You can watch the football game, and your waistline

By: Leah Rosasco, Auburn Journal Correspondent
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Although the holiday season has moved on and taken its chocolate, egg nog and figgy pudding with it, football season has settled in with its own set of culinary temptations.

While chicken wings, nachos, ribs, chips, dips, and meat wrapped in bacon are the pillars of any respectable football party, they don’t typically provide options for those who are trying to make healthy food choices. However, with just a few small changes some of football food’s most notorious offenders can be downright healthy, and nobody needs to know.

“Unless somebody has specific dietary restrictions you don’t need to call attention to any healthy changes you’ve made to the food you serve,” said Rosemary

Carter, Program Manager with the University of California Cooperative Extension’s CalFresh Nutritional Education Program. “There is a mindset that if it’s healthy it won’t taste good so people tend to avoid the ‘healthy’ version of foods, but then they miss out.”

While most dishes can be modified to reduce the amount of fat, calories and sodium, Carter said not all foods are meant to be messed with. Guacamole, for example is a dish best left in its natural state, as it is a good source of the unsaturated fats we need.

“I knew someone who was very proud of the ‘fat free guacamole’ recipe she found,” Carter said. “It was made out of asparagus, and it was not good. At all.”

When trying to determine which foods to put a healthy spin on, try to consider how noticeable the change will be,  Carter said. For example, swapping out full-fat cream cheese for its lower-fat counterparts will be less obvious in a cheesy crab dip than it will if you’re serving a block of cream cheese topped with salsa or pepper jelly. In the case of dips and spreads, providing a variety of “delivery options”, such as whole wheat pita chips or vegetable sticks, is a small change that can make a big difference in the amount of fat, calories and sodium consumed, but won’t affect the flavor.

“The important thing is to make sure the healthier options taste just as good, and with some foods you just can’t do that,” Carter said.

Although it may be difficult to let go of the original version of some foods, the idea is to give your guests, and yourself, healthy options.

Mollie Beeman, 40, of Meadow Vista, said she tries to provide several healthy dishes at her family’s annual Super Bowl party, although she said it is typically the cocktail wieners wrapped in bacon that disappear first.

“For us the Super Bowl is about indulging, but I make a turkey chili and I usually make hummus and a veggie tray, so at least people can go for that if they want to,” Beeman said.

For the most part Beeman said although the healthier items are not the first things people go for, nobody has complained or gone hungry.

“There might be a few people who notice that you’ve used turkey instead of beef but it still tastes really good so they’ll eat it,” Beeman said.

If changing the food itself is not an option, changing the way certain foods are served at least allows the option of making a healthier choice. Mary Eddenfield, co-owner of Penguin’s Catering in Auburn, suggests serving sauces for meat skewers, ribs and chicken wings on the side when possible, rather than coating them during the cooking process.

“Putting teriyaki, barbecue, and hot sauces in a squeeze bottle lets people determine exactly how much, or how little, they want to use,” Eddenfield said.
U.C. Cooperative Extension’s, Carter agreed, and said giving people easy access to healthy options helps them to make better choices. For example, Carter suggests adding bottles of water to the soda and beer selection rather than directing people to the kitchen for a glass of water.

“If you make the healthy option easy for people they are likely to choose it,” Carter said.  “And you can feel good that you’re helping the people you care about.”