What to Serve on Game Day

Tamara Duker Freuman

If you've held fast to your New Year's resolution to eat healthier so far, you may want to steer clear of any Super Bowl parties to keep it that way. As we all know, traditional Super Bowl fare ranges from fried chicken wings and pizza to chips with high-fat dips.

For those of you determined to enjoy the big game AND keep your healthy eating momentum going, however, there are lots of ways to make it through the night without gaining too much yardage ... around your waistline. Hosts and hostesses: Take note!

[See Baltimore vs. San Francisco: Health Showdown]

Capture the flavors, not the calories. Love nachos? buffalo wings your thing? Why not recreate their signature flavor profiles, and use them to adorn a variety of more nutritious, lower-calorie carriers?

-- Forget the chicken wings; even if they're not fried, their high skin-to-meat ratio makes them a super fatty carrier for the buffalo seasoning you're after. Why not try broiled buffalo shrimp instead? A single, 1-ounce, raw chicken wing has about 65 calories; an equivalent portion of raw shrimp--about four large ones--has only 25 calories.

Just toss peeled, deveined shrimp in a store-bought buffalo spice mix, and roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about five minutes, or until opaque. (Alternatively, Martha Stewart offers a recipe for buffalo shrimp spice mix on her website.) Serve with celery sticks and light ranch dressing.

[See 5 Simple Steps to a Tasty (and Healthy) Sandwich]

-- For a tortilla-free nacho experience, try nacho-stuffed peppers instead. Start with bell pepper halves that have been seeded and blanched until slightly softened, and stuff with your favorite nacho toppings--black beans, fat-free refried beans, or taco-spiced, cooked ground turkey. Sprinkle with cheese, then place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and melted. Top with salsa, and serve!

Create creaminess without cream (or mayo). I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the oft-cited swap of nonfat (zero percent), plain Greek yogurt in place of regular sour cream in dip recipes. Similarly, you can use it to replace up to half the regular mayo called for in a recipe for salad dressing; I like to spike the yogurt with a touch of Dijon mustard for a zestier, more mayo-ish flavor. The sour cream swap saves you about 315 calories per cup; the mayo swap saves you around 1,370 calories per cup. But here are even more lower-calorie swaps you may not have heard about yet:

-- Try pureed white beans (drained, from the can) as a substitute for half of the sour cream in your favorite hot spinach dip; this will save you over 100 calories--most of which come from saturated fat--for each half a cup of sour cream replaced.

[See Is Dairy Healthy or Not?]

-- To lighten that spinach dip even further, you can puree canned artichoke hearts packed in water or brine to replace the other half of the sour cream. The artichoke hearts will add delicious flavor and creamy texture and cut the calories by an additional 130 calories per half cup of sour cream spared.

-- For guacamole, take a recipe that calls for three avocados, and substitute with just one avocado combined with two cups of frozen peas, cooked and pureed. Follow the rest of your guacamole recipe as written (onions, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, etc) for seasoning. This swap will save about 250 calories per batch.

Re-do your dip delivery. We all appreciate that crunchy textures complement creamy dips. But crunchy need not mean carby! There are plenty of fabulous dip-delivery systems that add flavor, crunch, and visual appeal. So toss the empty-calorie (and boring) potato chips and tortilla chips, and consider these alternatives:

-- Peel off individual leaves of endive and use them as a boat for chunky dips and seafood salads. Endive has a naturally curved, "scooplike" shape that makes it a perfect carrier for substantial toppings like crab dip or spinach-artichoke dip.

-- Slice a large cucumber on the diagonal to create oblong "crackers" whose flavor complements everything from Mediterranean hummus and tzatziki to classic seven-layer dip. Your gluten-free, low-carb, or Paleo guests will appreciate a grain-free, non-cracker option for dipping!

[See What is Gluten, Anyway?]

-- If you can't envision a completely chip-free Super Bowl, look for a brand called Beanitos at health food stores (or order them online in advance). They're low-sodium, tortilla-style chips made of bean flours and whole-grain rice instead of refined cornmeal. This swap will increase the protein and fiber by 2 and 4 grams, respectively, for each 1-ounce serving. This makes them a lower-glycemic choice for diabetic and weight-watching guests.

[See Use and Abuse of the Glycemic Index]

Consider a new crunch. Potato chips, corn chips, pretzels, and nachos are loaded with empty calories, and when you're sitting in front of the TV with your hand in the bottomless bowl, you can easily consume a meal or two's worth of calories (and a day's worth of sodium or more). If crunch is what you're after, consider these healthier alternatives:

-- Baked and seasoned, a 99-cent can of chickpeas can be transformed into an addictive crunchy snack that will remind you of a corn nut. To make, just drain a 15-ounce can of chickpeas and pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towels. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and half a teaspoon or more of the spice(s) of your choice: cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder ... use your imagination! Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for spiciness if desired. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit on a baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes (or until brown and crisp), tossing occasionally as needed to help them roast evenly.

[See Chickpeas, 3 Ways]

-- Kale chips are super easy to make and taste way less righteous than they sound. Just wash and tear up two large bunches of kale, setting the pieces on a tea towel and dabbing as needed to dry them thoroughly. Arrange them on a baking sheet, and drizzle them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of sea salt or coarse kosher salt. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes until they're crisp, and voila!

-- Air-popped, lightly-salted popcorn only has about 100 calories per 3-cup serving, so even if you keep dipping back into the bowl, it's hard to do the same amount of damage that can result from some of the other alternatives. Since popcorn is a whole grain, that same 3-cup serving also has 3 grams of filling fiber; as a result, you'll likely feel satisfied with fewer calories than it would take to fill up on chips. If salt alone doesn't thrill you, get creative with your seasonings. Raid that spice cabinet for popcorn-friendly options like rosemary, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, nutritional yeast, chili powder, cayenne pepper--the sky's the limit!

When using canned foods like beans and artichoke hearts such as those suggested in this article, I recommend seeking out brands that don't use BPA in their can liners--this is especially important for pregnant women and young children. For chickpeas and white beans, look for products by Eden Foods; for peas, choose frozen over canned. A brand called Native Forest makes canned artichoke hearts in a BPA-free can.

[See 10 Healthful Snacks That Won't Break the Calorie Bank]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.