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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 21, 2017 4 years ago

Tailgating and other things for which we’re grateful

For football, it’s OK to eat like a kicker, not a lineman.
by: Kristine Nickel Contributor

The first full weekend of college football concluded three weeks ago. Then all hell broke loose, and no one who lived south of Interstate 4 thought about college football. But back to that fateful first Saturday when I managed to watch most of four full football games. There was my alma mater (MSU won), my husband’s (Northwestern won), my brother’s (Michigan won, sorry Gators) and my son’s (FSU lost, super sorry). Here’s the crux of the story: I probably gained 5 pounds between the tailgate party thrown by Big Ten friends and the rest of the food I prepared for the evening games at home. 

Any of this sound familiar? Then there was the junk food binge surrounding the hurricane — disgusting. And the rest of fall isn’t that optimistic either where the scales are concerned. Stores have replaced the stacks of water and batteries with Halloween candy. Soon it will be Thanksgiving and then — well — it’s all over until New Year’s Day when we make our resolutions. 

In one of my powerless moments with nothing else to entertain myself, I made a decision to change up the fat- and calorie-laden foods with look-a-likes that would not — hopefully —sacrifice the flavor profiles of everyone’s favorite football foods. I scoured the internet for healthy eating ideas. 

Healthy tailgating 

My numero uno mash pit of adored calories and addictive fat is Mexican layer dip. Not only is each and every version of this dip deplorably loaded with artery-clogging ingredients, the taco chips are full of carbs. Start with a shredded lettuce base, add the layer of fresh tomato chunks, throw in a layer of grilled corn, black beans (rinsed, straight out of a can), add some shredded chicken off a rotisserie chicken and dust it off with a layer of chopped cilantro. You can use a jar of salsa with some freshly squeezed lime juice to give it the homemade touch. Or, add back some dairy with low fat sour cream and cheese. I used Cabot’s 75% less fat jalapeño Jack cheese shredded. The result was delicious and healthy. Call a penalty on the usual taco chips and try some healthy chips like those made from baked lentils or flax seeds: so much better for you than processed corn or flour.

As long as we’re talking dips, who doesn’t love guacamole? Yes, avocados are healthy fats, but too much of a healthy fat is still fat. So, try this: Halve the amount of avocado in your favorite recipe and substitute an interesting salsa. Add in more of those black beans, which are good sources of protein and fiber. A good squirt of lime juice will brighten the flavor as will some chopped jalapenos. 

Guys are always drawn to chicken wings. But you can make a healthy substitute. This recipe uses cauliflower — just don’t tell anyone its cauliflower. The great thing about this cruciferous vegetable, which is one the super heroes of the vegetable world, is you can use it as a substitute for many things, rice for example, and no one will ever guess. 

But wait, there’s more

Another favorite of the male genus is meatballs. This is my husband’s very favorite thing, and I always mix up a batch for any social occasion at our house whether it involves sports or just the lively art of conversation fueled by cocktails. Swap the ground beef for turkey. Simply purchase a bag or two of frozen turkey meatballs — they come in cocktail size. Dump them into a sauce pan, take a look in your refrigerator for any kind of barbecue sauce you might have on hand, or, lacking that, whisk together mustard — Dijon or spicy is best — with ketchup and whatever hot sauce you have. Sometimes I throw in some red wine or a splash of vinegar. Let those babies simmer until they sing with flavor.  That,  will save around 100 calories and almost 8 grams of fat per serving. Touchdown!  

Generosity works 

It’s not only the victims of disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Irma who benefit from generosity. Research tells us that when we give — and it doesn’t matter how much — we feel better, too. A number of studies show that giving gives a neurological boost that makes us feel happier and increases our feelings of well-being. 

And helmets off to pro football star J.J. Watts, whose early fundraising for victims of Harvey had an enormous multiplying effect. At press time, his foundation alone had raised upward of $37 million. There remain many opportunities to give in our area, too. Check with either of the community foundations — Sarasota County or Gulf Coast for ideas where you can make a contribution.

Kristine Nickel is a marketing communications consultant and former marketing and public relations executive. For more than 30 years, she has relieved her stress by writing features for publications across the country.

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