, if you’re interested in sticking to a healthy diet, you should definitely consider steaming them rather than frying. They may lack that satisfying crunch, but they still taste just as good. And if you go for the vegetarian version, you can cut down on the calories even further!
Enjoying A Healthier, Happier CNY
These past few years have been very stressful for everyone. During celebrations like CNY, it’s normal to want to enjoy yourself and indulge more than usual. But while it’s perfectly all right to have fun, we must also remember to take care of our health.
After all, the last thing we want is to spend the month after CNY struggling to fit into our old clothes. I can tell you now from personal experience that it’s really not worth it.
For more ideas on how to maintain your health during the holiday season, be sure to read up on: