Chinese New Year’s Eve
It’s the long-awaited time of the year to indulge in tables and tables of deliciousness. Feasts, jokers, firecrackers — they say. And every year around this time, families throw the most affluent, voluminous, and festive dinners with family and friends to usher the good fortune and prosperity for the new year — like this one in our household.
My mom rose early on the day to prepare for it. A whole table of food was set up by 5:30 pm; about the time when our relatives arrived.
We couldn’t finish the whole table of food for sure which means for the following couple days, we would be having delicious leftovers. After that, we were invited by relatives and friends to their place to eat the whole table of fresh, delicious treats they’ve prepared for us. The feasts last for seven to eight days.
If you are negligent about the “rules,” you’ll probably put on a pound or two during the holiday. But overall you are fine, and that one to two pounds can easily go away after a short week or two once things get back to normal.
This has sparked up a lot of curiosity. From time to time, I get asked the same questions from people over and over again — the Asian people are obsessed with food and everything from closing businesses to having blind dates is done on the food table with lots and lots of tempting, delicious food around, but how come you guys are still so skinny?
It’s not genes; it’s the food.
First of all, every dish had to earn its way onto our table — it means that they have to taste delicious, smell equally aromatic, and look good. In our long-standing cuisine culture, taste, look, and aroma are equally important. And I want you to know this because what I’m really trying to show you is an experience where taste and health or slimming down aren’t trade-offs.
And if you don’t believe your waistline can shrink by one inch after a few days of indulgence, you need to read this.
On the dinner table that I’ve shown you — there are twenty-two dishes, made of fifty ingredients, and everything was made from scratch; so no processed food. Among all the ingredients, eight are meat, and all the other ingredients are veggies.
Don’t Risk Your Waistline
Here are a few settings of the meal to ensure your waistline won’t grow too much during the holiday celebration.
1. There’s almost no added sugar.
Sugary and delicious are different things. Most of our dishes do not involve sugar. And if there happens to be any, it’d be a tiny amount. At a New Year’s Eve dinner like this, the only dessert you have are some fruits that are nicely diced and plated. It’s eaten in a family sharing style, meaning you won’t have (or want to have) too much.
If you are a kid, you get to have a cup of orange juice or yogurt. Adults drink them sometimes, but not much.
2. It’s family sharing style.
You get a small (4″ diameter) bowl in front of you and take foods from the plate into the bowl.
Hint: Using a smaller bowl really helps. It repetitively amazes my coaching students — “I can’t believe I’m full after what I just had now. I remember having twice that much but never feeling full!”
This is because the feeling of satiety is triggered by not just the amount of food you eat but also your overall sensual and visual experience. Eating a bland salad may not make you feel full; eating a dish of the same size but rich in delicious, interesting flavors and different textures will. In addition, using a container that makes you feel you are “done” is an essential part. This works extremely well for those who have the habit of finishing everything on the plate for every meal. When you are done — even though the plate is smaller this time — your brain sends you the signal to stop eating just as a behavior pattern.
So yeah, the bowls that you see on the photo above are about 4″ diameter with some depth. If you think about the actual size of a human stomach, you’d know the amount of food is enough to fill it. And with all the delicious flavors, you are more than satisfied and pleased.
3. There’s a lot of vegetables.
How many vegetables did you eat today? You may proudly tell me you had a big salad with lots of lettuce and spinach and that is about three to four full cups.
That’s nothing, my friend.
No kidding. To us, that’s three to four bites only. If I had only three to four bites of vegetables during a meal when I was a child, I wouldn’t be able to leave the table until I filled up the rest of the quota. That would mean double or triple the amount.
But what does it mean by saying it’s only three to four bites, Leslie?
Leafy greens shrink in size like crazy when you cook them — by 80%. And if you go back to the picture that I’ve shown you, you’ll see quite a few pure veggie dishes that are lightly stir-fried. Each of them requires at least 24-30 cups of raw greens. There are other dishes that have one portion of meat and two portions of vegetables in it, and that’s easily another ten cups.
Ultimately, over one-hundred cups of vegetables are condensed onto a table and were split among the six of us.
4. Fat is minimal.
The thing about our cooking is you use a very moderate amount of one to two tablespoons of oil when cooking a dish, yet most of the oil does not get absorbed into the foods.
Overall, the food is lean but not boring or bland because of a big variety of flavors created from them.
Now about fat intake. Some people advocate that your body needs fat, and it’s okay to eat a lot of that. Some fat is good. And as to how much you are supposed to eat, the American Heart Association recommends 20% of your daily calorie intake (not 35-40%) which is also in line with the experience of the world’s most healthy and long-living populations.
Notice that 20% isn’t a lot at all. If you are eating a 2000 calorie diet, that’s about 400 calories. Given there are nine calories per gram of fat, it gives you about 45g (or 3.5 tablespoons) of oil per day to put into your cooking pan. But you have to also factor in the cheese, mayo, bacon, burger patty, and avocado that you can eat here and there. Most Americans are way above the line with the average consumption of 75g, which is a big problem today.
5. We drink soup while eating.
There’s a whole pot of home-cooked, clean chicken soup that comes with this dinner. It is not in the picture because it has to be kept on the stove for constant warming. But everyone gets a bowl of that first when they eat, and drinking and eating at the same time really boosts your satiety.
6. We don’t really focus on food.
It is ironic because we spend so much time making the whole table of food. But the truth is, when you get together with family members that you haven’t seen for a long time, you no longer think about food.
So what happens a lot is that you sit by the table and you’re busy talking or listening. You are so absorbed into the conversation, trying to catch up on every bit of the news about your relatives in the past year. You also crack some jokes and have a good laugh. Regardless of what it is, you forget about food.
Before you know it, your food becomes cold, and others have to remind you that you haven’t taken a bite of anything yet in the past five minutes! The dinner lasts two to three hours with all the delicious food around you, but you don’t constantly eat for two to three hours (which would be disastrous). That’s how you get leftovers for the following days.
At the end of the dinner, you feel happy, nourished, satisfied (mentally and physically), and perhaps a little stuffed. However, you know it’s fine because you’ve stuffed yourself with all the delicious greens that will pump up the antioxidants in your body, make your skin glow, make your hair silkier, and energize you further. You don’t worry a bit about calories, and you only remember you’ve had a great time.
Hope this article gives you an idea about what happy and healthy feasting can be like.