Ballpark fare

Baseball and the spring sports season brings the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass and the aroma of grilled hot dogs and popcorn wafting through the air. Peanuts and Crackerjack also come to mind from the lyrics of the familiar song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” What are your favorite ballpark foods?

When my kids were in spring sports I spent many after school hours watching them and their teams on the field with other parents and spectators. It seems that watching a ballgame and eating go hand in hand. When a game can last a couple of hours, or more, that gives us ample time to overindulge in some stadium fare that may or may not be the healthiest options. This scenario applies to attending a game at a major league ballpark as well. Eating at the Twins game is almost like eating at the State Fair — it’s a part of the experience!

While there are creative options available, and some are healthier than others, moderation and portion control are likely your best tactics if your intent is to stick with your usual nutrition goals. Stadium food can be notoriously high in fat, sugar and salt. If you do want to look into the nutritional value of the various foods that you enjoy, there are online databases, such as My Fitness Pal. There is also nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label on pre-packaged products and sometimes this can be an eye-opener when we consider how many servings we may end of eating while we sit or perhaps are even playing in the game. For example, a one ounce bag of a popular brand of salted in the shell sunflower seeds is listed at 190 calories, 16 grams of fat and a whopping 2,100 mg of sodium! A one ounce bag of sunflower seeds is not even that big and it can be easy to go through more than one serving while leisurely enjoying or participating in the ballgame.

Snacks like sunflower seeds and peanuts do contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, making them a healthier option than some other food choices, especially if they are the unsalted versions. But remember that even healthy foods contain calories.

So how can we manage our food options and still enjoy our favorites at the ballpark? Following are some tips to consider:

• Bring your own snacks. Of course this isn’t going to work at Target Field, as you can’t bring along your own food and snacks. But at a local field or venue, this may be an option. You could bring trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, your own popcorn, pretzels or whatever other foods you typically enjoy as a snack.

• Eat before you get there. If the game is happening after school or over a meal time, it gets hard to resist eating with the smell of food in the air and a stomach that is rumbling. Having a sandwich before you get to the field or bringing it and something to drink along with you can provide a healthier choice than having several “snack” type foods at the game. If the ballpark provides grilled items, such as hamburgers or chicken, this is a good option as well.

• Share with a friend. Portion sizes at the ballpark tend to be on the bigger side, so if you really have a hankering for those higher calorie and fat items, share your treat with a friend.

• Stay hydrated. Sometimes we aren’t really hungry, but rather we’re thirsty. And if you’re munching on salty snacks, that can make you even thirstier. Beer and soda aren’t good ways to quench your thirst, so include water as well. This gets to be even more important as the temperatures rise later in the season.

• Feed your player. If you are a parent that is watching your son or daughter participate, be sure that they get a chance to get something healthy to eat before they start playing. I remember as a parent taking turns bringing coolers filled with sandwiches and fruit to a ballgame to feed the players before the game started. Just as a disclaimer, we also brought cookies or bars, but the main thing was to get them some nourishment before the game started so that they could perform and not gorge or spend all their(my) money at the food stand. It always amazed me how many sandwiches a junior high or high school baseball player could eat before a game on a spring evening!

Enjoy the day at the ballpark, don’t strike out on your diet and enjoy finally getting to be outside without a parka on. Let’s play ball!

Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.