Hilary Meyer
EatingWell

As soon as the time comes for me to make my picks and fill out my bracket for March Madness, I have a problem. Being glued to the TV watching games has often become my excuse to eat badly. (Maybe, just maybe, this year will be different.) Something about watching extremely tall men slam-dunking and running up and down the court makes me want to eat nachos, cheese dip and my new love, Buffalo wings, while cheering for my favorite teams.

Curious about the expected fallout for my arteries from my usual March Madness diet, I looked up the nutritional profile of one serving of wings at some of the best wing joints in the area.

Here’s a typical profile: 1,060 calories, 81 grams of fat, 3,330 milligrams of sodium. The most healthful serving in my survey clocked in at 720 calories, with 49 grams of fat and 2,120 milligrams of sodium.

OK, so I’m freaked out. (And restaurants often consider wings to be an appetizer. I wonder what my entree might look like?) Anyway, I’m going to have to do something about this. So my game plan is to make EatingWell’s Boneless Buffalo Wings. They’re not exactly wings per se (they’re made from chicken tenders), but that’s what makes them better for you. And the recipe includes vegetables — carrot and celery sticks for dipping in the blue cheese sauce, which is made with reduced-fat sour cream.

Even though boneless Buffalo wings are made with healthful white-meat chicken, they’re usually deep-fried and drenched in hot sauce laced with butter. The solution: chicken tenders are dredged in seasoned whole-wheat flour and cornmeal, pan-fried in only a small amount of oil and then drizzled with a tangy hot pepper sauce. With a fraction of the fat, calories and sodium, these boneless wings are reason enough to throw a March Madness party.

I’ll save an average of 711 calories, 58 grams of fat and 2,967 milligrams of sodium by making this version instead of ordering them from a restaurant. Score!

Boneless Buffalo Wings

Spicy blue cheese dip:

? cup reduced-fat sour cream

? cup crumbled blue cheese

1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Wings and vegetables:

3 tbsp. nonfat buttermilk (see note)

3 tbsp. hot sauce, such as Frank’s RedHot, divided

3 tbsp. distilled white vinegar, divided

2 lbs. chicken tenders (see note)

6 tbsp. whole-wheat flour

6 tbsp. cornmeal

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. canola oil, divided

2 cups carrot sticks

2 cups celery sticks

To prepare dip: Whisk sour cream, blue cheese, 1 tablespoon vinegar and ¼ teaspoon cayenne in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare wings: Whisk buttermilk, 2 tablespoons hot sauce and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a large bowl until combined. Add chicken; toss to coat. Transfer to the refrigerator and let marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk flour and cornmeal in a shallow dish. Whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon hot sauce and 1 tablespoon vinegar in a small bowl; set aside.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and roll in the flour mixture until evenly coated. (Discard remaining marinade and flour mixture.) Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with ½ teaspoon cayenne.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken, placing each piece in a little oil. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and chicken, reducing the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Transfer to the platter. Drizzle the chicken with the reserved hot sauce mixture. Serve with carrots, celery and spicy blue cheese dip.

Serves 8 (2 “wings,” ½ cup vegetables and 2 tablespoons dip each)

Notes: No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make “sour milk:” mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk. Chicken tenders, virtually fat-free, are a strip of rib meat typically found attached to the underside of the chicken breast, but they can also be purchased separately. Four 1-ounce tenders will yield a 3-ounce cooked portion.