Not all game day foods are created equal. And as you know, some are not exactly the healthiest. And that’s OK. For us here at Hungry Fan, football Sunday is our cheat day, especially when it happens to overlap with the Super Bowl. We enjoy going big. That said, the Big Game does happen to fall 4 weeks into the year, which is a time when so many of us Americans are deep into our New Year’s resolutions to get fit and eat healthy. So if that's you, we say, stay strong! Don't let one game day derail a month's worth of hard work! You can indeed enjoy the Big Game while staying true to your health-minded resolutions.
Below we've rounded up some of our most helpful tips to eat healthy on game day as well as some of our favorite healthier recipes that are perfect for homegating for the Big Game.
Healthy Game Day Tips
When we think about what is meant by the word healthy, we like to focus on three things:
- Foods that yield a good amount of helpful nutrients for the calories they offer. (This is called nutrient density.)
- The quality of the food we're eating.
- Portion size, portion size, portion size!
1. Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
An easy way to demonstrate what we mean about choosing nutrient-dense foods is to compare lettuce and baby spinach. Lettuce is low in calories, yes. But it's made up of about 99% water and offers very little in the way of helpful nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. (We're looking at you, iceberg.) But baby spinach, on the other hand, which is an easy substitute for lettuce, is packed with tons of nutrients, including antioxidants, carotenoids, iron, folate, calcium, vitamin C, fiber, and just about your entire daily recommended intake of vitamin A per 3.5 ounce serving. Baby spinach is also very low in calories. Choosing baby spinach over lettuce to throw on your game day burger is a complete no-brainer!
Choosing between sour cream or Greek yogurt for that dip? Greek yogurt all day! (We particularly prefer the 2% milk variety.) So why go Greek? Sour cream and Greek yogurt taste almost exactly the same. Consistency? Same. The primary (and significant) difference is that sour cream is loaded with fat and calories but Greek yogurt (especially lower fat varieties) has a fraction of the fat and calories while also offering healthy, naturally occurring probiotics, which are great for a healthy gut.
So skip the chips, crackers, and other fried dip vessels. If you're looking for dip picker-uppers, stick with veggies such as celery, carrots, or sliced cucumbers (because, well, obvi). And if you're looking for a salty crunch, try some pistachios, especially ones with the shells on. They're cholesterol-free and packed with so many healthy-improving nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They're also rich in fiber and protein relative to their caloric values. Plus, as you eat, and the discarded shells start to stack up, they offer visual cues to your brain that you're filling up, so you end up eating less! They're a yummy win all around!
2. Skip the Processed Foods
This one's easy. Processed foods aren't exactly quality foods. Foods packed with chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides quite simply aren't the greatest things you could put in your body. (Must you really eat food that can withstand nuclear winter?) So when choosing foods at the grocery store—especially game day snack foods—try to stick with those that contain ingredients you know, or that are, in the very least, legible. (If you can't pronounce an ingredient, chances are it's not worth eating.)
Here's a simple example to illustrate what we mean:
Kettle Brand sea salt-flavored potato chips are pretty easy to find. If you turn the package around, you'll find the nutrition facts. Underneath the nutrition facts you will see the ingredients. They are listed as: Potatoes, Safflower and/or Sunflower and/or Canola oil, Sea Salt. That's it. Pretty basic. Potatoes, oil, and salt.
This is what we at Hungry Fan call a quality food. While potato chips aren't necessarily the most nutritionally-dense snack option, if you are going to eat them, at least eat the ones made with real foods.
3. Consider Portion Control
Lastly, the key to eating healthy on game day is portion control. No one is saying you can't have that burger. Just don't eat four of them. A couple slices of pizza is fair game. But don't eat the whole pizza! We here at Hungry Fan believe that food is meant to be enjoyed. But it's best enjoyed in moderation.
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Here are 7 of our favorite better-for-you riffs on classic game day eats:
1. A Healthier Spin on Mac And Cheese
Macaroni and cheese may seem pretty difficult to lighten up. Enter cauliflower and butternut squash. The typical base for a mac and cheese is a white French sauce called béchamel. It's what you normally melt the cheese into to then coat the noodles. We make our mac healthier by subbing puréed cauliflower for the béchamel. And we cut down the amount of cheese and replace it with puréed butternut squash, which is creamy and delectable in its own right, but it also offers the benefit of that beautiful orange color found in cheddar cheese.
2. Healthy Guac
Yes, avocados are high in calories. But they pack a nutritious punch with those calories. And perhaps the best thing that avocados have going for them is that they are rich in monounsaturated fat. "Eeek!! Fat?!?!" Calm yourself. There are different kinds of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. Trans fats are the kind you want to stay as far away from as possible. Saturated fats aren't the greatest of the fats for you, but eating a small amount of them daily is still necessary for a healthy diet. Polyunsaturated fats are the neutral fats; they aren't terrible, but they're also not the most helpful. But monounsaturated fats? We're fans. They function to help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. As your (bad) cholesterol level increases, it runs the risk of clogging or blocking your arteries. So by keeping your LDL level low, you can reduce your risk of ailments such as heart disease or stroke.
Now, that is not to say that you should enjoy our healthy guacamole recipe daily. Everything good in moderation, amigos! But what we are saying is our guac is a heck of a lot better for you than ranch or onion dip. You're welcome.
3. Baked Buffalo Wings
One of the primary reasons chicken wings are considered less healthy than, say, a skinless chicken breast, is because more often than not, they're fried. (They also contain a lot less meat, which is where the protein and other nutrients are, and they have the skin on them, which doesn't help their cause either.) Buffalo wings (specifically) are also considered to be on the less healthy side because more often than not, the Buffalo wing sauce is made with tons of butter.
So while we can't so much solve for the less meat problem, we can solve for three of the other issues: fatty skin, frying method, and butter.
Our baked Buffalo wings recipe is a winner because we found a way to make Buffalo wings from scratch with the skin removed, baked instead of fried, and with zero butter. (In fact, our sauce, which is enough for 18 wings, only requires 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, which, like avocados, is primarily made up of monounsaturated fats.)
We offer a final solution for healthier wings: Air frying. It's another cooking method to get the restaurant-style Buffalo wing consistency you're used to without deep frying. Check out our favorite air fryers here.
4. Mediterranean Nachos
Look, nachos are delicious. But a standard plate of nachos topped with cheese, sour cream and the other usual fixin's will set you back calorically in a big way.
Enter Mediterranean nachos. This tasty take on nachos packs lots of flavor without all the calories. It'll help you appreciate why nutrition experts are always touting the benefits of the Mediterranean diet!
5. Healthy Potato Skins
The potato skins you can usually order at restaurants or sports bars are almost always drowned in cheese, meats such as bacon, and other fatty toppings. Here's our founder, Daina Falk, showing you how to cut down your game day calories while still enjoying potato skins. To do this, she uses toppings such as low-fat Greek tzatziki (made from Greek yogurt), feta cheese, which is naturally a low-calorie and low-fat cheese, fresh cucumbers, and herbs.
6. Homemade "Stuffed Crust" Pizza
Don't get us wrong, we simply adore pizza. And stuffed crust? Don't get us started! But if you're trying to eat healthy, stuffed crust pizza presents a problem. But not anymore! Watch Daina show you how to use whole wheat pita bread to make homemade stuffed crust pizza with low-fat mozzarella cheese.
7. Baked Sweet Potato Chips
If you're going to eat chips, you're far better off eating baked chips than you are eating fried chips. Breaking it down further, you're actually better off eating sweet potatoes than regular potatoes. Why? Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients. They're fairly high in protein and contain enviable levels of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, potassium, copper, niacin, and antioxidants. When sliced into thin rounds, seasoned, and baked, they made for deliciously simple and healthy game day snacks!