8 Ways to Eat Healthier for Football Season

Everybody loves ribs and seven-layer dip - really, they don't even need to be particularly good ribs or seven-layer dip. But you know what everybody does not love? Being fat.

We're aware this might not seem like the most helpful topic as we approach the start of the NFL season. Now is the time for heavy eating. But the fact is, the stereotypical (and delicious, really) diet of pork fat, chips, and beer is unlikely to leave you feeling either svelte or spry. In fact, it'll probably make you feel a little doughy.

So in the spirit of killing that post-summer gut, should such a conundrum arise, we've enlisted chefs Richard Blais and Art Smith - both of whom have their own recent experience dropping some major pounds - to offer guidance for keeping things healthy during every tailgate-worthy moment of joy henceforth. Without giving up the things we appreciate in our food. Like, you know, flavor. And, no, it doesn't involve any kale or rice cakes. We promise.

ULTIMATE TAILGATE MENU: The Easiest Grilling Ideas for Right Now

1. Choose a Leaner Meat

Instead of grilling up ribeyes, sausages, and burgers - at least instead of grilling them all the time - pick up a leaner cut of meat to cut out the saturated fat. "I think in general there is this attitude that lean cuts of protein aren't as flavorful or even cool," says Chef Richard Blais of The Spence, opening this winter in Atlanta. "But a chicken breast or beef tenderloin, or even a less expensive beef cut like a tri-tip steak, can be not only healthier but texturally superior."

2. Flavor with Herbs and Spices, Not Fat

Lean cuts are sometimes criticized for lacking flavor, but rubbing the meat with herbs and spices overcomes the problem. "You can make great barbecue chicken tandoori-style, which means removing the skin and rubbing it with a spice mix that you buy pre-made or mix yourself," says chef and author Art Smith. "A flank steak rubbed with fresh chopped herbs, mashed garlic, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper is easy and delicious."

THE HEALTHIEST BEERS ON EARTH: How to Cut Calories Tonight

3. Add More Acid

Rather than relying on sugary sauces and fatty marinades, throw in some vinegars and citrus juices. "Many barbecue sauces are sweet, but it's acidity that wakes up the palate," says Blais. Chimichurri and vinaigrettes make great alternatives to the heavy stuff. Just be sure to minimize the oil content. And if you need some suggestions, Smith likes to dress his vegetables with fruit vinegars.

. Harness the Many Pleasures of Fish

Seafood is a great change of pace at a barbecue or tailgate. "Swordfish and tuna are good, meaty fish that take to a grill well and also work with aggressive flavors like barbecue sauce and exotic spice rubs," says Blais. "A nice vinaigrette with chili and fresh herbs, some fish sauce, or Worcestershire provides lots of flavor."

EXTREME GRILLING: 8 Chef Recipes to Upgrade Your Cookout

5. Give Up Some Grill Space to Vegetables

We've said it before, but there's more to grilling than just meat. Smith recommends including plenty of produce - zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and onions all make good choices. They can even be grilled ahead of time and served at room temperature.

6. C
rudité Is Not the Enemy

Raw, crispy vegetables are an easy and healthy alternative to chips, and Greek yogurt with fresh herbs and lemon juice makes a great dip that's high in protein, creamy, and low in fat. "I also love tomato-watermelon salad: just slices of ripe tomato, cubed and seeded watermelon, sea salt, and a squeeze of lime," says Smith. "A sprinkle of chili is nice, too."

FOOTBALL PARTY GUIDE: Ideas and Recipes for the Big Game

7. Mix a More Savory Cocktail

On the drinks front, it's all about cutting out as much sugar as possible, which means eliminating syrups and fruit juices and looking to more bitter products like Campari, Pernod, or Aperol for flavor. And really, you should probably be doing this anyway. "The good thing is, modern mixology is all about embracing more savory flavors, not fruity, sweet drinks," says Blais. "I mean, you wouldn't bring caramel-apple martinis to watch the game at a friend's house, would you?" No. No, you would not.

8. Ditch Soda and Beer for Agua Fresca

Instead of guzzling beer or corn syrup-filled soft drinks, Smith recommends considering the Mexican concoction made from fresh-squeezed fruit juice, water, and a little agave nectar (a more healthful alternative to processed sugar). "My favorite is watermelon juice, watermelon fruit, bottled water, agave, and lime juice," says Smith. "Okay, a little vodka doesn't hurt, either." No. No, it does not.


Photo Credit: Getty Images


Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.