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How to Make a Healthy Chinese Meal

Updated on October 17, 2015
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne has been experimenting in the kitchen for almost 50 years. She loves to share her recipes, cooking tips, and reviews.

Healthy Chinese Stir Fry

Healthy Chinese Stir Fried Vegetables with Chicken
Healthy Chinese Stir Fried Vegetables with Chicken | Source

Is Chinese Food Healthy?

It depends on what Chinese food dishes you eat. American Chinese take-out and restaurant food is often not healthy. It has too much meat, is often fried and may be covered with thick sugary sauces. While traveling in China, I enjoyed the lighter sauces and wonderful fresh stir fried vegetables which makes up more authentic Chinese food. Healthy Chinese dishes are easy to make at home. I give you tips for using what you have on hand.

Healthy Chinese Meals at Home

Chinese techniques of stir fry and steaming, and the fact that Chinese cooking allows most dishes to have lots of vegetables means that cooking healthy Chinese meals at home is easy. Just like American home cooking, Chinese home cooking can take advantage of what you already have in the kitchen rather than requiring special ingredients and an extra trip to the store. The trick is to remember to:

  • Use as many different fresh vegetables as you have on hand.
  • Keep vegetables in freezer that stir fry well, like frozen broccoli, snap peas and carrots.
  • Keep canned Chinese vegetables in your cupboard. I usually stock up on canned ones like mushrooms, small corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
  • Have an assortment of Chinese sauces that you like, or the ingredients to make your own: soy sauce, cooking sherry, chicken bouillon.
  • Use brown rice and whole wheat noodles for a healthier Chinese meal.
  • Steam dumplings, fish or other ingredients rather than frying them.

Quick Healthy Stir Fried Noodles

Chinese Vegetables and Noodles
Chinese Vegetables and Noodles | Source
Sir fry noodles and vegetables.  Add meat and sauce.
Sir fry noodles and vegetables. Add meat and sauce. | Source
Favorite Chinese sauces.
Favorite Chinese sauces. | Source

Healthy Chinese Home Cooking

With five children, I need quick meals. Here is one of my favorite ways of using leftover spaghetti or rice:

Chinese Stir Fry Noodles (or rice)

  1. Spray non-stick spray in a pan and add 1 cup leftover spaghetti noodles (you can also use rice).
  2. Add 1-2 cups Chinese vegetables and stir fry until vegetables are crispy but cooked.
  3. Add 1/4 cup cubed Tofu, cooked shrimp or cut-up meat. Cook until heated through.
  4. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of Sweet Chili Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Orange Sauce or other bottled Chinese sauce. Stir fry until bubbling. Makes one meal.

Orange Chicken Not Fried

Most Americans love Orange Chicken, Sesame Chicken or Sweet and Sour. However, often these recipes fry the meat in oil before adding vegetables and sauce. My kids absolutely love Orange Chicken from Panada express and Pei Wei's Diner. I wanted to create a healthy Chinese recipe which tasted good but didn't fry the meat in the same way.

So I experimented with a technique I'd learned from cooking Italian food which coated the meat with cornstarch rather than flour or a batter. It creates a surprisingly good, crisp coating when you stir fry, and doesn't require any oil! You can use this same technique to cook chicken, pork or beef for Chinese recipes, replacing any fried meat with this version.

Healthy No-Fat Crispy Chicken or Pork Recipe

  1. Cut chicken, pork or beef into bite-sized chunks (about 1 inch).
  2. Pour on some cornstarch to coat the meat.
  3. Heat a non-stick pan (or spray pan with no-fat spray).
  4. Put meat in a pan and stir fry until cooked through.
  5. Take out of the pan and set aside as you cook other ingredients. When you are ready to add any sauces or finish the dish, put the meat in at the last minute, add sauce and heat.
  6. The outside will have a light crispy coating which absorbs any sauce you put on it like fried Chinese foods, but adds no extra oil.

5 stars from 1 rating of Quick Healthy Chinese Stir Fry

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 20 min
Yields: 4-5 servings

Ingredients for Quick Healthy Chinese Stir Fry Meal

  • 4 cups or 1 package fresh Chinese vegetables, can use frozen or canned along with fresh
  • 1 cup chopped cooked chicken, can use store bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup sherry or other white wine
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 TB brown sugar
  • 2 TB cornstarch

Quick Healthy Chinese Meal

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Packaged Fresh Chinese Vegetables: Cut up so pieces are the same size.  Stir fry vegetables in non-stick pan.  Use non-stick spray or 1 tea. sesame oil for flavor. When vegetables are cooked, take out of pan and set aside.Use packaged sauces or make your own mixture using chicken boullion, sherry, brown sugar and cornstarch.Pour mixture in pan and stir until it boils and becomes thick.Cut up store-bought chicken.Add vegetables and chicken to sauce and heat.  Serve with rice or noodles on the side.
Packaged Fresh Chinese Vegetables: Cut up so pieces are the same size.
Packaged Fresh Chinese Vegetables: Cut up so pieces are the same size. | Source
Stir fry vegetables in non-stick pan.  Use non-stick spray or 1 tea. sesame oil for flavor. When vegetables are cooked, take out of pan and set aside.
Stir fry vegetables in non-stick pan. Use non-stick spray or 1 tea. sesame oil for flavor. When vegetables are cooked, take out of pan and set aside. | Source
Use packaged sauces or make your own mixture using chicken boullion, sherry, brown sugar and cornstarch.
Use packaged sauces or make your own mixture using chicken boullion, sherry, brown sugar and cornstarch. | Source
Pour mixture in pan and stir until it boils and becomes thick.
Pour mixture in pan and stir until it boils and becomes thick. | Source
Cut up store-bought chicken.
Cut up store-bought chicken. | Source
Add vegetables and chicken to sauce and heat.  Serve with rice or noodles on the side.
Add vegetables and chicken to sauce and heat. Serve with rice or noodles on the side. | Source

Healthy Stir Fry Instructions

  1. Heat non-stick pan on high, put vegetables in a pan (largest ones first) and stir fry until cooked but still crisp. Put aside in a bowl.
  2. Mix broth, sherry, soy sauce, brown sugar and cornstarch in bowl. Pour into hot pan and stir quickly. Mixture will boil and then thicken.
  3. Add vegetables and chopped chicken. Stir until just heated and serve with rice or noodles.

Healthy Chinese Restaurant Meals

What about eating out? Can you make a healthy Chinese meal at a restaurant? When ordering in a Chinese restaurant, you may want to skip the buffet. That way, you won't be tempted to eat too much or to eat so many fried foods. You might want to ask the server for the best menu items for healthy eating or ask that sauces be served on the side. Look for menu items which include vegetables and are stir fried or steamed rather than fried. Here are some good choices:

  • All-Vegetable dishes.
  • Soup.
  • Steamed Fish.
  • Tofu rather than meat.
  • Lettuce wraps or spring rolls rather than fried won tons or spring rolls.
  • Dim sum which is steamed or boiled rather than fried.
  • Meat with vegetables like Beef with Broccholi, Pepper Beef, Mu Shu Chicken with Mushrooms.
  • Plain rice rather than fried rice (or better yet, brown rice if it is available).
  • Plain noodles rather than fried lo mein.

Healthy Chinese Take-Out

Many Chinese Take-out menus have a more limited selection, so it can be harder to find healthy options. Don't be afraid to ask for a nutrition guide, or look online. Here is a nutrition guide for Pei Wei, and a nutrition guide for Panda Express, two of the most popular Chinese take-out restaurants. Less healthy Chinese food dishes are often higher in calories than healthy ones, so that can be one way to decide what is best to eat. Just as when eating in a Chinese restaurant, try to choose items which have:

  • More vegetables than meat.
  • Meat that is stir fried or steamed rather than deep fried.
  • Noodles or rice that is cooked in water or broth rather than fried in oil.

One advantage of take-out food is that you can choose how much you eat and save the rest for later. Even if you can't resist getting your favorite deep fried Sweet and Sour, or won tons, you can choose:

  • To eat just a small portion of the fried Chinese foods.
  • Eat plenty of stir fried vegetables.
  • Fill up with soup or plain rice or noodles.


Healthy Chinese Meal Ideas

Do you have some favorite healthy Chinese meal ideas and recipes? I'd love to have you give my your best tips in the comments below.

Comments

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    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Sarah! I had a grilled vegetable salad for dinner. I love veggies!

    • sarahbyers profile image

      sarahbyers 

      5 years ago from waco tx

      I would eat that, I even think the vegetables look good before you cook them.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      5 years ago from Washington

      Definitely, Virginia - we're figuring out all KINDS of stuff to do---and write about in the meantime....and take pictures of. I think we both should give up sleeping - ha ha~

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      5 years ago from United States

      Arkirchner--I think it is so funny that you don't stirfry because I never steam and your wonderful recipes are reminding me I should! I definitely get stuck in a rut in cooking. That is part of the fun of hub writing and reading--it helps you experiment with new things!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      5 years ago from Washington

      Virginia....you just made me hungry for Chinese~ I'm gonna have to do some of these as I love Chinese but worry about all the fat and calories. I do have a wok and I try and do stirfry but to tell the truth, I just forget a lot of times. I steam so many things that I forget how great stirfry is....off to go stirfry some veggies! Thanks for the idea for dinner.

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      5 years ago from United States

      LaThing--so glad I inspired you. I've inspired myself to get more fresh veggies in my next trip to the store too!

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 

      5 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      This is a great hub, with lots of tips..... My whole family loves Chinese food. I am going grocery shopping today, and buying all my items for a Chinese meal :)

      Thanks for all the mouth watering recipes. Voting up and useful!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I was raised on stir-fry. I think we had it about 3 or 4 times a week while I was growing up. It's a great, healthy, budget-friendly option for families.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      Everything here looks delicious. I like the word "healthy" and also good. You did a great job on this hub and the photos are wonderful. I am voting up for sure.

    • lady rain profile image

      lady rain 

      5 years ago from Australia

      The vegetables look so delicious and colourful! I am going to use your recipes for my stir-fry dishes, they are so healthy and easy to cook. Thanks for sharing these useful tips :)

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