Cleats & Eats: Snacks from the Sidelines
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Cleats & Eats: Snacks from the Sidelines

Regan Jones from the Professional Palate takes over Robinsbite today as Football Week begins….

When my friend and (much admired) colleague Robin invited me to be a guest blogger here on her blog, I jumped at the opportunity. I admire Robin’s style, spirit for all things food and overall approach to communicating nutrition news. We are cut from the same cloth when it comes to our approach to making nutrition a “taste-first” topic.  

The fact that she does not share my ardent devotion to college football is something that I have chosen not to hold against her. It is, however, the reason that I am thrilled to step in as her guest blogger today to give the RobinsBite audience the seasonal food nod toward one of this country’s favorite pastimes – football.

College, NFL, fantasy, you name it… when it comes to football, my household is probably paying attention to it. (Ironically, I met Robin while living in Texas- the only place on Earth where people actual tailgate for high school football. It’s insane the love of football those wonderful Texans share with folks like me, born and raised in the Deep South where football truly divides families and decides elections. And frankly, I love Texas all the more for it!! But back to the topic at hand….)

I have come to realize over the years, though, that the problem with a season full of tailgating (or better yet “tablegating” for the poor lot of us who have either been displaced from our alma mater in distance OR have a couple of future football fans toddling around the house keeping us home) is that often the nutrition numbers don’t really add up in your favor.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m a big believer in that classic dietitian mantra of “all foods can fit.” But the question is… if you fit in too many fun foods this season, will you really fit into your jeans come Super Bowl?

I get plenty of requests every year to “lighten” a traditional tailgate dish… and I’m happy to oblige. In fact, I’ve just launched a season long #footballfriday bloghop on my blog celebrating popular tailgating dishes from bloggers across the web. But if you really want to score big not only on taste, but nutrition as well, you can look to those naturally nutrient-rich choices that are already fan favorites:  

  • In shell pistachios – In general, nuts are always a good choice because of their vitamin, mineral, protein and fiber content. Where people get into trouble is overdoing their portions (which can mean big calories!) The thing I love about in shell pistachios, though, is that the act of breaking open each pistachio is a natural way to slow down that “grazing” that can otherwise lead to excess calories.
  • Black Bean and Corn Salsa – This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s based on a recipe I tested while working in the Test Kitchen for one of Southern Living’s cookbooks. It’s always a hit, even alongside some of it’s heavier, dip competitors. Fresh salsas, whether made from tomatoes, corn, beans, mangos, peaches… you name it… are an ideal way to sneak in something fresh, veggie &/or fruit filled without making people feel like you brought the “diet dip.”
  • Fruit & Cheese tray – On this point, I differ with some cheeseheads in that I’m actually “pro” cubed cheese for this type of spread. I’ll confess that once you cube cheese, it does begin to lose its moisture faster, so beware of prepping too far in advance. Likewise, I recommend doing it yourself rather than buying pre-cubed cheese (I think the flavor and texture difference is totally worth the minimal extra effort.) Plus, by cubing yourself, you’re able to opt for reduced fat varieties, many of which now come in flavors and taste nothing like they did years ago (Yay! Score one for cheese lovers!) Because fruit is such a natural alongside cheese, here again you’ve offered your pals another nutrient-rich combo in the form of a fan favorite.
  • Roasted Veggie and Olive Antipasto – While traditional antipasto platters contain cured meats, I prefer an all veggie approach. Olives are a classic fixture, as are artichoke hearts. I add to that various roasted veggies (either roasted at home in a 450 degree oven until caramelized or picked up from the local deli). Drizzle with a touch of balsamic vinegar for low fat, high flavor… and can you say antioxidant powerhouse?
  • Grilled Chicken Skewers with Buffalo Sauce – As I said, I really hate to hit people over the head with the “this is lighter” notion. But nowhere is it more welcome in my books than ditching chicken wings (which frankly just don’t appeal to me as they’re mostly just poultry skin… *no thanks*), and instead opting for grilled chicken breast skewers and buffalo sauce. I mean really… what’s the appeal about wings anyway? It’s the heat in the sauce, right? This approach gives you that same appeal for far fewer calories.

I can’t really say whether the appeal of football season is the chance for my team to lace up their cleats and take a run at the championship, the opportunity to spend time with friends and family or simply a good excuse to break out the chip and dip bowl for some delicious eats… probably, it’s a combination of all of the above. I can say, however, that whatever the season holds on the field, lining up these choice clearly means winning “off” the field.       
Regan Jones, RD authors the blog The Professional Palate from her home in Georgia where she is actively grooming two young sons for a lifelong football devotion to her alma mater, Auburn University. (Just don’t tell her husband who is equally devoted to doing the same for their in-state rival.)

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