Stadium food is horrendously expensive and unhealthy, but it’s part of the fun of a ball game. And even if you’re trying to stick to a diet, you’re going to be at the game for a couple hours, so as a human, you’re going to have to eat something. Here’s how to navigate the world of peanuts and Cracker Jack.
The Best Kept Secret: You Can Pack a Snack
If you’re used to sneaking your own candy bar into movie theaters, you may be surprised to learn that you can openly carry an entire lunch into most Major League ballparks, and a lot of other sporting events too. This open secret saves calories and money.
A typical ballpark will let you bring at least one water bottle (plastic and unopened) and a reasonable amount of single serving food. So a sandwich is fine, a whole pizza? Not so much. Check your stadium’s policies for the details. All MLB parks ban hard-sided coolers though, and some prohibit throwable fruits like un-sliced apples, so watch out on what you bring and what you transport it in.
Go In With a Plan
If you just head in to the ballpark empty handed, with a vague idea that you’re going to “eat healthy,” don’t expect to have much success. The temptations are many and intriguing. For example, Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, boasts the ‘Da Burger’ Cuban Pork Burger: For all the pork lovers out there, a grilled pork patty is topped with bacon, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard aioli. Who can resist that?
It’s okay if you enjoy ballpark food; for many of us, it’s part of the experience. So if you’re not satisfied with the sandwich, decide how you’re going to approach the ballgame:
- Will your plan to fail, taking a guilt-free break from your diet for the evening?
- Will you consider this a limited indulgence situation, budgeting your calories elsewhere so you can have some treats?
- Will you spend extra effort scouting out the stadium’s (perhaps very few) healthy options?
Pick a plan and stick to it. To do that, you’ll have to define what you mean: maybe you can allow yourself 500 calories of ridiculousness, plus a salad. Or maybe you’ll pack a healthy lunch but plan on buying a few beers.
You can also cut down on your pre-game hunger by eating something healthy before you get to the game, or by filling up on water. (Don’t forget you can refill that plastic bottle at the water fountains.)
Watch the Portion Sizes
Bottomless popcorn is a trap and you know it!
Places with expensive food, like stadiums and festivals, make large portions feel like a really good deal. You might be paying ten dollars for that popcorn, but you can have as much of it as you want. And to make sure you get your money’s worth, you’ll probably run back up to the concession stand between innings for a refill or two.
Obviously, that’s a diet-buster. Better to plan out ahead of time how much you think is okay to eat, and only have that much. If you really need a taste of that cracker jack hot dog, split it with a friend. (The bottomless bucket is still good as accident insurance if you’re bringing children or drunk friends.)
Here are typical calorie counts for popular stadium food:
- Beer: around 100 calories for light beer, 140 for regular
- Cotton candy: 220 calories (2-ounce bag)
- Hot dog: 300 calories and up, depending on toppings
- Nachos: 346 calories for a serving of 6-8 chips with plain cheese
- Peanuts in the shell: 300 calories per cup
- Popcorn: ranges from 400 calories for a 7-cup small, to 1500 calories for a 20-cup large with “butter”
- Soda: about 300 calories for a 32-ounce cup
Take advantage of some food psychology: if you go the old-school route with a bag of peanuts, shelling each nut may slow you down enough to help you feel full sooner. You’re already at a disadvantage, though, when it comes to paying attention to how much you eat: distraction encourages you to eat more. That’s why your pre-game plan is so important.
Strategize When Choosing Foods
So what do you do if you’ve shown up without a solid plan? Here are a few strategies that can help you pick the least bad foods available.
- Scope out all your options before deciding what to eat. This may take some time—great if you’re the kind of person to arrive early. With a stroll around all the concession stands, you might find out that there’s a place that offers salads, or a burger stand that has veggie burgers or grilled chicken options.
- Drink water, not soda. Pepsi and friends have a ton of calories, and they’re pure sugar. Water (and sparkling water) is both healthier and cheaper, so strongly consider it. Seltzer and diet soda are good options if you want some fizz but would rather save those calories for a slice of Giordano’s Pizza.
- Look for protein. You’ll usually stay full longer if you go for a hot dog or a chicken sandwich than if you down the same number of calories in fries or popcorn. Fat also has this effect, but it can be more calorie dense, so decide if that’s worthwhile for you.
- Watch out for sides and sauces. We know. It’s hard to turn down free sour cream. But if a sauce or side isn’t crucial to your enjoyment of the food, consider skipping it or only taking a little.
After all, eating out at a stadium isn’t all that different from eating out at a restaurant. Just know that you’ll be in a place with lots of tempting options, and plan accordingly. Packing a snack and drinking some water already puts you in a better position than if you had just wandered in hungry and clueless. So now you’ll be prepared the next time you take yourself out to the old ball game.