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Football Season, Health Appetizers

Sysco Shape September 2013


Football fans tend to eat more when their team loses a game. That’s according to new research from INSEAD, an overseas graduate business school. Although INSEAD’s campuses are in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, a marketing professor and a graduate student at the school decided to research eating habits of U.S. football fans.

The researchers looked at people’s food consumption in more than two dozen U.S. cities during two National Football League (NFL) seasons. The results: fans of the losing team consumed 16 percent more saturated fats and 10 percent more calories, and supporters of the winning team ate 9 percent less saturated fat and 5 percent fewer calories. People were especially likely to eat unhealthy foods if the team lost unexpectedly, by a narrow margin, or against a team of equal strength.

The study authors, Pierre Chandon and Yann Cornil, offered this advice to football fans: “After a defeat, write down what is really important to you in life.”

Or maybe they can reach for healthier foods.

People eat before and during games, too, no matter how their team is performing. As football season begins, some consumers buy more chips, dip and maybe prepared hot appetizers from their local supermarkets. Others look to restaurants—everything from delivery and takeout outlets to sports bars to casual dining eateries—to supply them with their game-day cravings. Others splurge for tickets and enjoy all their football snacking at the football stadiums.

Operators are responding with new, innovative foods. Some chefs are creating more healthful ways to present appetizers. “When we write menus for the stadium, we always try to write in healthy additions to the packages,” says Mark Cornish, the Aramark chef at Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play.Football Fans

Philadelphia-based Aramark, the food and beverage partner for 11 NFL teams, added new items to several stadium menus last year. Some of the foods reflected fans’ desire to eat more local foods, and some were healthier versions of longtime favorites. Among the new items:

  • Barbecue Pork Nacho - pulled pork, cheesy corn, pit smoked beans, pickles, red onions and Heinz Field signature barbecue sauce, at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Crab Nacho - crab dip, jack cheese, tomatoes and scallions, at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Chicken Florentine Nacho - chicken artichoke florentine sauce and parmesan cheese, at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Also, Aramark introduced or expanded its gluten-free options in several stadiums, including M&T Bank Stadium, which now offers gluten-free chicken tenders and sweet potato fries. Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles play, sells gluten-free hot dogs and buns. Several stadiums offer gluten-free beer and pretzels.

In addition, Paul Brown Stadium has created the “TriHealth Live Better Options” menu that includes better-for-you options. (TriHealth is a healthcare system in Cincinnati.) Among the menu items is a meatless Black Bean Burger, which has fewer calories and fat than meat burgers, and is served with salsa and jalapenos. The Hummus and Pita Chips menu item is high in protein and contains healthy fats. Another snack option is almonds, which provide antioxidants, protein, fiber and calcium.

There also are some healthy appetizers on the stadiums’ catering menus. At Soldier Field in Chicago, the appetizer selection includes:

  • Artisan Cheese and Sausage board, with regional cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, cured sausages and gourmet crackers.
  • Seasonal Fruit display, with an array of melons, citrus, whole fruits and berries.
  • Bruschetta Trio, with olive tapenade, marinated vegetables and tomato basil toppings served with garlic crostini.
  • Farmers Market Crudites, with seasonal vegetables and roasted vegetable dip.

Of course, not everyone can attend a live football game. Restaurants are hosting fantasy football parties and game-day events. Some of their healthy appetizers include:

  • Edamame, soy beans steamed with kosher salt
  • Shrimp tacos with cabbage slaw, pico de gallo, brown rice and black beans
  • Flatbreads with roasted vegetables, and low-fat mozzarella
  • Sliders, mini burgers with lean ground turkey on whole-wheat buns
  • Chicken quesadillas with cheese, guacamole and salsa

Football fans also prepare their own foods, often coming up with healthier versions of their favorite restaurant appetizers. A quick Internet search for “healthy appetizers” uncovers many ideas for variations, such as:

  • Soft pretzels with mustard (instead of cheese sauce)
  • Baked Buffalo chicken bits (instead of fried)
  • Deviled eggs with Greek yogurt or olive oil mayonnaise.

Operators can borrow these ideas to update their offerings. Think salsa instead of cheese, grilled instead of fried, pita chips instead of potato chips. Appetizers can be healthful just because they are smaller portions than entrees. Another current trend is sharable appetizers, which can be a healthy alternative because they allow people to customize the size of the appetizer, the sauces and how much of a portion they take.

The goal is to satisfy fans’ food cravings in a fun, delicious and healthy way, no matter what happens on the field.