Until recently, Major League baseball fans had few alternatives to buying some peanuts and Cracker Jacks — or lukewarm hot dogs and watery beer.
But as Major League baseball evolved into a big business, ballparks began to offer a smorgasbord of delightful — and healthful — foods, including fresh fruits, locally grown produce and a cornucopia of salads. Those who need or want to limit the amount of meat in their diets are also likely to find vegan or vegetarian versions of such favorites as pizza, burritos, wraps and even hot dogs.
Each ballpark consults with a chef who carefully researches consumer preferences to ensure that food selections reflect regional tastes and specialties. For instance, Seattle Mariners fans watching a home game at Safeco Field can treat themselves to a fresh, wild-caught, grilled salmon sandwich with cole slaw; San Diego Padres fans can munch on shrimp tacos smothered in garlic sauce, cabbage, and salsa at Petco Park; and Orioles fans can chow down on crab cakes and crab soup made from in-season, local Baltimore crabs at Camden Yards.
“The trend is to upgrade to more choices and more fresh foods that are better for you,” says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. If you splurge on a pricey suite or other premium seating area you can not only enjoy the best view of the game, but can order from an extensive restaurant-style menu featuring the most upscale and trendy foods, says Blake.
Three large food service organizations, Levy Restaurants, DNC Sportservice and Aramark run the concessions at virtually all of the 30 Major League ballparks. Levy pioneered the premium ballpark dining business in 1982, when it agreed to cater the skyboxes for the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field).
“We certainly take our guests' health into consideration when we put together our menus and strive to offer many options for fans that are being careful about their food choices,” says Levy's chef Phil Bucco. “We are happy to work with our guests [at the ballpark] to create a dish that fits their specific dietary needs. All they have to do is ask.”
TAKE ME OUT TO THE FOOD COURT
The newest ballparks were conceived with modern consumer tastes — including healthier eating — in mind. Major League baseball teams know they have to cater to all kinds of fans, including those who want to eat well. Even though healthier food options don't yet outsell hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, they're here to stay.
Using the right strategy, you can put together a balanced nutritional lineup — whether you have the home field advantage or are on the road to cheer your team on
“Healthier foods are in the bottom 15 percent of items sold. But we understand that we need to offer items like this to ensure that everyone that comes to the ballpark has options to make their experience positive,” says Jeramie Mitchell, Executive Chef at DNC Sportservice at Busch Stadium. “Most of these items were placed on the menus to serve those looking for a healthy/vegetarian alternative, and this is why they stay on the menu.”
Here's a scouting report on new food items that include heart-healthy choices at three of the newer ballparks: the new Yankee Stadium, which the New York Yankees christened by regaining the 2009 World Series title after a long dry spell; Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals new home since 2008; and Busch Stadium, the refurbished home (in 2006) of the St. Louis Cardinals.
▪ Yankee Stadium: The food choices have a distinctly international flavor, reflecting New York's diverse ethnic tastes, says Mike Phillips, Senior Vice President of Legends Hospitality Management, which is the exclusive provider of concessions, catering, and merchandising services at Yankee Stadium. The diverse selection — guided by fan surveys — includes some 100 culinary items that run the gamut from healthy items including sushi (pictured above) and vegetarian Asian noodles to not-so-healthy ones such as Cuban pork sandwiches and the Italian fried pastry zeppole.
At concessions, “we offer signature, healthy alternatives, including fresh cut salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, and hand-rolled sushi,” says Phillips. Sushi is rolled on-site and includes several vegetarian varieties, including avocado rolls, California rolls and edamame (soybean) platters.
Another popular option is the Farmers Market. New York fans can purchase fresh apples, oranges, bananas, tangerines, pears, plums and grapes, as well as various fruit salads that include watermelon, cantaloupe, melon, strawberry and pineapple. Sliced veggie packs with celery and carrot sticks are also available.
And thanks to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, calorie counts are given for all food offerings sold at the concessions, in the restaurants — and even at your seat (the guy or gal selling peanuts and cotton candy wears a button with the number of calories in the portion).
▪ Nationals Park: In 2009 Levy assumed the contract for food service at Nationals Park. In addition to usual ballpark fare, such as hot dogs and hamburgers, “The Healthy Plate” cart located on the main concourse offers grilled vegetable and turkey wraps; hummus and vegetables; low-fat yogurt parfait; and chopped vegetable salad.
Other healthy options available in concession stands located along the concourses include a new grilled vegetarian sandwich (marinated Portobello mushroom cap with peppers, onions and zucchini on a whole wheat bun); a hand-made, black-bean based veggie burger (pictured above); a turkey hot dog; and popcorn popped in canola oil.
In the suites and premium dining areas, fans can feast on local, sustainable and organic options, such as grilled vegetable and goat cheese; char-roasted vegetables; cucumber tomato salad; sweet-and-sour cole slaw; warm black eyed pea salad; and basil garlic shrimp with lemon aïoli, roasted corn salsa, accompanied by a field green salad with white balsamic vinaigrette and grilled in-season local vegetables.
▪ Busch Stadium: St. Louis Cardinals fans can find heart-healthy food at several Asian stir-fry stations at various locations throughout the ballpark. “Each station has an assortment of vegetables to be tossed with rice or lo mein noodles,” says DNC's Mitchell. “Customers can choose vegetable-only, beef or chicken. Orders can be customized and cooked right in front of you.”
The Asian stir-fry stations first appeared in 2007 in the Red Bird Club, which overlooks the playing field and can accommodate large parties and corporate events. “Throughout that year we had to expand the station to three cooks because it became so popular. In 2008 we expanded it to the general concourse so it could be available to everyone,” says Mitchell.
Fans also can buy other healthier items throughout the ballpark on every level, such as grilled chicken breast and a veggie “chicken” pattie at all Dizzy's Diners. Also available are a roasted vegetable burrito and a vegetable quesadilla at El Birdo's Cantina and a garden salad at the Gashouse Grill and Red Bird Club. The luxury suites, party rooms and all-inclusive areas offer much more of a selection of healthy options.
GOOFUS AND GALLANT GO TO BUSCH STADIUM
Goofus chooses the “all-you-can-eat” seats. Nearly half of the 30 Major League ballparks — including Busch Stadium — have set aside a portion of their bleacher seats for fans who want to scarf down unlimited quantities of hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, peanuts, nachos and soft drinks.
Ticket prices range from $35–$50 — about five times that of regular bleacher seats — and they're also a bad bargain, nutritionally. Nutritionist Joan Blake gives Goofus a Bronx Cheer: “An extra $30 for hot dogs? Those are expensive hot dogs! They are also high in sodium and fat.”
On average, a gluttonous Goofus will consume 3 1/3 hot dogs per game. That's about 25 grams of fat — more than the amount of fat most people should eat in an entire day.
Like a good baseball manager who mixes in light and heavy hitters, these tips from Blake explain Gallant's strategy to set the table for a grand slam nutrition home run when he takes in a Cardinals game:
Whenever possible, ask questions about portion size, caloric content and how much fat, salt and cholesterol a food item or dish contains.
Look for plant-based foods, which are lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber. Most ballparks now serve some combination of whole-grain bread, fresh fruit and salad. Skip the butter on the bread, and choose an oil-based — not creamy — salad dressing.
Go for grilled, not fried. A grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato is much lower in saturated fat and calories than a fried hamburger (either way, skip the fries).
Instead of hot dogs and hamburgers, try new cuisines — but ask the server to modify as needed to reduce fat and calorie content. For example, a Tex-Mex burrito filled with beans and shredded lettuce can be quite filling (but ask the server to skip the cheese and give you extra salsa instead, so you can sneak in more veggies). Sushi, grilled salmon, steamed edamame and other Japanese foods are also good high-protein, low-fat choices.
If you feel like having a full meal, watch the action from one of the stadium restaurants. Choose steamed or poached entrées, instead of those deep fried or sautéed in butter. And keep your intake of saturated fat low by avoiding cream-based soups, sauces and salad dressings, and dishes that are made from or garnished with cheese.
Limit your intake of sugar by chugging bottled water or diet soft drinks, instead of regular soda, “energy drinks” or sugar-added fruit juice — and keep in mind that the typical 20-ounce size soft drink is actually 2½ servings.
If you're one of those who insists on “traditional” ballpark fare, choose wisely. Snack on peanuts in the shell (low in saturated fat, high in fiber, B vitamins and protein); scrape the salt off the soft pretzel; guzzle low-carb or alcohol-free beer (fewer calories and carbohydrates than regular beer); and substitute sorbet or fruit ice for ice cream in a tiny plastic baseball hat (frozen fruit-based desserts have very little saturated fat, as compared with ice cream).
Eat before heading out to the ballpark so you don't make a meal of these foods, and will be satisfied with snack-sized portions. “Decide what you would really like to eat, factor that into your food intake for the day, and enjoy it while you're at the ballpark,” Blake says.
If you don't want to strike out nutritionally, avoid ballpark franks (too much salt and saturated fat), as well as Cracker Jacks and cotton candy (both are high in sugar).
When it comes to fan amenities — particularly food concessions — these are not your fathers' ballparks. Baseball, a warm summer night and healthy gourmet food. It just doesn't get much better than that for a real ball fan. Well, that, and your team making it to the World Series!
© 2010 American Heart Association, Inc.