As fall approaches, so do game day celebrations with friends and family. Many of these events are centered around food, but that doesn't mean that they have to be unhealthy. By making minor changes to your menu, you can host a healthy game day party without the extra calories.
Make it a meal
Setting out a spread of snacks often means munching on high calorie foods throughout the duration of the game. Try serving a full meal instead. This will encourage you to eat at only one point during the party and prevent mindless snacking. Invite guests to fill their plates at the start of the game or enjoy the meal during halftime.
Create a healthy DIY buffet
Turning a meal of tacos or soup into a self-serve buffet is a great way to stick to healthy options. For tacos, provide hard shells and soft tortillas as well as lettuce for those who want a salad. Beans, brown rice, poultry, diced tomato, fresh salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce are all healthy fillings that will allow guests to create their own meal. For a soup buffet, set up slow cookers filled with chicken tortilla soup, black bean soup, and chili made with lean ground turkey. Whole grain croutons and crackers, fresh herbs, salsa, chopped avocado, diced onion, and chopped black olives are a few examples of delicious and nutritious toppings.
Limit the options
The larger the variety of foods available, the greater the chance that you will eat more. If you serve appetizers and snacks, limit them to three or four healthy choices. Create mini salads or a soup that can be sipped from a cup. Fire up the grill for chicken satay or shrimp skewers. Serve a healthy bean dip or fresh salsa with chopped vegetables. If there are only a few foods to try, you’ll be less likely to overload your plate and consume more food than you need to feel full.
Keep the food in the kitchen
Avoid leaving snack foods out on the coffee table within easy reach. Set up a buffet of foods near the kitchen and provide plates to encourage everyone to fill their plates and take them back to the television. Keeping the food out of reach will make everyone less likely to engage in mindless snacking throughout the party.
Dress up low calorie drinks
Avoiding alcohol and sodas will save you hundreds of calories. Add some flavorful twists to lower calorie drinks so that you don’t feel deprived. Serve club soda with shots of 100 percent fruit juice or cider. Make up a few pitchers of water that have been filled with cucumber or citrus slices and chilled. Serve unsweetened flavored teas like orange or Chai over ice. Sipping these low calorie drinks during the party will keep you occupied, which may reduce the urge to grab more snacks.
Staying constantly connected via your cell phone or computer creates an environment that can prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response and the release of stress hormones. Research shows that playing computer games can cause some of the same physiological effects as stress, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Links have also been found between technology use, reduced quality of sleep, and increased stress.
Whether or not everyday stress is directly related to poor heart health is still being evaluated, but stress can promote other activities that do increase risks for heart disease. Eating high-fat and high-calorie comfort foods, smoking, and excess alcohol intake are all risk factors that are made worse by stress. Escape from all forms of technology for at least a short period every day and consider taking longer breaks over the weekend or during vacation.
Monitor your sodium intake
Eating high sodium foods can cause sodium levels to build in the blood resulting in increased blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease. National health recommendations suggest that sodium intake be limited to 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, however, some organizations suggest limiting intake even further to 1,500 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to limit your intake of processed foods such as chips, crackers, condiments, and frozen meals or meal kits, and reduce the amount of salt you add to prepared foods before eating.
Eat more fiber
Soluble fiber can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease. Many grains, legumes, and fruits are rich in soluble fiber including oats, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, and citrus. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, which includes soluble and insoluble fiber.
Commit to regular workouts
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease by clearing excess cholesterol from the blood to prevent it from causing clogged arteries. Research shows that two months of regular cardiovascular exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol by as much as five percent. This can be achieved by exercising 30 minutes, five days per week. When planning your program, keep in mind that a healthy heart is not only linked to aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends strength training as a way to reduce heart disease risk.
Get some sleep
Sleeping fewer than six hours per night has been linked to to an increased risk for high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart attack, and stroke. While incorporating more hours of restful sleep each night can help reduce your risk, be sure not to over do it. Research shows that sleeping more than nine hours a night can also increase your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Living a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean that you have to cut out all special occasions. It’s okay to responsibly enjoy happy hour with friends and coworkers from time to time. When you do, aim to make it a healthier event so that it doesn't throw you off track. Here are a few ways you can join the fun without disrupting your progress.
Know the facts.
Before you decide to gather for a drink, it’s important to understand how alcohol impacts weight loss. Not only do alcoholic drinks add calories, they can affect how efficiently you burn body fat and they can also stimulate appetite. Understanding how alcohol can interfere with reaching your goals will help you make healthier choices and prevent the risk that you will overdo it on drinks.
Order a classic.
Fruity and frozen drinks or those mixed with regular soda cause calories and simple sugars to add up. If you want a cocktail, stick with the classics. Traditional daiquiris, martinis, and spirits mixed with club soda allow for a cocktail without the cost of blowing your daily calorie budget. Order a classic martini instead of a cosmopolitan and you will save 70 calories or more.
Stick with smaller portions.
Many craft breweries and tasting rooms provide options for smaller portions that can help you stick to your plan. Order a half pint or tasters of beers for less volume and fewer calories.
Seek out session beers.
It is difficult to estimate the calories in a beer without knowing the exact recipe, but generally when the alcohol content goes up so do the number of calories. Fortunately, session beers provide a lighter option. Session beers are less than 5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). As a comparison, a 12 ounce Budweiser is 5 percent ABV and contains about 145 calories.
Pick wine over sangria.
Stick with plain wine instead of sangria. A five-ounce glass of Merlot contains about 115 calories. Sangria is made with wine, but many varieties have added fruit juice, syrups, liqueurs, and some even contain flavored sodas like ginger ale. All these additions cause the calories to soar to over 200 for one glass.
Work in water.
Alcohol is dehydrating so keep your water intake up even if you only have one drink. Drink a glass of water before and after your cocktail. Dehydration can zap your energy levels making you feel sluggish and unmotivated for tomorrow morning’s workout.
Select the snacks.
Consuming alcohol lowers inhibitions making it much easier to engage in mindless snacking. If your table decides to order a few bar bites, take charge of the situation and order some healthier items. Check for options like grilled chicken satay, sautéed shrimp, or lettuce wraps. If none of the offerings meet your healthy eating plan, order a side salad or a cup of broth-based soup. Ignoring your hunger will only make you cave in when the high-calorie appetizers get passed around the table.
Committing to take your lunch to school or work every day is just one step in the right direction. Once lunch time arrives, the meal needs to be appealing so that you won’t pass on it in favor of going out, and it should also be balanced in nutrients to keep your energy up throughout the afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you pack a healthy lunch that you will enjoy eating.
Pack a filling meal.
Taking a small lunch in an effort to save calories is a plan that can backfire. Your hunger may overwhelm you soon after the meal. Take enough food so that you feel comfortably full after eating. Choose foods that supply protein, fiber, and healthy fat. They will take longer to digest, keeping you full and satisfied. They will also help to sustain energy levels longer than a meal filled with simple carbohydrates.
Include something new in your lunch at least once per week. Try an exotic fruit or splurge on a infused-olive oil for your salad. Eating healthy food should be something you look forward to. Adding variety to your meals makes you less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
Keep it balanced.
As you pack your lunch, keep a mental list of all of the components of food that benefit your health -- protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and plant phytochemicals. Select combinations of foods that will supply all of these beneficial nutrients. The more balanced your meals, the greater your food variety and the more nourished your body will be.
Include some foods that will help satisfy cravings and keep you from mindlessly snacking throughout the afternoon. Include a small square of dark chocolate or a mixed fruit salad for dessert. Instead of chips, satisfy your craving for something crunchy and salty with lightly salted air-popped popcorn or roasted chickpeas.
Make it interesting.
Most importantly, pack a lunch that you want to eat. A bland salad may make you feel like you are being good, but if you don’t enjoy it, a coworker’s offer to split her high-calorie take-out may be difficult to pass up. Pack food that is interesting and appealing. If you want to stick with a salad, dress it up with shredded cabbage, bok choy, fresh fruit, beans, colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. If you feel like you are in a lunch rut, try some of these ideas.
Preparing more of your own food at home gives you control over ingredients to reduce unhealthy additives and increase beneficial nutrients. It can feel overwhelming at first, but by making small, gradual changes you can learn to be a better cook and improve your health in the process.
Take it one week at a time.
Cooking does take time and it’s helpful to set time aside over the weekend to plan for the week ahead. First, be realistic about how many meals you can cook at home. There will always be planned nights out or lunch meetings that will eliminate your need to cook. The goal is to make the choice to cook when you can. You might plan to take lunch to work every day or cook dinner three nights a week. Pick an achievable starting point and add more homemade meals over time.
Browse, plan, and shop.
Food blogs, cookbooks, and magazines are helpful resources for finding simple, healthy recipes. Keep a log of the recipes or snack ideas you’d like to try and pick a few new ones each week. Use this as a guide for your weekly shopping list to ensure you have everything you need to stay on a healthy eating plan.
Accept some help.
Cooking at home doesn’t always mean that you have to make everything. When you are crunched for time, consider buying a rotisserie chicken or prepared veggie burgers at the deli. Take it home and pair it with a fresh green salad and a quick homemade dressing. Buying part of the meal prepared and adding some healthy ingredients at home is still better than swinging through the fast food drive-thru.
Find ways to save time.
It’s unrealistic to think that you will have the opportunity to prepare a big meal every single night. Set aside time to prep your food for meals that you want to squeeze in during a busy day. Cut up vegetables for a stir-fry or slice fruit for a smoothie as soon as you get back from the supermarket. Store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your meal. Make no-cook oatmeal or salad in a jar at the start of your week so you’ll have a quick homemade breakfast or lunch when you need it. Also, try doubling recipes that reheat well like soups, stews, beans, and vegetables so you have the leftovers to enjoy for lunch or to use as an addition for later meals.
Enjoy the process.
Cooking more isn’t without frustrations. You will likely have to overcome a learning curve for some recipes, or limit time for another activity to commit to cooking. Focus on the positives of the experience. Cooking empowers you to improve your diet and increase your nutrition. It develops the same kind of self-discipline that is necessary for successful weight loss. Cooking is also an activity that brings people together. Grab your family or a friend and gather in the kitchen to cook, learn, improve your health, and nurture your relationships.