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How to Eat Healthy at the Stadium

Photo: Getty Images

Football season has arrived, which means you may find yourself spending more hours inside sporting arenas with limited food choices—and certainly very few "healthy" options. After the indulgences of a tailgating party, it may seem all too easy to continue the day inside the stadium with more hot dogs, burgers, ice cream, and, of course, beer. By the time the game is over, you could easily consume too many mindless calories to count. However, with minimal planning ahead of time and a few of the following smart strategies, you can still spend a day at the stadium cheering on your favorite team without blowing your calorie count.

It’s hot, the crowd is roaring, and as the team takes the field, nothing sounds better than another beer and cold ice cream—most likely in a tiny plastic football helmet cup, of course. What could be better? Four hours later though, without even realizing it, you’ve consumed a hot dog, chips and dip at the tailgate, plus a hamburger, kettle corn, ice cream, and more beer at the stadium. What's a healthy eater with a knack for football stats and roster ratings to do?

With limited options, it may seem as if there's no way to escape high-calorie and even higher-priced food at a stadium. However, more and more sporting arenas are adding salad, fruit, and lighter fare to their menus. Now you just have to know where to find them. If your stadium is slow to the new healthy-eating game, we've got a few tips you can utilize to help you save hundreds of calories and maybe even hundreds of dollars during your next game day meal.

Before You Arrive at the Game (and Tailgate)

  • Eat at home. Eat a filling and nutritious meal before you leave your house. This will not only save you some money, you won’t be as drawn to splurge on buttery pretzels and hot dogs right when you arrive.
  • Hydrate. Drink A LOT of water before you leave for the game, and bring a good water supply to the tailgate. Most stadiums do not let you bring water or containers into the stadium, so prepare ahead of time to stay hydrated. We definitely suggest you buy a water once you’re inside the stadium, but save a few dollars by hydrating well before you punch your ticket at the gate.
  • Check your stadium's rules. Before heading to the game, check to see if the stadium allows guests to bring in food or even a small cooler. If so, consider packing granola bars, carrots, apples, and prepared sandwiches. This will save you on calories, money, and even the long lines that form during halftime.

Once You’re Inside The Stadium

  • Scope out your possibilities. If you’re unfamiliar with the arena, walk around to see what all the food options are. Don’t succumb to the first cotton candy or fried chicken stall you see.
  • Step to your snack. If you want to get a snack, get up and go to the stall to order. Avoid buying everything off the popcorn, ice cream, and caramel corn men walking through the aisles. The healthiest options are never available in their coolers. Plus, you’ll get a break from sitting down for hours by taking a walk.
  • Share your food. Get a few options to share between your group to avoid overeating and the need to buy a hot dog, garlic fries, and peanuts all for yourself.
  • Be salad smart. If you do order a salad (and we're not saying you have to), make sure to check out the dressing. Skip the creamy dressings and ask for a vinaigrette instead.
  • Skip sodas all together. Soda might sound refreshing in the hot sun, but with the overload of sugar will leave you craving more food afterwards, and you may feel even more dehydrated.
  • Ban the booze. Skip alcohol as well to avoid empty calories. The more alcohol you consume, the more easily that jumbo cheese-filled pretzel looks appetizing. If you want to sip on something instead of water, one light beer per half is OK.
  • Consider the nutrition. Look for the protein-packed options that don’t go overboard on calories. If the stadium offers chicken and rice bowls, skip the teriyaki sauce and ask for the brown rice. If there’s a BBQ stall, order the chicken sandwich without the bun and a side of sauce for dipping, not pouring.
  • Pick healthier sides. If you want a side with your meal, avoid chips and fries. These will just make you feel more hungry (and thirsty) thanks to the excess salt. If the stadium offers fruit, order some for sweetness that will satisfy your ice cream craving, too.

What To Buy

Many stadiums do not allow guests to bring in their own snacks, so here are our suggestions if you find yourself hungry during the game and need clear ideas so you can avoid the cheesy nachos with extra toppings.

  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich: A hamburger might seems like a healthy option until you start piling on the cheese and extra sauces. Try ordering a grilled chicken sandwich instead, not a fried chicken sandwich. This also means avoiding fried chicken tenders as they pack in saturated fat and sodium. Not only is a grilled chicken sandwich a low-calorie choice, this option is packed with protein and will keep you full and satisfied the whole game.
  • Popcorn: This does not mean Cracker Jacks or kettle corn. Ask for popcorn without butter, and you can add salt and pepper for flavor. It’s even better to share with a group so you can all get a filling snack without overdoing it on calories.
  • Peanuts: A classic stadium snack, peanuts are OK to share as a snack. One bag of peanuts can be highly caloric, but when you share them among a group, you are getting heart-healthy fats and eating a snack that hasn’t been processed or covered in sugar. That's a win-win.
  • Sausage: Without the bun, a sausage with grilled onions and peppers is an option that won’t ruin your diet. A hot dog is an okay option for smaller football fans, but try to stick to the more natural meats that are found in Italian or bratwurst sausages. If the sausage is large, split it with a football friend so you can fill up without being stuffed.

Football games and tailgating weekends don't have to be a diet buster. These smart strategies can help you avoid calorie traps, fill up without overfilling, and possibly even save a few dollars.