10 Heart-Healthy Plays for the Big Game

Big Game Sunday: It's one of the country's top food-related holidays (whether you "celebrate" football or not), right up there with Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Those four hours of cheering and eating (and eating!) can derail any progress we've made toward eating more healthfully in the new year.

Creating a sensible football-party spread is easier when you're hosting, and you can choose lower-calorie foods and make smart swaps. Bringing a dish to a potluck? Tote along a healthy favorite you know you'll enjoy. If you're easily tempted by all those chicken wings and chips and guacamole, then you need to have a game plan. Here are some super food ideas and eating tips: 

  1. Stock up on smart nibbles: Instead of a bowl of potato chips, offer sensible alternatives like seasoned popcorn (no butter), roasted almonds, whole-grain pretzels, baked crackers and multigrain tortilla chips. 
  2. Scoop up better-for-you dips: Guacamole, that football-party staple, has 50 calories per 2 tablespoon serving (and you know you're gonna eat more than 2 tablespoons). Instead, go for the hummus, which has half that calorie load. Make your own salsa, omitting any oil, and you'll have a super-healthy dip.
  3. Make over your sides: For a better pasta salad, toss cooked pasta with tons of vegetables (canned beans, halved cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, diced cucumbers), goat or feta cheese, toasted nuts and just a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. Make potato salad with vinaigrette dressing instead of mayonnaise.
  4. Swap the dairy: Use lowfat sour cream, nonfat Greek yogurt, part-skim mozzarella, lowfat cream cheese, lowfat herbed cheese spread and lowfat cottage cheese as good substitutions in dips and salads that no one will suspect.
  5. Go lean: Instead of beef and brats, grill up turkey burgers and chicken sausages. Smaller sliders are helpful for portion control. Cut grilled sausages into rounds and serve with a spicy mustard for dipping.
  6. Pare down your pizza. Replace the delivery or frozen pizza with flatbreads. Roll prepared pizza dough into thin ovals, or use whole-wheat pita bread for the crust, and top with roasted vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, asparagus) and crumbled goat cheese. Bake and finish with a shower of fresh herbs. 
  7. Be a fizzy-water fan: From top brands like LaCroix and Hint, and also available in less expensive store brands, zero-calorie carbonated water infused with fruit flavor is a great alternative to soda and alcoholic beverages. Make sure the product you buy is just water + natural flavorings (no sugar substitutes or additives). 
  8. Make a plan: Envision the party in your mind before you go, imagine the kinds of foods that will be available, and set a goal of not overeating. Same goes for alcoholic beverages: set a limit and switch to nonalcoholic drinks when you reach it. 
  9. Try to eat mindfully: Let's acknowledge the challenge of paying attention to your food when the point of the event is eating while watching television. But it's just so easy to consume far more calories than you intend — or even know — if you're not mindful. Fill your plate according to your goal. Eat, savoring what you're tasting, and then leave your empty plate in the kitchen. If you're socializing, step away from the group standing around the buffet table — grazing is a sure route to eating too much.
  10. Finally, watch the game: Park yourself in front of the TV for the duration of the game. Watch the halftime show. Critique the commercials. Stay put, and you'll be less tempted to chow down.

​Bryn Mooth is the author of the Findlay Market Cookbookthe editor of Edible Ohio Valley  magazine, and she also publishes a website called writes4food.com. She loves cooking tasty and uncomplicated dishes, cultivating a small vegetable garden and shopping at the Tristate area's many local farmers markets. Saturday mornings, you'll find Bryn at Findlay Market bright and early, doing much of her grocery shopping for the week. She's pleased to be partnering with Healthspirations to share her recipes, how-tos and information about eating healthfully in Cincinnati!