Start your New Year by celebrating the Chinese New Year

Celebrating holidays from around the world is a fun and educational opportunity for your family to explore the cultures of other countries.

Exposing children and adults to new cultures, ethnic groups and countries is a way to help us enhance our tolerance. It can also be a fun and educational way to expose your family to different types of customs, foods and activities.

There’s no time like January to get started. Not only is New Year’s Day celebrated in January around the world but in 2014, Chinese New Year also falls on Jan. 31. While we are celebrating the year 2014, Chinese families will be ushering in the year 4712. This Chinese celebration is the most important celebration of the year and is a time when families often gather.

Include your children and plan your own Chinese New Year celebration. They can help with decorations and deciding what foods to include in the celebration. Traditionally decorations and clothing are red, which is considered good luck. Have children make decorations out of red paper and consider using red paper plates and napkins on the dinner table. Look for books in your library on Chinese traditions and recipes. Many cooking websites will also have recipes for Chinese meals ranging from traditional to more Americanized versions.

For a Chinese New Year dinner cook rice as the main grain of your meal. Choose chicken, pork or fish for your protein choice. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in Chinese meals so prepare several vegetable dishes such as stir-fried green beans or greens like spinach with garlic. Oranges are given as gifts, which can be good used as part of your meal or as dessert.

To make rice, start with a serving, which is a one-half cup. Prepare rice servings per person. Rice triples when cooked, so for three cups of cooked rice you would start with one cup of raw rice. For whatever amount of uncooked rice you start with, double the amount of water. To have three cups of cooked rice, start with one cup of uncooked rice, add two cups of water and put both into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cover with a lid. Simmer about 20 minutes and remove from heat. Let the water and rice steam with the lid on for about five minutes, fluff with a fork and serve. To add a whole grain to your meal, use brown rice which provides more nutrients and fiber. Brown rice will take about 35-40 minutes to cook.

For stir-fried spinach, heat about one tablespoon of canola oil in a saucepan. Add one clove of minced garlic and about one-half to three-quarter pounds of spinach. Stir until the spinach is heated through and wilted.

To celebrate Chinese New Year, try having the family eat dinner with chopsticks. Inexpensive chopsticks can be purchased at most stores that sell Asian foods.

Start off your New Year with a new tradition. Healthy eating and learning new traditions can be the 2014 New Year’s resolution for your family. To learn more about healthy lifestyles contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.