How to Make a Healthy Chinese Meal
Healthy Chinese Stir Fry
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
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)
- Spray non-stick spray in a pan and add 1 cup leftover spaghetti noodles (you can also use rice).
- Add 1-2 cups Chinese vegetables and stir fry until vegetables are crispy but cooked.
- Add 1/4 cup cubed Tofu, cooked shrimp or cut-up meat. Cook until heated through.
- 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
- Cut chicken, pork or beef into bite-sized chunks (about 1 inch).
- Pour on some cornstarch to coat the meat.
- Heat a non-stick pan (or spray pan with no-fat spray).
- Put meat in a pan and stir fry until cooked through.
- 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.
- 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.
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 MealClick thumbnail to view full-size
Healthy Stir Fry Instructions
- 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.
- Mix broth, sherry, soy sauce, brown sugar and cornstarch in bowl. Pour into hot pan and stir quickly. Mixture will boil and then thicken.
- 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.
- 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.