Chinese New Year Food Tradition Ideas from a White Girl
January 4, 2023
Chinese New Year Dinner Plate

Chinese New Year Food Tradition Ideas from a White Girl

A Chinese New Year Food Tradition is crucial to a proper Lunar New Year celebration! And if you, like me, don't come from Asian descent you might not be sure how to properly celebrate…..Or even if you should.

So why should you listen to this white girl on an Asian traditional celebration? Because I did my homework with my Asian friends to answer your questions so we can celebrate thoughtfully and respectfully.

Chinese New Year Food Tradition

As I discussed the issue with one friend from China she encouraged me to teach my family about her culture and loved the idea of everyone celebrating as long as it was done with respect….and a little research. So in an effort to help educate other non-Asian families about this amazing celebration I'm passing on my homework to YOU!

DISCLAIMER: If you are of Asian descent and have your own family traditions you'd like to share please contact me! I love learning more. OR if I've gotten something horribly wrong, I want to know ASAP. But please know that I have taken great care to be respectful and any unintentional mistakes will be corrected.

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Chinese New Year Food Tradition Ideas

Chinese New Year table setting

There are many, many traditional foods eaten during this celebration. If you'd like to learn more about Chinese New Year customs, or why it's sometimes referred to as Lunar New Year, and what the Chinese people actually call it, you can read about it here.

Typical Chinese New Year Menu

There are some definitely must haves on your Chinese New Year menu. That said, Lunar new Year celebrations are celebrated across the entire Asian continent and every country has it's own unique menu items. So this is exclusively an Chinese menu but there is overlap as well.

Lucky Foods to Eat for Chinese New Year

  • Fish – the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like “surplus”
  • Chinese Dumplings – potstickers are shaped a bit like Chinese silver ingots
  • Whole Chicken – means “good luck” and “prosperity”, also “unity” and “wholeness”
  • Nian Gao – Glutinous Rice Cake “getting higher year by year” or increased wealth and growth
  • Moon Cakes – Symbolize family reunion & honor the lunar calendar the celebration is based on
  • Spring Rolls – traditionally eaten during Spring Festival and look like gold bars
  • Sweet Rice Balls – associated with being together and reunion
  • Longevity Noodles – the longer the noodle the longer your life
  • Tangerines/Oranges – symbolize fullness and wealth, word sounds like “success”
  • Pork – Lion's Head Meatballs and Steamed Pork Belly. Pigs root forward, giving an auspicious view of the future
  • Shrimp – also swim forward, in Cantonese the word sounds like “laughter” and represents happiness and good fortune
  • Vegetables – signify “Spring”, “wealth”, “energy” and “progress”
    • Lettuce – sounds like”becoming wealthy”
    • Baby bok choy – symbolizes “wealth” and “luck”
    • Chinese broccoli – symbolizes “harmony”
  • Peanuts – Lucky nuts

Chinese New Year Foods to BUY

Chinese New Year Food Tradition

Many of these foods are simple enough to find and make. BUT to have true Chinese flavors I headed to my local Chinatown Supermarket for an amazing cultural experience in and of itself! Wander the aisles and look for foods on the traditional Chinese New Years food list and just explore on your own.

My store has food from all over Asia so if you're trying to stay true to a certain country and can't read the labels, check on the back to see where it was made.

What to Look for:

Dumplings: There are SO many different type of dumplings. We enjoy potstickers but the steamed Dim Sum is another great item to try, and my kids loved them. But they are filling so if you're trying a few flavors don't make too many at one time. They don't keep well.

Green onion pancakes are another amazing food recommended from a friend who enjoys them every year at the Chinese New Year festival in San Fransisco.

Chinese Food Ideas for Chinese New Year

Longevity Noodles: I couldn't tell exactly what type of noodle I was supposed to choose, so I picked a rice noodle I knew my kids would enjoy and went with it. Plus I loved the tiger on the packaging for the Year of the Tiger! BUT my rice noodles fell apart. So try another type – or maybe don't over-boil them.

Nian Gao: This sticky rice cake is easy to spot in the red box and will usually be displayed in January near the front of the store with many other fun Lunar New Year oriented treats.

Mini Rice Balls: Large sweet rice balls are typical but I thought these mini rice balls would be a great way to baby step our way into the Chinese New year food tradition. Easy to make and yummy when stirred up with syrup or some sugar.

Chinese Candy: The front display is where I picked up these yummy strawberry flavored “Lucky Candy”, and sour sop wrapped candy – which isn't an exclusive New Years candy but was definitely a fun thing to try.

Nut plate with other treats for Chinese New year food tradition
These fire cracker decorations are so festive and fun too! We talk Chinese New year decorations over here if you want to learn more.

Chocolate Coins: this edible faux currency is a great addition to the celebration table

Peanuts: As if a platter of different kinds of nuts. Especially peanuts, typically shelled {oops} are referred to as “longevity nuts”.

Festival moon cake for Chinese New Year

Moon Cakes: These are available at Chinese bakeries during January but you can also order mini moon cakes online. I can't attest to the flavor of online options but I really liked the one I purchased at the Chinatown Supermarket.

Chinese New Year Food Tradition – Dinner Ideas

Decaffeinated green tea at Chinese New Year for Kids

What to drink?

Drink your green tea! We chose decaffeinated tea for the family and love it with a little fresh mint and some honey which we were introduced to during our virtual visit to Morocco. So while mint is NOT a Chinese tradition, you can let it slide as long as you explain it to the kids.

Make it at Home

Wok filled with pork and broccoli stir fry for Chinese new year

For dinner choose PORK. Tradition has it that pigs root forward with their snouts and that forward movement is auspicious for a year of good fortune. Cook your pork up with some vegetable stir fry.

You can order take out or make it at home in a wok. Add broccoli, baby bok choy, and bamboo shoots before adding the sauce. Serve it over LONG noodles, these “longevity noodles” should be slurped whole. No cutting or breaking here. The longer the noodles, the longer your life is supposed to be.

Traditionally there would be a pork meatballs or spare ribs if that's more your style.

Chinese New Year Food Ideas for the Family

Dumplings are a must have. Again, use pork or shrimp. There are many kinds of dumplings, you can choose between fried potstickers and the steamed dim sum buns. Either way they're gonna be delicious! I'd recommend purchasing pre-made dumplings and cooking/steaming them at home.

Chinese New Year Food Tradition Dinner with noodles and dumplings

Be careful not to over-cook the rice noodles! Our “longevity” noodles ended up falling apart as I served them up! Rookie mistake.

Dumplings a Chinese New Year Food Tradition

But I do love how the dumplings also look like a little money purse. No wonder they're such a popular good luck food! You'll want to steam these guys like you would your broccoli. Unless you have those cool traditional steaming baskets at home.

Chinese New Year Dessert Traditions

Bowl of tangerines for Chinese New Year

After dinner, make sure you leave room for dessert because there's a long list of sweet treats to enjoy. This year we served Nian Gao, rice balls, tangerines, and lucky candy.

The Nian Gao has a thick sticky texture, with a date/nut/red bean flavor. My kids didn't love it but I think it's a great thing to try. I topped the rice cake with pecan halves and dried dates to pretty it up for the table. One thing I love about trying new things is that you don't HAVE TO love it. You just have to try it. We call it the “No thank you” bite. One bite, and then you can say “no, thank you” to more.

Rice balls a Chinese New Year Food Tradition

The mini rice balls are like soft mochi in a sweet sugar glaze. They don't have a lot of flavor themselves but the chewy texture is fun. Like a large boba pearl if you've ever tried those. If not, you should, this is a great way to prepare them at home. {coming soon}

Chinese new year tangerine oranges Chinese New Year Food Tradition

If you're cutting down on the sugar, tangerines or mandarins are a great treat to enjoy after dinner. Mandarin orange trees are a very popular addition to the Chinese New Year celebration but if you can't fit a whole tree, try to purchase oranges with the stems and leaves still attached. This is a wish for long life and fertility to the guest that receives it.

I wasn't able to find them with leaves so I went for a pretty stack in a bowl. And New Years wishes aside, the vibrant orange color absolutely lifts the spirits on a cold winter day. So do what you can with what you can find.

I Can't Find Chinese Desserts for New Year

Chinese and Japanese desserts for Lunar New Year

If you don't live near a Chinese Supermarket don't fret. You can still try a few new foods even if they might not be a true Chinese New Year food tradition. But then talk about the traditions I've outlined here so you can all learn about it, even if you aren't able to find them.

Dessert was a little tougher to know what was traditionally Chinese for our first Chinese New Year celebration. SO many different Asian countries and cultures are represented at the Asian Market.

Egg tarts and red bean popsicles ARE very Chinese.

Egg tarts are a traditional New Years dessert served for luck and prosperity and something you could try making at home. Try this Hong Kong Egg Tart recipe if you're interested.

Red Bean Popsicles/Ice cream: Unsure of whether my kids would enjoy the red bean I cut each popsicle into 3 pieces and served in on the plate. Happily, they enjoyed it and promptly ate the remaining popsicles whole.

Mochi Balls: And finally, not being able to find the sweet rice balls last year, I served up some ice cream filled mochi balls. We all love them, but they are based on a Japanese treat and very Americanized with ice cream. So I focused on the mochi rice coating and discussed how the traditional Chinese sweet rice balls would taste a little different as they are fried and served in broth or syrup.

Create YOUR Chinese New Year Food Tradition

Chinese New Year Food Tradition Dinner Plate

Now that we've gone through the list of Chinese New Year Food Traditions, are there are any you'd like to try? Or are there any that your family already does that I need to know about?

It's so fun to celebrate with other cultures and the food is such a big part of that. Give you kids the gift of an adventurous palate by trying new flavors from other countries.

If you do end up trying any of these food traditions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. And if you share photos, I want to see it too! Please tag us @partieswithacause on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. We love celebrating all your hard work! 

Then join me, your Healthy Hostess for better-for-you holiday and party foods. Grab your free food substitution guide as the first step in your next healthy holiday gathering.

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Until next time my friend! Signature and photo

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Gingerbread houses in a row as table runner centerpiece for a Christmas Cookie Exchange Party I’m Bri of Parties With A Cause. I’m a mother to three crazy awesome kids, interior designer, & party planning junky. I love reading, globe trotting, and frozen yogurt. And I’m elevating the party experience one cause at a time! Read More

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