The Energy Chef: Game-Time Snacks

Football season is under way, and most of us love to sit around and watch our favorite team play. We love eat to eat salty snacks such as chips, pizza, popcorn -- you get the picture. Let’s play with these favorites to avoid getting tackled by empty and high-caloric, fatty snacks.

Football season is well under way, and when I'm not tailgating at the game, I love to invite friends over to watch my favorite teams play. Football and snacks go hand in hand, but it's easy to overdo it on chips, pizza and popcorn.  Don't let your diet get tackled by high-calorie, fatty snacks. Try my lighter takes on favorite football foods.

Chips and Dip, Lightened Up

When I’m snacking, it's all about the crispiness of the chip combined with a change in texture when I dip it into a creamy, flavorful sauce. You can easily consume 500  to 700 calories of chips and dip in less than an hour, and if other snacks are in play, it's easy to hit the 1,000 calorie mark before halftime.

So how do you lighten it up? Start with the chips.  Instead of typical tortilla or potato chips, make your own out of vitamin-rich yucca, a root commonly found in tropical environs. I pair the chips with guacamole, but a lightened-up artichoke dip or hummus would also be delicious.

Cilantro Lime Yucca Chips With Guacamole (pictured above)

Yield: 12 Servings

Ingredients:
1 large yucca root, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 3 limes, divided
3 medium avocados, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

In a large bowl, toss yucca, olive oil, half of the cilantro and the juice of one lime. Season chips with salt and pepper. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray, then lay yucca slices flat on a baking sheet. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

For the Guacamole:

In a medium bowl, mix diced avocado with remaining cilantro and lime juice; season with salt and pepper and mash to your favorite consistency -- I like mine chunky. Save those avocado shells to use as a serving "bowl."

Nutrition Info Per Serving
Calories: 115
Total Fat: 8 grams
Saturated Fat:  1 gram
Total Carbohydrate:  12 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Sodium:  107 milligrams
Cholesterol:  0 milligrams
Fiber: 3 grams
A Better Slice of Pizza

I love pizza and can easily polish off a whole pie, but that’s definitely not the best thing for your waistline, or any other part of your body. What’s better with pizza than beer? But before grabbing a cold one, work up a thirst throwing the football around.  Then, have a big glass of water -- you'll feel fuller and won't be as tempted to overindulge.

Instead of greasy delivery pizza, make your own, fast, with a whole-wheat flour tortilla. The best part? You control the toppings. Top tortillas with your favorite veggies and just enough cheese to make it gooey and delicious -- I use a mixture of goat cheese and mozzarella.  Plus, it takes less than 10 minutes in the oven. Beat that, delivery guy!

Veggie Tortilla Pizza

Yield: 10 servings

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 medium yellow squash, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 package (10 count) low-carb whole wheat tortillas
3 ounces herbed goat cheese (optional)
1/2 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium saute pan, heat oil, add veggies, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until just softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Lay tortillas on a baking sheet and top each one with veggies, cheese and fresh basil. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Nutrition Info Per Serving (1 tortilla pizza) :
Calories: 155
Total Fat: 7  grams
Saturated Fat: 3 grams
Total Carbohydrate: 15 grams
Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 404 milligrams
Cholesterol: 11 milligrams
Fiber: 9 grams
Popcorn: Salty, Sweet and Slimmed

It’s fall, and who doesn’t love the flavor of good, old-fashioned kettle corn? I make my version with agave nectar instead of traditional white sugar, and I pop the popcorn on the stovetop with just enough canola oil.

Agave Kettle Corn

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt

Directions:

Pour canola oil and 2-3 kernels popcorn into a large sized pot with tight fitting lid. Place over high heat on stovetop. When the 2-3 kernels pop, pour in the remaining kernels and move pan around over heat until all of the popcorn has popped.

In a small bowl, mix agave nectar, cinnamon and salt. Pour mixture over popcorn in pan and toss with hands or wooden spoon. Lay popcorn out on baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes.

Nutrition Info Per Serving (1 cup each):
Calories: 71
Total Fat: 3 grams
Saturated Fat: 0 gram
Total Carbohydrate: 11 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 194 milligrams
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram

Don't forget to have a little fun at halftime: Grab a pigskin and play a little two-hand touch football with your friends and kids to burn off some of those snacking calories.  When halftime is over, you can go back to watching...and eating!

Next Food Network Star season 6 finalist Herb Mesa is a restaurant-trained chef, a self-taught healthy cuisine chef and a certified personal trainer. Herb teaches ‘balance through food and fitness’, and works as a personal chef and trainer in Atlanta.

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