Tips for winning with game day food

Ever wonder why big sports parties and other large gatherings are known for food that’s notoriously bad for you? Typically, food brings people together and is associated with friends and fun. Sometimes, people are more excited about the food — whether it’s healthy or not — than the game itself.

Some of the most popular foods people bring to parties are:

  • Fully loaded nachos
  • Fried chicken wings
  • Takeout pizza

These foods also are often fat-laden offenders. Each of these choices can have between 600 and 1,000 calories in a typical, party-sized portion. For example, two pieces of all-meat pizza contain 720–940 calories and 34–56 grams of fat. Add some nachos and you’ll likely eat another 600 calories before you even get to dessert.

Negative effects of unhealthy food

On average, partygoers consume a whole day’s worth of calories during these events. The high-fat, high-salt load can temporarily increase blood pressure and lipids in the blood. Generally, you should be able to recover from these spikes without much difficulty. However, if you have heart disease or diabetes, it can be more serious.

Overeating also leads to weight gain, especially around your middle, which can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Thankfully, healthier party food alternatives are available that are both nutritious and delicious.

Healthier food options for your next party

You don’t have to sacrifice nutrition for great taste. A few alternative options include:

  • Fruit skewers or a fruit plate
  • Infused or sparkling water
  • Homemade trail mix made with whole-grain cereal and low-sodium nuts and seeds
  • Low-fat, yogurt-based dips
  • Popcorn
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Veggie tray with hummus

Try putting a healthy spin on your game-time favorites:

  • Bake or air-fry chicken wings instead of frying them in oil.
  • Load a homemade whole-grain or cauliflower crust with veggies instead of serving an all-meat pizza.
  • Swap whole-grain chips with salsa, pico de gallo or black bean and corn dip instead of cheesy nachos.

Finding balance with your food choices

You still can have fun and enjoy what you eat when cheering for your favorite team. Abstaining from food, however, often leads to overindulgence later. Balance is the key.

Try these other tips at your next party:

  • Assess your options.
    Decide what you want to eat, and then be mindful about sticking to your choices.
  • Fill up on veggies first.
    This helps you feel full and limits how much higher-calorie fare you eat.
  • Find the best seat in the house.
    Look for a place to sit that is away from the food table so you’re not tempted to go back for more.
  • Reach for the water pitcher.
    Drinking water will help you feel more satisfied while consuming less food. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and makes you more likely to overeat.
  • Take your time.
    The slower you eat, the fuller you’ll feel and the more you’ll enjoy the food.
  • Watch your portion size.
    Choose a smaller plate to help manage portion size. This makes a big difference in the number of calories you consume.

Watch this video to get healthy eating tips for your next party:

If chicken wings are your favorite party food, try this recipe at your next gathering. You can cut fat and saturated fat in half and reduce calories by more than 100 by using skinless, boneless, chicken breasts instead of chicken wings.

Boneless chicken tenders

Serves 4


4 4-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 4 strips each
1 egg
1 cup panko
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Spray oil


1 cup buffalo sauce or favorite wing sauce

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Grease a baking sheet well with spray oil. Remove all visible fat from the chicken and cut each breast into 4 strips. In a bowl, whisk the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the panko and dry seasonings. Coat the chicken in egg and then coat with the seasoned panko mixture. Shake off excess panko and lay the chicken breasts on the baking sheet. Lightly coat the chicken in spray oil. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is 165 F and just firm to the touch.

In a sauté pan, heat up the buffalo sauce and toss the chicken tenders in the sauce. Serve with a lower-calorie dressing as a dip.

Nutritional per serving (3 chicken strips): 362 calories, 10 grams total fat, 254 milligrams sodium, 41 grams total carbohydrates, 27 grams protein.

Kristi Wempen is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Nutrition in Mankato, Minnesota.