On Rosh Hashanah we start our meal by eating many symbolic foods for a good year ahead. Why do we do this through food?
These foods are more than symbolic. When we eat these foods that are signs of blessing, we take the food into ourselves and internalise not only the food and its energy, which with Gds help, we use to do Gd's will but we also internalise the blessing for which we are asking. These signs also act as reminders that this is the day when Gd decides our fate for the year ahead, that we are being judged. When a person realises this, he will realise that these signs are just not enough to receive the blessing for which we all wish in a new year. This realisation will bring us to repentance.
The reason why we ask for blessing through food is also because of the spirit of the day. The main aim of Rosh Hashanah is to accept Gds kingship over ourselves and not, as many people think, to present Him with a shopping list of requests. However as this is the day of judgement, we 'ask' Gd for blessings in a more gentle, respectful way through using symbolic food.
Here are some Rosh Hashana foods and their meanings followed by links to a few Healthy Rosh Hashana Recipes:
Round Challah: This symbolises the completeness of the year and the beginning of a new cycle(most symbolic this year as it is the shmitta, 7th year in the cycle)
Honey: We dip both challah and apple in honey for a sweet year ahead and a sweetening of any judgements in the heavenly court.
Apple: The smell of the apple field is also the smell of Gan Eden which is associate with the blessings of Yaacov as well as the Garden of Eden itself.
Head of Fish/Sheep etc: We ask that we should be the head and not the tail.
Most of the other symbolic foods that we eat are a play on words, such as rubia (fenugreek or black eyed beans) which sound like 'yirbu', to increase. We therefore ask that our merits be increased. Some people have fun making up their own symbolic foods. I have seen a family have a raisin with celery, to ask for a raise in salary! You can have fun making up your own.
This article was written with the help of some ideas from Rabbi Yehudah Prero in his article 'Rosh HaShana: The Custom of Eating Symbolic Foods' from Torah.org.