Burgers, nachos, pizza and beer.

The buffet table at a tailgate party can be a caloric mindfield. But the season of the pigskin doesn’t have to mean game on, diet off.

There are plenty of smart choices to pull together a healthy game day spread that will leave you satisfied and food-coma free come the second half.

Mary Lavanway, a registered dietician with Hannaford supermarket, advises to plan ahead and start in the produce aisle.

“Fresh cut fruits or sugar snap peas are great with a Greek yogurt based dip,” said Lavanway, who steers Hannaford customers to healthy choices.

Because people expect certain foods at a tailgate or come game time, satisfy them with low-fat versions and no one will know the difference. The sharp light cheddar from Cabot Creamery has 50 percent less fat than the regular version, said Lavanway, who skewers cubes with cherry tomatoes and a basil leaf for a portable snack that’s “so simple and really good.”

Calories count when you are a spectator, and dips laden with layers of cheese and sauce add up. Look for something light such as Dannon Oikos cucumber dill dip that clocks in at 25 calories a serving, she suggests.

“It’s a lower calorie count, a great alternative to classic dips and the flavor is fabulous,” she said.

Greek yogurt can also pinch hit for sour cream and makes a fine fruit parfait when topped with low-fat granola.

For cardiac patients who are watching not only calories but fat and sodium, reduced-fat crackers can be deceiving. They may have less fat, Lavanway said, but increased sodium. Her go-tos are whole grain snacks, such as Kashi 7 Grain crackers.

“They have two winning points for me, they have low sodium and they taste great.”

If you are afraid you will slurp or chug your calories (mudslides or beer anyone?) “be the one that brings seltzer water,” said Lavanway.

Drinks are an area notorious for calorie creep.

“Be careful about your beverages, it’s about 150 calories for a 12-ounce beer. So for every beer, have two or three glasses of water,” she said.

And if you have to, fake it.

“When people are socializing they like to have a drink in their hand. If you are going to take heat, pour seltzer in a wine glass with a slice of lime. It fills you up and keeps you hydrated without many calories,” she said. “And no hangovers the next day.”

While party classics such as nuts are a great protein source, they also are easy to overeat, she said.

“They are a high-fat item. The calories still count even if they are unsalted nuts.”

One of the keys to traversing the tailgate or coffee table spread with confidence is portion control.

“Mindless eating is very easy to do,” says the nutritionist, who has a private nutrition practice in Hampden. “Dish your plate and be done with it.”

And if you have season tickets or watch every game, you are especially at risk. “Food can have significant impact,” said Lavanway.

So keep an eye on your spread with the same intensity as your team’s stats to avoid postseason regret.

“If you team has lost, it’s been a downer, plus you put on 10 pounds?” Lavanway said.

This doesn’t mean avoid all the fun. Just have a game plan and stick to it.

Instead of beef sausages, toss chicken links from companies such as Nature’s Place on the grill. Or try new game-day-must from Bangor’s W.A. Bean & Sons sausage in Geaghan’s Special Reserve. Cut up one or two and add them to a pot of chili for flavor.

“If it’s only a few times of year,” said Lavanway, “go about it it wisely and spread it out.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.