(Perfect for ANY Basketball Party!)
~ With so many “Big Games” to watch, you’re gonna need plenty of March Madness food ideas! We’ve gotcha covered, whether you’re throwing a big party, or just watching a nail-biter on the couch all alone. (Psssst … we even found some great basketball party decoration ideas for ya, too!) ~
Yeah, We’re March Madness Fanatics
March Madness basketball has a special place in my family’s collective heart.
I think it’s mostly because, by March, our little Ohio family of four is desperate for anything exciting to break up the monotony of gray days and too-early darkness. Sure, spring is coming, but it’s not really HERE yet.
March Madness is the perfect thing to spice things up around the house. To add a bit of friendly competition to the dinner table chatter and give us an “event” where none existed before.
We each draw up our brackets, calling on a mixture of luck and superstition, and sometimes simply based on which school has the best mascot. (Or maybe the mascot thing is just me??)
And, as my kids started looking at colleges, the basketball tournament became a fun way to discover schools they didn’t know much about. In fact, listening to March Madness games actually got our road-weary carload through the hundreds of miles of roadtrip college visits during our infamous “World Tour of Colleges” one spring. Nothing to fill the endless miles of highway from one school to the next … like listening to some of those exact same schools battle it out on the basketball court!
Why March Madness Food Has Gotta Be a Little Different
But here’s the thing about March Madness and food.
We’re not talking about merely a couple of hours here. A quick game that can be fueled by some extra calories and maybe some extra beer, because hey … it’s just a couple hours, right?!?!
It’s not like the Super Bowl or a one-off tailgate party.
Nope. March Madness lasts and lasts.
If you have any hope of looking your swimsuit in the eye when summer rolls around, you simply CANNOT continually indulge in the basketball-decorated cupcakes your grocery store sets right at the entrance. I mean, maybe one night … for the REALLY big game. But not again and again and again.
You need a better plan … and we’re here to help!
We’ve got lots of munchie ideas that still feel fun, but are lighter and leaner, too. The kinds of noshes a self-respecting basketball fanatic can lean into, night after night.
From tiny nibbles … to nibbles that can act as a meal … these March Madness Food ideas will make game time a celebration you’ll feel great about tomorrow, too. I mean, if your bracket’s still intact tomorrow morning, anyway. 😉
Pssssssst … Want Basketball Party Decorating Ideas, Too? I’ve Got Some Great Ones at the End of This Article!
Basketball Party Dip
This super-simple recipe is infinitely flexible. Kind of like a Mexican 7-layer dip … shaped like a basketball!
The exact ingredients and amounts are up to you, depending on what you like and how large your serving platter is.
Here’s the basic idea, which you can switch up any yummy way you please:
Start by spreading Mexican bean dip or seasoned refried beans on a round platter.
In these photos, I used refried beans mixed with some salsa and a pinch of cumin, chili powder and kosher salt. But, again, you can switch this up in lots of scrumptious ways with your fave bean dip. (Pssssst … try using our Mexican Fiesta Black Bean Hummus Dip!)
You just want it to be thick enough that it’s not too runny, since it’s forming the base layer of your “basketball” here.
Next, I added a layer of guacamole. You can actually add whatever Mexican layer your basketball-lovin’ heart desires, but I’m even more of a guacamole fan than a basketball fan, so I went the guac route.
If you’re feeling my guac vibes for this layer, you can get crazy with that, too: like, maybe stir in some minced onion, tomatoes, or cilantro for extra flavor and texture.
There are really no wrong moves … no penalties being called!
Once you’re done building your layers, sprinkle your entire dip with finely shredded cheddar cheese.
You know I always recommend opting for reduced-fat (NOT fat-free) cheese to lighten things up, if you can find it.
And, for this basketball appetizer to look its best, I think FINELY shredded cheese works better than the thicker “standard” shredded.
The final flourish that truly turns this dip into a basketball is topping it with little lines of very finely minced black olives.
If you can find pre-minced canned ones, that’ll save you some time. (I used Lindsay brand chopped black olives, which were actually very finely minced and perfect for this job.)
But regardless, the more finely the olives are minced, the easier it’ll be to make your lines look tidy.
And be sure to buy the canned Mexican- or pizza-style black olives. You don’t want Kalamatas for Mexican dip.
Serve it up with tortilla chips for a slam dunk every time!
My dip kept (wrapped in plastic) in the fridge for three days after I photographed it (until the next basketball-watching event finally “rolled” around). That timing can vary, depending on what you’ve used in your layers, but in general, you should be able to make this appetizer at least a few hours ahead, if not a couple of days.
March Madness Party Sandwiches
This fast idea can work for virtually any sandwich, whatever fillings and sammy fixins you like.
And it’s great on both small, slider buns … or on larger, regular-sized buns.
I’ve seen more complicated ideas that involve coloring homemade, unbaked buns orange before baking them and adding lines to the basketball. But, since store-bought buns are already essentially basketball-colored, I find this shortcut strategy is much faster and easier! (But if you really want to bake up your own, check out the cute technique Beth at Hungry Happenings uses, which inspired my “cheater” shortcut version!)
Anyway, for my version, basically all you have to do is use food-safe black food coloring to draw lines on your buns. It takes a couple minutes!
I’ve tested both food-grade “edible ink” markers (like the one I used on the bun in the lower right corner of the photo above). And I’ve also tried using a paint brush and liquid black food coloring to paint the lines (which you see on all the other buns in the photo above).
Both strategies work well, but I find that using the paint brush creates darker, bolder lines than the edible marker.
Whichever you choose, start by making an “X” on your bun. Then add two half-ovals on either side, like this:
The buns should dry fairly quickly, in just two or three minutes, at most.
But, I’ve noticed that if you get meat juices and food residue on your fingertips (if you fill your sandwiches AFTER you draw on the basketball lines), that can potentially cause the black lines to smear a little. It’s easy to avoid, though: either fill your sandwiches before drawing/painting, or simply be a bit careful as you fill the buns later.
Resources & Safety Tips
This project has to be completely edible, so don’t use permanent markers or crafting paint markers, of course. Only food-safe, edible paints or markers. (These are the edible markers I ordered on Amazon.) If you go the paint route, definitely use a brand-new paintbrush, or one that you’ve used only for other food projects. You should be able to grab liquid black food coloring at most grocery stores, but I ordered my bottle of McCormick food coloring on Amazon, too.
DIY Pita Pizza Bar
Hummus is one of my go-to party foods. So easy and healthy, plus it lends itself to all sorts of creative party shapes. (Hummus Christmas Wreath, anyone?)
And, it’s easy to find orange-hued hummus flavors that are perfect for basketball parties! (Or, you can make your own – try our Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus recipe, which is super quick to whip up in about 5 minutes flat!)
From there, the rest is a snap!
Spread a mini pita bread (preferably whole grain, of course, for that nutrition boost!) with your orange-y hummus.
Sprinkle finely chopped Kalamata olives to make each basketball’s lines. (Basically like we did with the Mexican olives in the Layered Mexican Dip recipe above).
Ingredient Tip: Black Olives
For the Mediterranean vibe, you want to reach for Kalamatas, instead of canned Mexican or pizza olives.
BUT … some Kalamatas are much darker and blacker than others. At the grocery store, look over the brands and packages to find ones that are more of a blackish shade than a medium-brown.
Set out bowls of other Greek- and Mediterranean-inspired toppings, like:
- Minced red onion or sliced scallions
- Crumbled feta
… and let everybody finish topping and assembling their own little Pita Pizzas any way they like!
Easy Hosting Tip
I’ll be honest …
Making the teeny lines on a whole bunch of these guys can get tedious. And, as someone who’s married to a certified olive-hater, I know that not everybody will be thrilled to see so many Kalamatas at the party.
The easy solution?
Only make up two or three of these with the basketball lines on ’em, just to set the scene. Beyond that … offer this as a DIY party bar! Set out a pile of pita bread so each person can spread and sprinkle and top em’ off to their heart’s content (with or without olives!).
Nature makes a perfect basketball replica (sans lines): clementines! All you have to do is add the artwork to turn that blank orange canvas into a whole bowlful of March Madness snacks!
This ideas was actually inspired by a bunch of my husband’s super-sporty ski buddies. They always stock their ski lodge with a giant pile of clementines, which my husband says disappear almost instantly.
Amidst the freely flowing beer and other ski snacks?? Clementines are what the guys all reach for??? Well, huh.
So ok, I figured if it works for hungry, beer-drinking ski dudes, it had potential for other sports parties, too.
And, well … yeah. Clementines are basically destined to be turned into basketballs.
So there ya go.
All you have to do is grab a Sharpie and draw two intersecting lines all the way around a clementine. Then add 2 long ovals along each side, like this:
Sharpie Marker “Tips”
Tip #1 – Since you’re not eating the peel and the Sharpie won’t soak all the way through, it’s ok to use Sharpies for this food project. Sharpies work much, much better than edible markers or painting with food color (like I did for making my basketball sandwich buns, above).
Tip #2 – A fresh, new, really wet marker works much better than a drier one (I tested several to see the difference).
Tip #3 – If you’re still having trouble getting your Sharpie to write well, it could be because your oranges are extra waxy. Try giving them a good wash with dish soap and water and drying them thoroughly. (I didn’t have any problem with this. But, after I thought of this clementine idea and tested it and shot all the pics, I was doing a little further research and realized that this is essentially the same premise as all those Clementine Jack-o’-Lanterns you see at Halloween … and some of the directions for making the jack-o’-lanterns mention the “wax problem.” )
Tip #4 – Ann at Fountain Avenue Kitchen also suggests that it’s easier to draw on clementines if they’re at room temperature and free of condensation. Again, I didn’t struggle with that problem in my own testing, but it could be a useful tip if you’re having trouble.
Tip #5 – Oh, and since Sharpie markers are permanent, I recommend protecting your work surface with plastic, wax paper, or parchment. You know, just in case.
The Sharpie should dry pretty quickly, in a couple minutes at most.
When you’re ready to peel them, though, the oils and juices from the citrus can make the lines blur onto your fingers a little. Just rinse your hands at the sink or have some wet wipes handy at game time. (I think it’s weird that not a single one of those popular clementine jack-o’-lantern articles I read mentioned this problem. But I wanted to be sure to give my own readers a heads-up! Another thought, if you’re gonna have lots of kiddos at the party and are worried about the mess: You can decorate just a few clementines for the festive party value, and offer ’round a bowlful of undecorated ones to actually eat.)
So many fun ideas to make your March Madness food all cute and basketball theme-y!
But not every single snack or appetizer has to shout “I’m a basketball”!
So many ways to change it up from one game to the next – or fill out a big party buffet table – with some of these great sports munchies …
Pssssst … and Don’t Forget to Hop to the End of This Article for Decorating Ideas, Too!
20+ "Bonus" March Madness Food Ideas
The ultimate game day must-have snack ... cleverly made lighter (but don't worry ... nobody will notice)! Possibly even better? It takes just minutes, all in one dish! (We've got a slow cooker version, too. Check out our Crockpot Buffalo Chicken Dip if you'd like to keep your dip warmed in a little appetizer-sized slow cooker throughout a March Madness party.)
Can't decide between guacamole and ranch veggie dip? Now you don't have to!
If it's game day, you're probably thinking wings, right? Your air fryer is the secret to making wings that are succulent inside, with the fantastic "fried" texture you crave on the outside ... but with so much less fat (and guilt) than regular wings! (No air fryer? No problem! Several of these recipes include adaptations for regular ovens, too!)
How to Make Air Fryer Tacos
These easy, adorably TINY tacos are super-fast and perfect for dipping!
This is the ULTIMATE food for simultaneously celebrating BOTH March Madness ... and St. Patrick's Day! Rich and creamy, with all the flavors of the beloved Reuben sandwich. Trust me, you won't want to save this just for March 17! (And may the "luck o' the Irish" be with you and your bracket!)
Wanna keep the full-on March vibes goin'? Irish Nachos are ready for action! I mean ... nachos and basketball are a match made in heaven, and these have all those scrumptious reuben-y flavors!
Greek Yogurt Onion Dip with Crispy Shallots
Mmmmmmm ... onion dip. Total classic. This re-boot is studded with fresh chives and topped with crispy shallots and chili garlic oil. But so much healthier than those tubs of dip you might be tempted to grab at the grocery store. And hey hey ... it's almost as quick as store-bought, too ... this takes just 15 minutes to make!
Another thing that's spot-on terrific for basketball watching? Yup ... pizza! And this is such a fun way to eat it!
Or, for super-fast pizza satisfaction, throw some of these quesadillas together. Hearty enough to be a meal (if your big game happens to land at mealtime), but you can cut 'em in smaller slices for yummy game time snackies, too.
One last pizza idea coming your way here. For real, though ... with so many creative (and healthier!) ways to cash in on pizza flavors, you sure don't need to get pepperoni pizza delivered just to feel like you're set for a basketball watch party!
Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
These zesty little appetizers can be served alone, or as sliders. Options ... options ...!
Feelin' trendy? Then ditch the meat for this superstar appetizer that seems to be headlining restaurant menus everywhere! This version is piled high with yummy toppings and only takes 5 minutes to prep (with no messy batter). A great option if you're watching the game with vegetarians, too!
And speaking of trendy ... shishitos have actually got buffalo cauliflower beat in that department. And for good reason! They're surprisingly delicious and super easy to make. Plus, they're extra fun because of the "pepper roulette" thing (which I explain in more detail in the post). But basically, if you're betting on the March Madness games, why not bet on a pepper surprise, too?!?!? 😉
Baked Parsnip Chips
Just want some crispy-crunchy chips? Give that bag of Lay's a serious upgrade with oven-baked (or air fried) parsnip chips! Way less fat ... plus some great parsnip nutrition as an added bonus. And, be sure not to miss the fun ideas to change up the seasoning flavors!
So much healthier than those "movie theater" versions of microwave popcorn! And you can take your popcorn totally next-level with all sorts of deliciously alluring Popcorn Toppings and Seasonings.
Cowboy Caviar is always a hit at sports parties. (Or ... well ... really ANY party for that matter!) What makes this unique version a true standout is the addictive lemon-dijon soy sauce dressing. If your game day repertoire always includes a big bowl of Cowboy Caviar snuggled amidst tortilla chips, this memorable recipe is a March Madness must-try!
These creative sliders are baked up in a big 9x13" pan, so they're a great nosh for larger parties. They also reheat beautifully, so you can pull out a few for basketball action all week long, whenever you want to plop in front of the TV and see how your bracket's holding up. Pick from 3 different flavor combos (or make a few of each, like we always do)!
Craving a sweet snack? Stir together this ultra-fast fruit dip and serve it up alongside whatever fruit you happen to have on hand. Another idea: our Peanut Butter Silk Pie Dip is unbeatable with crisp, juicy apple slices. Try one ... or BOTH!
Need Even MORE March Madness Snack Inspiration?
We’ve got lots more ideas for you in our super-popular collection of Easy Party Food Appetizers.
Or maybe even grab a little “sporty” inspiration from our line-up of Super Bowl Snacks.
Because every game is a new munching opportunity, right?!?
March Madness Basketball Party Decorations
When I was doing research for this article, I came across so many ingenious little tips and party decoration ideas.
Going all-out for a HUGE Final Four party? Or maybe you’re hosting a basketball birthday party? Well, here are a few fantastic (non-food) ideas to make the day extra-special:
And, of course, you can go down a massive party-decorating rabbit hole on Amazon! Here are just a few game day ideas that would be perfect for NBA parties, March Madness, and birthday parties alike (heads-up that these are Affiliate Links, which you can read more about in my Disclosure Statement)…
Whew! So there you have it, friends! So many ideas!
From basketball-shaped March Madness food, to guilt-free party nibbles to get you through every exciting moment. PLUS winning decorations for the most ultimate basketball party ever!
No matter how your bracket does this year, or which Cinderella team steals the show … this is definitely shaping up to be your best March Madness ever!
Goooooooo (insert name of your fave team HERE)!!!!
PIN THIS FOR LATER!
2 thoughts on “20+ March Madness Food Ideas”
What a fun post, Shelley! Such simple ideas that don’t require hard-to-find materials. Thanks for the inspiration!
Oh, you’re so very welcome, Sue! I’m really happy you thought this was fun, with easy-to-do inspiration … that’s EXACTLY what I was hoping for! 😀 I just printed my March Madness bracket this morning … fingers crossed hahaha … ~Shelley