Healthy eating during a Derby party? You can bet on it

    cucumber and avocado sandwiches, healthy chicken fingers, bite-sized Derby pies
    Healthy and delicious choices like cucumber and avocado sandwiches, healthy chicken fingers and bite-sized Derby pies will be the hit of any Kentucky Derby party.

    The extravagance of the Kentucky Derby is clearly on display each year through the rich diversity of the food and drink served both at the track and at the multitude of Derby parties held throughout the Bluegrass State. That extravagance, however, doesn’t mean sacrificing good health and sensible eating, said Whitney Cessna, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N, diabetes educator at University of Louisville Physicians-Pediatric Endocrinology and at the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center, managed jointly by UofL and Norton Children’s Hospital.

    “The Kentucky Derby might be my favorite event of the year,” Cessna said. “The entire week is nothing short of extravagance, full of events with exquisite cuisine. So it is important to remember to not overdo it on portions and remember everything in moderation is okay.”

    Here are a tips, ideas and recipes Cessna recommends for indulging without over-indulging during the Derby:

    Don’t skip meals: During Derby time, mint juleps and oak lilies are a must. When drinking, however, you might forget to eat because beverages can be just as filling as food. Also, the hustle and bustle of all the events during Derby season can leave less time for meals. Food is important to keep your body energized throughout the day. Pack snacks in a clear plastic bag and put in your purse or car to tide you over until you hit the buffet line.

    Don’t overdo it on junk food: As difficult as it may seem, try to eat small, healthy portions throughout the day. Whether at Churchill Downs or someone’s home for a party, remind yourself to snack on fruits and vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks, strawberries, cantaloupe and the like, or foods rich in protein to satisfy those hunger cravings. “A tip I’ve learned,” Cessna said, “is as long as you bring food in a clear plastic bag, Churchill Downs will allow you to bring it into the track.” An added benefit: Bringing your own snacks helps save money you can use to bet on the winning horse.

    Stay hydrated: Alcohol and highly salted food dehydrates your body very quickly, especially in the sunshine. Hydrate your body with water by alternating it with your other beverages, or drink water every hour to avoid dehydration and other heat-related conditions.

    Remember: They key word to always keep in mind when going to parties where you know food will be in abundance is moderation. Be mindful of portion size and balance healthy choices with the higher-fat, higher-calorie ones.

    Whether you need healthy ideas for your Derby party or ideas on what to select at the Millionaire’s Row buffet, Cessna offers the following recipes:

    Cucumber and Avocado Sandwich

    Yields: 2 sandwiches

    Serving size: ½ to 1 sandwich

    Total carbs per serving: 32 grams per sandwich, 16 per ½ sandwich


    • 4 slices Dave’s Killer Bread (The 21 Whole Grains and Seeds option is recommended)
    • 4 oz. herbed goat cheese, at room temperature
    • Romaine lettuce leaves, washed and dried
    • 1 large cucumber, sliced in circular pieces
    • 1 avocado
    • 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
    • ½ cup alfalfa sprouts
    • Salt and pepper to taste


    • Spread a little bit of the goat cheese on bread slices. Take one slice of bread and top with lettuce, cucumber and avocado slices.
    • Drizzle or squeeze a little lemon juice over the cucumbers and avocados. Add some sprouts and season with salt & pepper, to taste.
    • Place a piece of bread, goat cheese side down on top of the other slice of deliciousness. Cut in half and serve.

    Healthy Chicken Fingers

    Yields: 4 servings

    Serving size: 2-3 tenders

    Total carbs per serving: 17 g


    • 1/3 cup all-purpose wheat flour or in case of gluten intolerance, gluten-free flour
    • 2 eggs, or in case of egg allergy, substitute with 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed to 3 tablespoons warm water per egg; mix and let stand for 1 minute before using
    • Salt & pepper
    • 1 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs (whole wheat is recommended)
    • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
    • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
    • 5 tsp. EVOO (olive oil)
    • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders


    • Preheat oven to 400˚F. Coat pan with cooking spray.
    • Mix flour with a pinch of salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs or substitute and set next to flour.
    • Stir breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder and another pinch of salt in a third bowl. Drizzle oil over breadcrumb mixture and then mix thoroughly with a fork until all of the oil and spices coat breadcrumbs. Set aside.
    • Use one hand for wet ingredients and one hand for dry ingredients while dipping the tenders. Dip chicken tenders one at a time in flour mixture, coating each side. Dip into eggs, or egg substitute mixture, coating all over. Then coat with breadcrumb mixture on each side. Drench all tenders and place on baking sheet evenly.
    • Bake until tenders have reached an internal cooking temperate of 165˚F, or about 22 to 25 minutes.
    • Enjoy with any dipping sauce of your choice

    Bite-Sized Derby Pies

    Yields: 12 servings

    Serving size: 1 mini pie

    Total carbs per serving: 18 g


    • 2 packages of refrigerated piecrusts, whole-wheat recomended
    • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
    • 12 pecan halves for topping pies
    • ½ cup semisweet chocolate morsels
    • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • Pinch of nutmeg
    • ¼ cup bourbon, or for non-alcoholic version, ¼ cup water
    • 1 egg
    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp. salt


    • Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick spray.
    • Lay out the piecrusts and using any small circular cup, cut 6 rounds from each dough, so you get a total of 12.
    • Place dough in each muffin pan. Press it flat into bottom of tins and around sides
    • For filling: melt butter in small bowl in microwave. Allow to cool slightly for a few minutes.
    • Whisk brown sugar, egg, vanilla, nutmeg and bourbon together in a bowl. Add in melted butter and whisk together. Stir in pecans or walnuts.
    • Sprinkle each pie with chocolate chips and a pecan half for each individual pie. Top with a pinch of salt.
    • Bake pies for 20-24 minutes until piecrusts are slightly brown.


    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.