Be honest. If game day foods, like wings, pizza, fried cheese and burgers didn't max out the muffin top, we'd all be fighting to get to the front of the buffet line. But high-fat cheeses, enriched white flour, and the calorie-packing power of the deep fryer make these tasty treats totally taboo. Still, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy them from time to time, especially on an occasion like the big game.
"Don't be the host with slightly healthier alternatives that don't taste good," says Monica Reinagel, licensed nutritionist and creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast. "Instead of reengineering a high-calorie snack to make it low in calories, make better choices to begin with."
The following advice from our diet and nutrition experts will make your party the big game of healthy eating without giving back a point on the taste-o-meter. (Looking for great game day recipes? Your search is over).
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Chicken wings aren't necessarily bad for you, but the way they're prepared packs on extra calories and fat. "Deep frying is the most unhealthy way you can prepare anything," says Reinagel. "Fryer oils are very high in polyunsaturated fats, which produce harmful compounds and free radicals when heated to high temperatures." She recommends marinating wings in your favorite sauce and then baking them in the oven at a high temperature or throwing them on the grill. Either method results in a crispy, crunchy treat that guests will love. If you prefer to serve boneless wings, slice up chicken breasts and prepare them the same way. "People love to dip, so get creative with your sauces," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Marissa Moore. "Put out a mix of spicy buffalo sauce, peanut sauces or tomato-based sauces." (Six delicious recipes for your next gathering).
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This traditional game day fat bomb can be done right in a few simple steps. First, skip the freezer aisle. A single serving of Banquet mozzarella nuggets contains 260 calories and 8 g of saturated fat. That's 40% of your recommended daily value in one snack. Instead, make fried cheese at home using low-fat mozzarella, and whole wheat bread crumbs and egg whites for the breading. (Tip: how to make your own breading at home). Another option, says Moore, is to skip the breading and cooking altogether and serve low-fat string cheese with marinara. "You still get the flavor of the cheese and sauce without the additional calories and effort involved in making fried cheese."
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Variety may be the spice of life, but it's a recipe for disaster when it comes to party foods. Instead of setting out bowls of potato chips, tortilla chips, and pretzels all with accompanying dips, Moore recommends picking one healthy chip (a baked one like Pop Chips or pretzels) and a variety of dips. "Try peach, mango or pineapple salsa, hummus, and salsa fresca," she suggests. (Great salsa recipes right here). Reinagel suggests making homemade, baked tortilla chips for guests. "Get soft corn tortillas from your grocery's Latino section, brush them with oil, quarter and add salt. Then bake them in a hot oven until golden brown, she says. Whatever chips-and-dip combination you come up with, keep it simple. Too much selection leads to overeating as we succumb to mindless feeding frenzy and have difficulty realize when our bodies are full.
Pizza is one of the top party snacks for game day gatherings. It's cheap, easy to prepare and let's face it, who doesn't like pizza? "It's also one of those foods that's really easy to overindulge in," says Moore. To offset the binge factor, order thin whole grain crust and ask for light cheese. "Most chains have both of these options available to you and it can cut down on caloric content by 50 to 70 percent." If you are making pizza at home, try using whole wheat tortillas topped with tomato sauce, light cheese, and veggies. Then cut the pizza into squares to make it a finger food (Find other great game . If you can't live without the pepperoni or sausage, "go light," says Moore. Meat toppings are the prime offender for adding fat and calories to your pie.
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Burgers are a go-to option for every guy. Sadly, a one-third pound burger with cheese has more than 350 calories, 9 g of saturated fat and nearly 1,000 g of sodium (42% of your recommended daily value in one sandwich!). But there are a variety of ways to make this salivating sandwich friendlier to the heart and waistline without giving up on taste. "Start with lean ground beef or bison, and try serving mini cheeseburgers to keep people from overindulging," says Reinagel. Or, try slipping in portabella mushrooms instead of beef. "Portabella has a natural meaty texture and can be done on the grill or in the oven." Once it's packaged with all the other things people love about burgers (the bun, veggies, condiments, and cheese), most partygoers will gobble it down without batting an eye.
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"Taco bars are one of my favorite things to do for any party," says Moore. "They are fun and can be super healthy and obviously pair well with any kind of salsa creations you come up with." Slash calories and fat from tacos by swapping ground beef for salmon, white fish, grilled chicken or beans. Season with paprika or a store-bought seasoning, then serve with a citrus cabbage slaw, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and light cheddar cheese. Moore simply puts out whole grain tortillas and turns her guests loose. An added bonus: much like shelling your own peanuts, making tacos is a process that slows down consumption speeds and allows the brain to recognize the stomach is full.
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True, veggies aren't the highlight of most parties or game day feasts, but they can be a healthy addition to any spread. "Don't just do carrots and celery," says Reinagel. "Try endive cups, grape tomatoes, or snow peas. All of these require little to no prep and are naturally healthy and great for dipping." If you have a little extra time, slice green and red pepper strips, chopped radishes or jicama. (Find out what jicama is and great ways to use it here). Another option is edamame served with a side of sea salt for dipping. "This is soy in its least processed form," says Reinagel. "They are high in fiber, protein and isoflavones, which are good for the heart."
"Just pick the right nuts and serve them the right way," says Reinagel, who advises party planners to serve wasabi peas instead of peanuts. "They still have that satisfying crunch but are lower in fat and sodium and higher in protein that peanuts." Alyse Levine, RD, likes to incorporate unshelled pistachios, almonds, and peanuts in her snack offerings. "It gives people something to do with their hands and slows down the process of eating," she says. "Put out an empty bowl for the shells so guests can see just how much they are eating."
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French fries are a yummy, salty snack that gives nothing back from a health perspective (especially when they've taken a dip in the deep fryer). So put away the Idaho spuds and Fry Daddy, grab some sweet potatoes, and fire up the oven before your shindig. "I typically recommend doing baked sweet potatoes with a drizzle of oil," says Moore, who likes to prepare them quartered or sliced, drizzled with oil, and seasoned. "I'll also use Chipotle or Ancho chiles to give them a little extra kick." Serve with ketchup, mustard or a healthy dip to give guests a delicious munchie loaded with fiber and eyesight-boosting vitamin A.
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