Quick Facts: Your Game Plan: Healthful Snacking for Sports Fans

(FN1406, Reviewed Sept. 2020)

Your favorite team is winning and you just watched the best half-time show you have ever seen. You reach into the bowl of crunch snacks and discover it's empty. How did that happen? Included in this publication are tips to manage snacking, ideas on how to make snacks healthier, along with recipes to enjoy.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
Other Authors

Rachelle Fetsch, Student Dietitian

Web only
Publication Sections

Keep Your Eye on the Bowl

According to a study conducted at Cornell University, 54 percent of American adults aim to finish everything on their plates.

Copyright: Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” (Used with permission)

10 Training Tips to Manage Snacking

Pick a strategy or two to get started.

  1. Serve yourself the amount of food that is equal to one serving according to the Nutrition Facts Label (if available).
  2. Eat from a smaller plate instead of directly out of the bag or the container.
  3. When your plate is empty, stop. Don’t go back for seconds.
  4. Eat slowly. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to get the message that your stomach is full.
  5. Take control of the amount of high-fat and high-calorie items you consume by taking seconds of vegetables and salads instead of meats and desserts.
  6. Pay attention to what you are eating. Enjoy the aroma and taste of your foods.
  7. Use smaller serving utensils. You may serve yourself a smaller portion.
  8. Keep the remnants of foods (such as chicken wings) on a plate in front of you so you can see how many you have eaten. The same can be done with other foods.
  9. Place foods into smaller containers. You and your guests may take a smaller amount of the item.
  10. Keep in mind how long you will need to exercise to burn off all the extra calories you consume.

Menu Lineup

How Do You Tackle Your Hunger?

Here are some popular game-day snacks and some ideas on how to make them healthier.

  • Chili
  • Quesadillas
  • Guacamole
  • Ribs
  • Meatballs
  • Pizza
  • Artichoke Dip
  • Spinach Dip
  • Salsa
  • Wings


Try making “white chili” with low-fat ground turkey breast. Choose lean or extra lean ground beef.


Load up pizza with fresh vegetables, use low-fat cheese and try a whole-grain thin crust. Use turkey pepperoni instead of regular, and add an extra kick with some crushed red pepper.


Choose a leaner cut of meat, such as extra lean ground beef. Serve with fat-free barbecue sauce or a marinara sauce.

Salsa and Guacamole

Try using baked tortilla chips for dipping instead of regular chips. Compare sodium levels of your favorite brands.

Avocados are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They also contain vitamin E, a disease-fighting antioxidant.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Use light or fat-free sour cream or mayonnaise when preparing these dips. Try using whole-grain bread for dipping.

Wings or Chicken Nuggets

Try using a slow cooker or the oven in place of deep-fat frying to prepare wings. Make homemade baked chicken nuggets instead of wings.


Try using low-fat cheese or less regular cheese. Use grilled chicken breasts and load the quesadillas with veggies. Serve them with chunky salsa.

Aim for Fewer Calories

Calories can add up fast when eating or drinking your favorite game-day picks. Did you know that an average slice of pizza has 300 calories? Beverages such as pop and beer also are popular on game day, but consider all the extra calories that are consumed when drinking your favorite beverage.

Average amount of calories

  • Pizza Slice (1/8 pizza), 300 calories
  • 12 oz. Beer, 110 calories
  • 8 oz. Pop, 100 calories

Strike ’Em Out

  1. Drink plenty of water during the game or party. Try adding ice and a citrus twist to make it look like a mixed drink.
  2. Fool the crowd by replacing short, wide glasses with tall, narrow ones. Liquid in tall glasses is perceived as more.
  3. Leave empty bottles, cans or cups in front of you so you have a visualization of how much you already have consumed.

Reference: Wansink, Brian (2006), Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think, New York: Bantam-Dell.

Guide to abbreviations:

c. = cup
Tbsp. = tablespoon
tsp. = teaspoon
pkg. = package
oz. = ounce
lb. = pounds
g = grams
mg = milligrams



  • Baked chips and salsa
  • Spinach Dip* with whole-grain crackers
  • Super Bean Dip*
  • Veggies and Vegetable Dip*
  • Snack Mix*
  • Fruit and Fruit Dip*

Main Course

  • Baked Chicken Nuggets*
  • Taco Meatballs*
  • White Chili*

* Recipe provided


Super Bean Dip

1 (15.5-oz.) can fat-free refried beans
1 (8- or 9-oz.) container bean dip
1 (8-oz.) container low-fat sour cream
1 c. chopped tomatoes
½ c. chopped ripe olives
½ c. chopped green onion
2 c. grated low-fat sharp cheddar cheese
Salsa (optional)
Pita bread, raw vegetables or tortilla chips

Spread refried beans on a large plate. Combine dip and sour cream in a small bowl and spread over beans. Layer tomatoes, ripe olives, green onion and cheese over dip. Serve with wedges of pita bread, raw vegetables, fat-free tortilla chips and salsa. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.

Serves 20. Per serving: 70 calories, 3 g fat, 5 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 300 mg sodium. Recipe courtesy of Northarvest Bean Growers.

Vegetable Dip

1 c. cottage cheese
1 c. low-fat plain yogurt
1-oz. package ranch-style dressing mix

Put ingredients in a blender. Blend on medium speed for about 30 seconds or until mixture is smooth. Serve with assorted vegetables.

Makes eight servings. Per ¼-cup serving: 120 calories, 1 g fat, 5 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein and 530 mg sodium.

Source: Penn State Cooperative Extension

Spinach Dip

1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen, chopped spinach
1 (1.5-oz.) pkg. dry vegetable soup mix
1 carton (8-oz.) fat-free sour cream
1 c. mayonnaise, canola-based
1 (8-oz.) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
¾ c. sliced green onions, including tops
2 round loaves sourdough bread, unsliced

Thaw spinach overnight in the refrigerator; drain and squeeze until fairly dry. Combine spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, water chestnuts, soup mix and onions. Refrigerate. Best eaten the same day. Slice off top third of one loaf of bread; hollow out inside. Cut removed bread and second loaf into 1½-inch cubes. Fill hollowed-out round bread loaf with spinach mixture. Place the cubed bread cut from the loaf around the outside for dipping.

Serves 16. Per serving: 290 calories, 35 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat, 7 g protein, 3 g fiber and 600 mg sodium.

Simple Snack Mix

1 c. whole-grain cereal, such as Cheerios
¼ c. dried fruit of your choice (such as raisins, dried cranberries, cut apricots)
¼ c. nuts (walnut pieces, silvered almonds, pistachios)
½ c. small whole-grain snack crackers or pretzels

Place all ingredients in a large zip-close baggie or storage container and shake it.

Serves three. Per serving: 170 calories, 7 g fat, 24 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 3 g fiber and 270 mg sodium.

Fruit Dip

2 c. low-fat sour cream
1-oz., package sugar-free instant vanilla pudding mix
¼ c. fat-free milk
4 tsp. lemon juice

Whisk together all ingredients until well-blended. Serve with assorted fruit.

Serves eight. Per ¼-cup serving: 90 calories, 5 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 0 g fiber and 190 mg sodium.

Source: Penn State Cooperative Extension

Baked Chicken Nuggets

1 egg plus 1 Tbsp. water
1.5 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 c. cornflakes or other ready-to-eat crumbs
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. Italian herb seasoning or seasoning of your choice
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. onion powder
Honey mustard sauce (optional, as dip for baked nuggets)
Barbeque sauce (optional, as dip)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix egg and water. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and dip in egg. Place cereal in a plastic bag and crush using a rolling pin or can. Add remaining ingredients, except for optional sauces, to cereal crumbs. Close bag tightly and shake until blended. Add a few chicken pieces at a time to crumb mixture and shake. Place chicken pieces on greased baking sheet so they are not touching. Bake until golden brown with an internal temperature of 165 F, or about 12 to 14 minutes.

Serves four. Per serving: 230 calories, 4 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 180 mg sodium.

Taco Meatballs

1 lb. lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 packet. taco seasoning
½ c. water
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. biscuit baking mix
1 c. taco sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients except cheese and taco sauce. Shape into 20 balls. Pour taco sauce over meatballs and sprinkle with cheese. Bake in greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish until meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160 F, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Serves 10. Per serving (two meatballs): 216 calories, 6 g fat, 23 g carbohydrate, 15 g protein, 2.5 g fiber and 604 mg sodium.

White Chili

4 (15- to 16-oz.) cans great northern beans
1½ lbs. ground turkey
2 tsp. garlic powder or fresh minced garlic
2 medium onions, chopped
½ tsp. pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 (4-oz.) medium or hot green chili peppers
4 oz. reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Brown ground turkey; drain fat. Combine in a slow cooker: beans and liquid, ground turkey, garlic, onion, pepper, cumin and chili peppers. Stir, cover and cook on low for three to 10 hours. Taste test; add more chili peppers 1 tablespoon at a time for a hotter taste. Ladle chili into soup bowls and top with shredded cheese.

Serves eight. Per serving: 429 calories, 9 g fat, 52 g carbohydrate, 37 g protein, 12 g fiber and 250 mg sodium. Recipe courtesy of Northarvest Bean Growers.