02 Feb Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Game Day: 88 Healthy Game Day Dishes and En-Lighten-Ing Tips
Drinking and rich, heavy snacks are synonymous with game day gatherings, but who says the scale needs to tip against you after the big game? Keep the weight loss and eater better mojo going with some healthy game day inspiration.
En-Lighten-Ing Dishes Playbook
What is a healthy game day snack?
With so many definitions of healthy, there’s really no one-size fits all prescription for healthy recipes. For this article’s purpose, the party food recipes listed meet at least one of the following criteria:
- vegetarian or vegan
- calorie reducers (ingredient swaps, reductions or alternative cooking technique for less calories)
- real food (unprocessed – veggies, grains or meat)
These are the same cornerstones of eating I have used to lose weight…30 pounds in the last four months while still enjoying my favorite treats, and not exercising (gasp!). More veggies, and mindful portions of big ticket calorie items – whether they be real, whole food or treats 🙂 As the journey continues, plant-based meals call to me more than before, but I still crave and enjoy animal based proteins…just in less quantity.
For a healthy game day, you need priorities if this isn’t going to be a totally go off-the-rail cheat day for you, which it can be. But decide that before the party.
Remember you don’t have to be perfect, and any individual choices that are healthier will help you make more healthier choices. So even if it’s one less drink or a few less chips, they are all part of you discovering your own path of lasting nourishment.
By the way, if you’re just looking for some recipe inspiration, you can head right over with this shortcut to the 88 Healthy Game Day Snack Gallery.
Number 1 Rule – Mind Your Portions!
This is the golden rule of a healthy game day and eating in general. Yes, you can enjoy everything in moderation…the more you moderate, the less you feel deprived, and the more likely you are to stick to your healthy eating goals.
5 Tips for Being a Healthy Game Day Guest
Giving up control to your gracious host, is one of the most terrifying things you can do on your weight loss journey. Whether your just beginning, on the final stretches, maintaining or anywhere in between, we all know traditional game day party food doesn’t typically equate to optimal health or weight loss. So, how can we maximize our chances of getting on the scale Monday and doing a victory dance while still enjoying the craveable tastes of game day fare?
1. Bring a healthy game day snack.
Unless you know your host’s menu includes a dish you feel aligns with your healthy eating intention, then do yourself a favor and bring your own. Don’t bother asking, as your gracious host is likely to deny the offer. Just pick something you like, make it healthy in whatever way you feel your food needs to be (vegetarian, light, low carb, etc.), and bring it, with enough to share of course. Perhaps you’ll wake up another guest’s taste buds to nourishing food. For some inspiration, check out the mouthwatering gallery of 88 healthy game day snacks perfect for Super Bowl any any other game day gathering.
2. Bring a light beverage.
So, we already have a game plan for something healthy to eat right? Now we need to address the liquid calories. Beer, especially IPAs, are abundant in calories. I’m looking at you Racer 5 IPA at 231 calories, 7 SmartPoints. If you go for light beer, are you just fooling yourself by having 10 light ones or can you enjoy in moderation? Vodka (2 oz. 129 calories/5 SmartPoints) and champagne (124 calories/4 SmartPoints) are lightest. Mixers just increase the numbers. Sparkling water is nothing 🙂 So, if you’re trying not to go crazy or just balance the craziness with booze, consider how much you’ll want to drink and arm yourself with a beverage you can feel good about..and bring enough to share of course.
3. Eat something before arriving.
It’s tempting to ‘save calories’ by arriving on an empty stomach. Do yourself a favor. Eat on the modest side a few days before if you can. Then put something healthy in your belly before you go. It doesn’t have to be a full meal. A bowl of soup, salad or fruit or anything will take the edge off your hunger and keep you from diving headfirst into that bowl of cheese sauce. It’s easier to stay on top of your hunger when you’re not starving. Because when you are starving, it seems like you need to put EVERYTHING in your mouth before you start to feel good.
4. Eat as many veggies as you can.
This is a no brainer. Veggies will fill you up and nourish you. Just watch out for any dips you didn’t make. Regular versions can run over 100 calories (~4 SmartPoints) per 2 tablespoons. So if you like to dip, bring some veggies and healthy dip as your dish to share.
5. Drink water.
Especially if you’re drinking, a great way to combat a hangover and reduce overall alcohol consumption is to drink lots of water. Alternating between a boozy beverage and a big glass of water makes this easy. Throw some sparkling water with some citrus in there for some pizzazz and you’ll be set.
Hosting or Preparing Healthy Game Day Snacks
Ready or not, let’s tackle some healthy game day snacks. Your scale with thank you for it Monday.
6 Tips for Healthy Game Day Chips, Veggies and Dip
With mayonnaise and sour cream the top two ingredients in many of your favorite dips, it’s no wonder the scale doesn’t tip in your favor after the big game. Weighing in a 1,440 calories (50 SmartPoints) for Hellman’s mayo and 492 for Knudsen sour cream it’s hard (not impossible 😉 to indulge in creamy dips with a guilt-free conscious. There’s an easy fix for your game day dip to lighten up and enjoy some of your creamy delights.
1. Bench Mayo and Sour Cream – Give Greek Yogurt and Light Mayo a Turn!
My go to substitution for any creamy dip is to use greek yogurt and light mayo instead of mayo and sour cream. The yogurt brings the tang of the sour cream, and the mayo brings the creamy mouthfeel with over 60% less calories and SmartPoints (SP).
To contrast nutrition, check out the stats below using Hellman’s regular and light mayo, Knudsen sour cream Organic Green Mountain yogurt from Costco.
Regular Mayo – 1440 cal., 50 SP
Light Mayo – 560 cal., 19 SP (61% less calories!)
Sour Cream – 492 cal., 22 SP
Greek Yogurt 2% – 170 cal. 5 SP (65% less calories!)
Don’t get me wrong…I believe in fat, and not obsessing about calories…BUT I believe in priorities and tricking myself into something healthier, especially when I’m likely going to be eating a lot more than chips and dip in one day. If you can get away with something as delicious with less of an impact on your waist line, meaning you can enjoy other indulgences, or just be healthier, than why the hell not?!?
Fat in food is good, in some degree for some foods…not to be fully explored here. For dip swaps, I do not recommend non-fat greek yogurt. It’s texture erects a big red flag in your mouth alerting anyone to the fact it’s not sour cream and mayo with its chalky texture…blah!!! But you do you, and if you like it, go for it.
Also, be sure to use plain yogurt. There’d be nothing worse than trying to do an onion dip with vanilla…Ewwww.
You can mix the greek yogurt and light mayo in whatever ratio you like based on how creamy and mayo-y you want it. I typically go for about 3/4 yogurt and 1/4 mayo…though maybe even less mayo than that as I try to keep it as light as possible without any red flags. I just eyeball it, taste and adjust. If you’re just exploring this combo, you might want to err on the side of more-ish mayo. Just taste as you go and if it’s too tangy add more mayo. If it’s too eggy add more yogurt. Enough said.
Nothing to See Here – Difference Between Regular and Light Mayo
Don’t freak out about using a light product either. I’ve compared the ingredients in both regular and light mayo. The biggest differences you’ll find is there’s more water and there is starch (not in regular). For the up side in nutrition, I’ll take it!
2. What is Neufchatel and Where’s My Cream Cheese???
Have you ever heard of Neufchatel cheese? Basically it’s a lighter version of cream cheese, kind of not really but you can read about that here. It is lighter though, and usually what you’ll find next to your regular cream cheese but it has 1/3 less fat and over 20% less calories.
So when you’re wanting to whip up those extra thick and creamy dip recipes calling for cream cheese (buffalo chicken, jalapeno popper…), why not move that hand 6 inches to the right at the store and pick up the Neufchatel or light (as it might be labeled) cream cheese?
3. Maximizing Your Chip Enjoyment
Who can resist the siren call of the salty and savory chip? Potato or tortilla…flavored or plain…they’re the perfect partner to that dip you en-lighten-ed.
Yet, like the original dip, their nutrition isn’t so pretty, and I don’t have any easy answer for easing your food conscious with chips. But, there are some things to consider to help you get the most bang for your nutrition buck.
First of all, let’s just take baked chips of any sort off the table. I’ve had them. They suck. If I want a chip, I’m going to have a real, fried in oil like nature intended chip. I’m saving calories on the dip, so there.
Tortilla Chip Intel for More Crunch
Looking at nutrition labels of all sorts of tortilla chips, as one who loves nachos and trying to lose weight tends to do, you notice some things. They mostly all weigh in at 140 calories per one ounce serving…However, the number of chips per serving varies.
It’s all about how much crunch you can get per unit. That is, I’m happier when I can pick up more chips more times for the same calories…Does that mean more dip? Hell yes!!! Lighter dips remember!!! Plus, you can always venture into the super low calorie and zero point world of salsa for extremely low impact dipping.
So, here’s the deal.
Tostitos Restaurant Style Chips – 7 chips per serving ( 🙁 used to be my favorite too)
Tostitos Scoops – 13 chips per serving (happier now)
Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips – 11 chips per serving (sad again…I love organic…)
Trader Joe’s Organic White Corn Triangles – 14 chips per serving (getting back to happy!)
Trader Joe’s Organic Yellow Corn Rounds – 14 chips per serving ( happiest! 🙂 )
Why am I happiest with the yellow corn even though they are the same number as the white you might ask??? More surface area! You see, there’s more area to crunch because of the circular shape and since they’re slightly thinner than the white ones, it ends up the same number of chips, but more crunch. Yay!
4. Replace Your Chips with Veggie Chips
Unfortunately, I have no magic formula to reduce the impact of the perfection of perfectly fried and seasoned potatoes. Salt and vinegar chips are one of my weaknesses…
Here’s a suggestion if you need to stay clear of chips for fear you will obliterate the entire bag by yourself, not that I’d know anything about that. Make your own baked veggie chips. There are recipes for carrot and zucchini (salt and vinegar ones no less 😉 chips in the recipe gallery. They weigh in about half the calories and about 2/3 less fat, depending on how much you use to coat them for baking.
You can also try and limit your regret the next day by buying a smaller bag of chips to make sure you don’t have any left over. It’s a hard feat to conquer, especially when the family size ones are usually on sale around big game days. If you can though, I acknowledge your display of healthy ferocity.
5. Better Cracker Options
Crackers can occupy a lot of your dietary real estate. We know priorities are important for healthy game day snacks. So my favorite cracker choices follow my favorite mantra of more crunch, more happy.
Reduced fat wheat thins (or generic store equivalent…why not save some moola when they taste the same 🙂 ) gets you 14 crackers to enjoy per 120 calorie serving and 4 SmartPoints (compared to 140 calories/5 SP). Their neutral flavor and good thickness holds up to most dips.
Ak Mak sesame crackers are ones you may have never heard of. You can find them at Trader Joe’s for sure. They don’t quite follow my more crunch rule, because one serving is just five crackers (110 calories/3 SM). But they’re huge!!! Relatively speaking. They make a great vehicle for some skinny tuna salad or bread alternative for some cold cuts. So there’s definitely a lot of cracker real estate and great flavor.
Keeping in the theme with big and long, there are some new crackers at my local Costco made by Rustic Bakery that are sourdough crisps. They’re super skinny, but thick enough to easily be broken into bite-size pieces for no double dipping. Three of these are only 80 calories and 2 SP, and with two servings you could definitely more crunch time as 18 wheat thins, just sayin’.
6. Eat Your Veggies! They’re The Real Deal
This blog exists to help you learn to incorporate more real food into your life, without doing some crazy shit and going vegan overnight. More power to those who take that path! So now that we’ve covered some traditional, healthy game day snack dipping options, let’s sneak in some veggie talk.
Veggies rule! If you have yet to discover your appreciation for them, be patient. It also helps to try fresh ones…preferably not the veggie tray that was pre-cut five days ago, with sad, dried out, carrot and celery sticks and refrigerated cherry tomatoes (don’t get me started on that one). Sure if you’re in a pinch and hosting and your option to have something fresh on the table is one of those prepared crudites platters, get one! That’s my go-to in a limited fresh food, party situation.
But if you can, you’ll be rewarded with flavor if you cut up your own celery and some sweet carrots such as Nantes with the tops still on. Tops on means fresh. Carrots lose water through the tops, so if they’re on, they’re fresh. Stores take them off to store them longer. Nantes are a smaller carrot, and sweeter. If you can’t find those, just look for skinnier, smaller ones…more flavor!
Oh, and about baby carrots, they don’t come from small carrots. They’re from big ass carrots they whittle down into smaller ones. So they don’t usually have a ton of flavor. Sometimes they’re really thick too, making them hard/awkward to crunch down on. If you’re going for baby carrots, look for the ‘petite baby carrots’, they’re less work to eat.
Little tomatoes, so cute right!?!
If they’re pale orange, don’t even bother. Winter tomatoes aren’t the best tasting anyway. However, you can usually find some small ones, like grape or sugarplum that are either organic or greenhouse grown at Costco or Trader Joe’s that are fairly red, and sweet-ish. Not as great as summer ones, but light years beyond orange-y, sour cherry tomatoes.
Whatever ones you find chances are they won’t be fully ripe in the middle of winter so, DO NOT put them in the fridge yet!!! There’s a big long scientific explanation of how it halts their ripening when refrigerated. Trust me, it does, don’t do it. If you’re reading this in the middle of summer and they’re totally ripe and ready to rot, put them in the fridge. Just bring to room temperature before eating for maximum flavor.
Broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, cocktail cucumbers are all fantastic dippers and add variety to any crudites platter for healthy game day snacks.
Check out a delicious selection of chips and dips inspiration below.
Baked with Love – Wings Made Easy
Apparently Americans eat over a billion chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday, which makes me wonder…how much oil is used to fry them? Although when fried using good technique (hot, clean oil) the amount of oil absorbed can be minimal and add only about 10% more calories…but it’s not nothing, plus frying requires a lot of attention. Wouldn’t you rather be watching the game?
Baking of course comes to the rescue. This set it and forget it method allows you to enjoy the game and a healthier game day snack.
For some creative alternatives to the traditional buffalo wing, try out these healthier baked chicken wings below.
Lightened Up Appetizers
Burger and Fries Get a Healthy Makeover
Whether it’s full size or sliders, fries or tater tots, any of these classic dishes would be welcome at your next tailgating, super bowl or pivotal game day party. But, they’re not the shining example of nourishment if we’re being honest. So, how can we still enjoy them and actually eat better to stay on our healthy game day snack kick?
Leaner Meat and Plant-Based Burgers
The traditional burger comes at a hefty calorie price tag. You have delicious alternatives at your fingertips that still deliver burger satisfaction at a price that won’t blow your calorie budget.
Using leaner meats is a given to alleviate some burger guilt. Compare 3 ounces of 20% fat cooked, ground beef at just over 200 calories and 6 SmartPoints to cooked, ground chicken (7% fat) at 145 calories and 3 SmartPoints. It’s a 27% improvement on calories, and half the points. When you’ve got a plethora of other foods on your super bowl or game day agenda, it can totally be worth it to make the swap.
Fries and Tots
Ahhhh, the classic partner to the burger. What are we to do? Bake them and make them out of more nutritious vegetables of course! These days, there’s a fry recipe for almost every firm vegetable and even baked versions for healthier options. Also making their internet appearance are various forms of veggie tots, as a nutritious option for vegetable enjoyment.
Classic Appetizers and Snacks with Healthy Spins
Looking at any classic diner menu, you’re likely to see jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, nachos and buffalo wings. Usually these add up to the calories you’d need in a day to lose weight. Crafty internet chefs abound though, with lighter versions and even some plant-based makeovers of our party favorites. Using oven ‘frying’, lighter cheeses and veggie swaps you’re sure to find something worthy of a snack-time touchdown.
Bite-Sized, Stuffed, Bowl Bound Eats
There are just so many ways to enjoy healthy game day snacks. We’re really so lucky to live in a time where a few key strokes can return infinite options. Using my healthy criteria for recipes of more veggies and lower calories swaps, you can find en-light-ened versions for your game day favorites and new ones surely to become a regular on the scene. These include snacks you can enjoy one bite at a time, more satisfying dishes that are stuffed with deliciousness as well as ones bound for a bowl.
Bowl dishes, like soups and chilis, are some of my favorite party foods. You can make them in advance and they only get better. Then on game day you simply put them on the stove or plug in your crockpot and allow guests to serve themselves while you enjoy the game.
Armed with inspiration to enjoy more veggies and indulgences in moderation, you are officially ready for your healthy game day party! Remember, every healthier choice increases your chances of another healthier choices. So, even when you can’t win them all, enjoy whatever healthy victories you have!
And, if all your plans end up on the sidelines, chalk it up to life lessons. Sometimes now is not the time, so don’t make yourself feel worse with guilt. If you indulge, at least enjoy it, and get ready for your next meal and healthy opportunity.
88 Healthy Game Day Snacks Recipe Gallery
Enjoy 88 appetizing and unique recipes for vegetarian, vegan, plant-based and meat eaters at your next game day party.
Skinny Chips and Dips
Healthier Baked Chicken Wings
Lightened Up Classics
In a Bowl
Vegetarian Healthy Game Day Recipes