Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

Rooting for the home team doesn't have to mean running afoul of your diet

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Take me out to the ball game ... and it's one, two, three strikes, your eating healthy plan is out! Or is it?

To me, baseball is synonymous with summer. My family goes to a handful of games each season -- it's tradition! I make sure we go to one of the fireworks games because they never disappoint; each year the fireworks show is more spectacular than the last.

So when we're at the ballpark, can we still score a run with our healthy eating goals?

Well, it's easier now than ever, as baseball stadiums around the country are offering healthier concession options ranging from vegetable soup to roasted turkey legs to sushi. It doesn't have to be all about hot dogs anymore!

I surveyed four well-known ballparks across the country to uncover some of the healthier items on their menus. I also asked what their most popular food items are, and if they had noticed any recent trends in fans' concession purchasing habits. Here's what I found out:

SBC Park (home of the San Francisco Giants)

Healthier options (some of these items are only served at the "club" level):

  • Portabella mushroom sandwich
  • Greek salad with light Greek vinaigrette (served in a flatbread)
  • Grilled summer vegetable skewers
  • Lemon garlic marinated skinless chicken breast (served with Bermuda onions on a cornmeal Kaiser bun)
  • Lower-fat hot dogs and veggie dogs
  • Granola and yogurt parfait (made with whole-milk organic yogurt, blended with vanilla and coconut and layered with granola and blackberry compote)
  • Fresh fruit (served in the Farmers Market section)

Most popular items:

  • The Portabella mushroom sandwich and grilled summer vegetable skewers (see above)
  • Strawberry shortcake (strawberry puree blended with brown sugar is drizzled over homemade biscuits and topped with fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream)
  • Garlic fries
  • Hot dogs

Recent trends:

  • "Whole" unprocessed and organic foods are becoming more popular
  • But "hearty foods" are going strong (SBC has a new, very popular Irish Pub)

Safeco Field (home of the Seattle Mariners)

Healthier options: (some are sold in the "health hut" in Safeco Field)

  • Veggie dogs
  • Gardenburgers
  • Vegan soups
  • Caesar salad (there are a couple of reduced-fat dressings to choose from at the "club" level of the stadium)
  • Blackened salmon Caesar salad
  • Hummus platter

Most popular food items:

  • The Major League Mariners' Hot Dog
  • Ivar's Fish & Chips
  • Pizza

Recent trends:

  • A big shift toward light domestic beers

Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets)

Healthier options:

  • California roll (sushi made with cooked crab and avocado) and shrimp roll
  • Chicken parmesan pizza
  • New York-style cheese pizza

Most popular items:

  • Italian sausage with onion and green peppers, served in a bun
  • Chicken tenders and fries
  • Hot dogs

Ameriquest Field (home of the Texas Rangers)

Healthier options:

  • The "Kids Stand" area offers fresh fruit, fruit juice, and milk
  • The stadium smokehouse serves turkey legs
  • Chicken Caesar salad with a light dressing
  • Fresh soft pretzels
  • Cheese pizza

Most popular food items:

  • Jumbo hot dogs
  • Pretzels
  • Garlic fries
  • Smokehouse brisket

Recent trends:

  • Low-carb cola, beer, salads, and wrap sandwiches are more popular

I was thrilled to see that many ballparks are making an effort to offer more healthful concession options. The standards, like hot dogs and French fries, aren't going anywhere -- but isn't it nice that there is room on the menu for veggie kabobs, light Greek salads, Gardenburgers, and sushi?

The way I see it, there are four basic keys to more healthful ballpark dining:

1. Choose the lower-fat, lower-calorie concession selections.

Every time you buy something at a ballpark, you are placing a vote to the management, telling them what you like to see on the menu. Shea Stadium added a Gardenburger to its menu last year, but it was taken off for this season due to insufficient sales.

So if your stadium offers a healthful menu option, show them that you are all for it -- order that instead of the hot link sandwich.

2. BYOP (Bring Your Own Produce)

Fruits and vegetables are much better to mindlessly munch than peanuts, chips, Cracker Jacks, etc. With their high fiber and water content, they help fill you up so you will be less likely to overeat ballpark fare.

Let's compare a cup of the traditional munchies with a cup of assorted fruits and vegetables:

  • 1 cup peanuts: 854 calories, 72 g fat, 10 g fiber
  • 2 ounces potato chips: 305 calories, 19 g fat, 2 g fiber
  • 1 cup Cracker Jack: 169 calories, 3.3 g fat, 1.5 g fiber
  • 1 cup carrot sticks: 31 calories, 0.1 g fat, 2 g fiber
  • 1 cup celery sticks: 12 calories, 0 g fat, 1.2 g fiber
  • 1 cup jicama sticks: 45 calories, 0.1 g fat, 6 g fiber
  • 1 cup strawberries: 43 calories, 0.5 g fat, 2.2 g fiber
  • 1 cup grapes: 114 calories, 0.9 g fat, 1 g fiber
  • 1 cup cherries: 104 calories, 1.4 g fat, 2.5 g fiber
  • 1 cup cantaloupe cubes: 56 calories, 0.4 g fat, 1.3 g fiber

3. Beware of Ballpark Beverages

It's a long day when you go to a game (including driving, parking, stadium walking etc.). Over five to six hours, you'll need quite a few pints of thirst-quenching liquid -- especially on hot days. So save yourself both money and calories by bringing your own water or sparkling mineral water.

For hot games, freeze water bottles ahead of time so they'll be nice and cold at the ballpark. Be sure to check with the stadium ahead of time to find out what kind of beverage containers are allowed inside (usually plastic). You can always buy a token beverage -- like a diet soda or light beer ­ as well, if you wish.

4. Be a Sampler!

If there is a ballpark food item that just calls to you, try having just a nibble of your friend's or family member's garlic fries, red licorice rope, Polish sausage, or whatever (with their permission, of course!). It might be so satisfying that you don't feel the need to get a whole order for yourself.

The Recipes

Bring the fun of the ballpark home to your kitchen! Here are a few lower-calorie knockoffs of popular ballpark foods.

Garlic Fries

Journal as: 3/4 cup "starches with 1 teaspoon fat."

Garlic fries are popular at ballparks across the country. This is a lighter rendition using a lot less oil AND a lot less butter.


Canola cooking spray
1 1/2 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (canola oil if possible)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic (or 4 garlic cloves, minced)
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian or regular parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with canola cooking spray.
  • Combine the next 3 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag, tossing to coat.
  • Arrange potatoes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning after 20 minutes.
  • Place butter and garlic in a large nonstick skillet; cook over low heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add potatoes, parsley, and Parmesan cheese to pan; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 256 calories, 6 g protein, 42.3 g carbohydrate, 7.7 g fat (3.3 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat), 12 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 243 mg sodium, 55 mg calcium. Calories from fat: 27%.

Chicken Parmesan Pizza

Journal as: 2 portions "light frozen dinner" OR 3 slices whole grain bread + 1 serving lean meat with no fat added.

I've crafted a higher-fiber pizza crust using oat bran, whole-wheat flour and white flour, and lots of pizza sauce accompanying the roasted chicken breast and parmesan cheese toppings.

Bread Machine Pizza Crust Ingredients:

3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet rapid rise or active dry yeast (1/2 ounce or 2 teaspoons)

Topping Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups bottled pizza sauce (or substitute marinara sauce)
2 cups shredded skinless, roasted chicken breast
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped green onions (white and part of green)

  • Place ingredients in bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Close the lid and select the DOUGH cycle (usually 1 hour, 40 minutes), and press START.
  • At the end of the cycle, remove dough from pan, dust the dough lightly with flour, and let rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stretch dough out to fit your pizza pan (about 14 inches round, or a 9 x 13-inch rectangle).
  • Spread 1 1/2 cups of pizza sauce over the dough and arrange chicken on top of the sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and green onions (if desired) over the top. Bake 15-20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned on the bottom and cheese is nice and bubbly.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories, 45 g protein, 54 g carbohydrate, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 7 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat), 88 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 900 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

Strawberry Shortcake

Journal as: 1 piece of fresh fruit + 1 small muffin.

This recipe was inspired by the outrageously delicious and popular dessert served at the Club level of SBC Park in Northern California.

Biscuits Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup Take Control margarine (keep in freezer)*
1/2 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half

Topping Ingredients:

2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups sliced strawberries
10 dollops of light whipped cream (about 2 cups) or Light Cool Whip

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In large food processor bowl, thoroughly combine flours, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, and sugar.
  • Add margarine in pieces and briefly pulse just until mixture is coarse and crumbly.
  • Add the fat free half-and-half and briefly pulse just until blended (do not overmix).
  • Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 4 or so times.
  • Pat dough until about 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick. Using a 2 1/2- to 3-inch round cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on a baking sheet coated with canola cooking spray.
  • Bake until nicely brown, about 12-14 minutes. Let cool.
  • Meanwhile, add 2 cups sliced strawberries, brown sugar, and vanilla to food processor and pulse until a strawberry puree is created (about 5 seconds).
  • Split a biscuit in half and place both halves, cut side up, on a dessert plate. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the strawberry puree mixture over the top of each half. Top both halves with a total of 1/2 cup of strawberry slices and a dollop of light whipping cream or Light Cool Whip.

* Take Control is the best-tasting of the margarines with plant stanol or sterol esters added (daily intakes of 1.3 grams or more have been shown in studies to help reduce the risk of heart disease as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol). Another margarine with no or low trans fats and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon can be substituted in this recipe.

Makes 10 large biscuits.

Per serving: 275 calories, 5 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 5.9 g monounsaturated fat, 2.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 390 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 42%.

Originally published Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Medically updated June 22, 2005.

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