Super healthy Super Bowl eats

Courtesy photo During the big game try bean dip, which goes well with a vegetable tray.

Five weeks after those ‘I’ll eat healthier’ vows comes Super Bowl LIII — but experts say it’s possible to enjoy food, friends and football without derailing healthier habits.

The keys are planning, planning and more planning. If you are hosting the party, choose a varied menu featuring lower-calorie versions of traditional fun, finger foods, advises Tonya Spada-Dixon, a clinical nutrition manager at DLP Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johns-town, and Libby Mills, a registered dietitian and national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Mills, who practices in the Philadelphia area, said, “It is a big event with a lot of excitement. It’s a little different from the holidays. Emotions and nerves are on the line so making a plan before you go is key. Plan in your mind to stick to your usual meal times with the same kind of composition as usual. You want to avoid the grazing during the entire game.”

As a guest, one tried and true tactic is to bring a health-friendly dish to share. Another, scope out the buffet and prioritize calories.

“Eat the foods that look best to you and then move away from the food area,” Mills said. “You want to avoid grazing — that nervous hand-to-mouth action. You want to tune into where your hunger level is and satisfy that instead of nervously eating,” Mills said.

Spada-Dixon also suggests eating more mindfully. Too often at Super Bowl and other occasion parties, food is easily accessible and left out for the entire event. This leads to “mindless munching,” Spada-Dixon said.

“They tend to graze for the entire game because the food is left sitting out,” she said. “So you’re watching the game and not paying attention to what or how much you are eating. The most important thing is to be aware of the food choices you are making. Awareness is the biggest key. Unfortunately, we like to eat when we socialize and that can lead to over-indulging.”

Based on her 23 years of professional experience, she recommends, “Moderation. Moderation is always the key.”

Moderation applies to both high-empty-calorie foods and adult beverages, too.

“You want to avoid soda and alcoholic beverages as alcohol adds calories and can also cause a party-goer to over-indulge in high-fat, high-calorie foods.”

Whether creating a dish to share or hosting the party, lower-calorie foods can be substituted without sacrificing flavor.

“Foods like nachos and wings are go-to foods for a Super Bowl party,” she said, suggesting these swaps:

n Select boneless, skinless chicken breast (either fresh or frozen). The planks can be pan-seared for a grilled effect or breaded; mixed with a variety of seasonings and baked in the oven.

“The key is to decrease the saturated fat content from a bone-in wing. By using chicken tenders, you eliminate the high-fat chicken skin and added fat from frying,” Spada-Dixon explained.

n A healthier alternative to traditional nachos is to take flat bread, slice and bake in the oven. Or, purchase baked chips. You can substitute ground turkey for the ground beef and a low-fat cheese such as part-skim mozzarella cheese. Then, when choosing toppings, add vegetables like onions, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes.”

Pizza is another great go-to when it comes to serving healthy alternatives.

“I suggest people make their own pizzas,” Spada-Dixon said. “You can get ready-made dough crusts, make your own or go for a cauliflower crust. They are all tasty. Pizza can be fine as long as you use vegetables for toppings and reduce the amount of cheese used and reduce the fat content in the cheese by switching to part-skim mozzarella.”

Regardless of how food is prepared, going overboard can easily derail healthy eating goals.

“Portion size is key,” Spada-Dixon said. “It’s OK to have a not-so-healthy snack once in a while, but it has to be infrequent and (again) portion size is key.”

Especially when imbibing in indulgent foods and drinks at a Super Bowl party.

“Whether you are invited to a party or are hosting one at home, there is an element of excitement and a societal expectation of a no-holds barred event featuring decadent dips, cheese steaks, finger foods, fun, stadium foods that capture the theme of the event. It’s part of the fun. But when you’re not mindful as both a cook and an attendee, everything provided can come out on the decadent side, with high salt content,” Mills explained.

A thoughtful host considers guests special dietary needs such as food allergies, or a need to moderate sodium and sugar content of dishes.

“You’re doing your guests a favor to put out healthier items even if it is guised in its usual package,” she said.

“Sweet potato fries are fun and a big hit,” she said, suggesting a wedged-cut sweet potatoes baked several different ways: By mixing chili powder and cayenne pepper together in various amounts so the fries taste can range from zesty to savory to burning heat. Cumin alone or mixed with chili powder adds a “savory depth to the dish,” she said.

Once cut into wedges, Mills takes the fries and tosses them with about a tablespoon of avocado or canola oil, which coats the fries, sealing in moisture so it self-steams and permits the spices to stick better. These healthy oils burn at a higher heat than extra virgin olive oil.

Bruschetta is another easy, make ahead dish.

Mills suggests purchasing a bagette and slicing it into rounds and baking in the oven.

Once golden and toasty, top with a dollup of pico de gallo which can be homemade or purchased in the store.

“You can buy it premade, I prefer a hot version, and it is an easy shortcut. It’s also healthy as the premade mixture doesn’t usually contain added salt,” Mills said.

When it comes to dips, the nutrition experts offer these suggestions (see related recipes):

n Buffalo Chicken Dip with reduced calories by using nonfat Greek yogurt and ranch seasoning mix

n Make a salsa-style dip from tomatoes with pesto and basil sprinkled throughout

n Asian Style Butternut Squash hummus

n White bean pesto

n Chick peas or black beans blended via a food processor into a smooth paste to use as a dip or base. Add onions or carrots for a vegetable dip. Make extra of the mixture and add a raw egg and bread crumbs and form into veggie burger sliders. These can be made ahead then placed on parchment paper and placed in a toaster oven. Serve with plain Greek yogurt blended with apricot and honey, a touch of cumin, topped with freshly chopped cilantro.

n A grain-based salad made from ferro, bulgar or brown rice replaces a traditional hoagie. Serve warm or make one day ahead to “meld” flavors.

n Jicama Slaw

“These vegetarian offerings go over like gangbusters,” Mills said.

Afraid of having too much leftover? Mills said leftover pico de gallo can go into chili for an easy weeknight meal or frozen. Leftover bean dip can be frozen and used as a creamy base for soups or quiches.

Planning ahead also provides festive options when it comes to beverages.

“The Super Bowl is notoriously about cocktails, but non-alcoholic versions can be equally as festive. Or, mix water with sliced, fresh fruit such as blueberries or slices of lemon.

Another tip: Make ice cubes filled with water or fruit juice and add in a fruit of choice, such as blueberries.

“These ‘mocktails’ look festive but provide an alternative to alcohol and enable the guest to feel part of the festivities,” Mills said.

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

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