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Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS Headshot

Super Bowl Survival: Throw an Awesome (But Healthy) Bash

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The Super Bowl is coming up this weekend and if you're hosting a shindig, I'm sure you want to serve up a fantastic feast for the fans. Of course, typical football fare -- nachos, burgers, pizza, chicken wings -- isn't exactly known for being nutritious or wholesome. But there's no reason to sacrifice your guests' health in order to put out a great spread. Here are some tips for a festive but guilt-free celebration that everyone will love -- and love you for.

Healthy Entertaining Tip #1: Serve "Activity" Foods

Rather than load up tables with ready-to-eat fare, set up a make-your-own taco or pizza bar, where guests can choose from a variety of toppings. Personalized pizzas can be finished in the oven or on the grill. It's a fun way to spend time together and it has the effect of slowing everything down, making eating less automatic and more mindful.

Serve peanuts or pistachios in the shell, for the same reason. The act of shelling each nut means you eat them one at a time rather than by the palmful. And the pile of empty shells acts as a subtle reminder of how much you've had -- in a way that a disappearing bowl of salted nuts doesn't.

Healthy Entertaining Tip #2: Don't Compromise Taste for Nutrition

You can spend a lot of energy trying to re-engineer unhealthy foods to be more virtuous -- but there is almost always a certain degree of compromise involved. Rather than settling for pale imitations of the real thing, why not focus on scrumptious party foods that are healthier to start out with?

Instead of making onion dip with fat-free sour cream, choose a naturally lower-fat option like roasted eggplant dip or cucumber-yogurt tzatziki. Instead of Swedish meatballs or pigs-in-a-blanket, try stuffed mushroom caps. If you're splurging on seafood, skip the heavy crab dip and serve steamed shrimp instead. Rather than the ever-present mini-quiches with the calorie-rich pie crust, make or buy bite-sized appetizers in crisp, flaky phyllo dough. And I'd much rather have a nice fresh fruit salad than some sort of sugar-free, low-fat, chemically-tasting cheesecake.

Healthy Entertaining Tip #3: Be Portion-Wise

Visual cues play a powerful role in how much we consume (see also: "Why we Overeat"). Setting out large plates and huge serving platters piled high with food subtly influences people to take larger servings. I'm not saying you need to be stingy with the food, but you can do your guests a favor by giving them slightly smaller plates, using smaller serving platters, and portioning foods into smaller pieces.

Serve sliders instead of full-sized burgers. Make mini tacos instead of regular-sized. Separate grilled chicken into thighs and drumsticks and cut breasts in half. Guests can always go back for more. But chances are that they will eat less and be just as satisfied. (And with fewer regrets!)

In addition, consider putting most of the food and drink in a room other than the one where people are watching the game. If all I have to do to grab another chicken wing is extend my arm, I'm much more likely to keep on eating long after I'm full. But if I have to make a conscious decision to step away from the action to round up more food, I'm more likely to think before I eat.

Healthy Entertaining Tip #4: Employ Variety Strategically

We tend to eat more when there is lots of variety to choose from, and this often gets us into trouble at parties. If there are six different types of chips and pretzels on offer, we're likely to crunch through far more than we would if presented with just one flavor of chips. Luckily, this tendency can just as easily be turned into an advantage.

Limit the chip selection to one or two. But when it comes to putting together the vegetable platter, don't stop with the usual carrots and celery. Pile on veggies of all different colors, shapes, textures, and flavors: grape tomatoes, cauliflower florets, red peppers, Belgian endive scoops, radishes, blanched asparagus. Offer a colorful variety of healthy dip options as well, such as hummus, salsa, roasted eggplant -- but maybe just one cheese or sour-cream based dip. Your guests will enjoy a bountiful spread -- with none of the remorse.

Share Your Favorite Party Tips!

Do you have favorite strategies for healthy entertaining or great-but-wholesome party recipes? Please share them in Comments below.

May the best team win! (And by "best team," I mean the Baltimore Ravens, of course!)

For more by Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

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