Tailgate Food and Football Season

It’s one of my favorite times of the year! Football season has arrived. If you are local to Alabama, you’ll be pulling for the Auburn Tigers……or other teams. We may not agree on teams, but we can agree on the refreshing cooler air, beautiful fall colors, and social events centered around football, Halloween, and homecomings. As I make my way to the loveliest village on the plains, I get excited about the atmosphere but as a dietitian, it’s hard for me to look past the overindulgence of Saturdays with all the food and booze.

As we head to our college towns to cheer on our beloved teams, how do we “stay on track” with all the temptations? How can you be social and still healthily enjoy multiple Saturdays of good food and fun? I have gathered a few tips for navigating tailgates and providing healthier options when you are contributing to the fun.

Bring some of your own food.

Always be prepared. Take some items in your personal bag: apple, almonds and nut mixes, protein bars, and granola bars to name a few. Partake in other foods provided but load up on vegetables when available.

Modify your favorite tailgate food to a healthier option

When it comes to hosting a tailgate, you have all the power to provide healthy snacks and meals that your guests will likely enjoy. You can differentiate your tailgate from all the others by providing tastier yet healthier foods such as the ideas below:

VEGGIES: Whether you are hosting or taking something to the tailgate, everyone needs a vegetable tray! In social situations, we graze and mindlessly eat. It’s better to have lower calorie options for guests to snack on instead of filling up on high calorie snack foods. Vegetables go great with many different dips, such as the buffalo chicken dip mentioned below.

BUFFALO CHICKEN DIP: Instead of a traditional cheese dip or chips and dip, create this healthy option!

All you need is 2 cans chicken packed in water (drained), mix with 1 low fat cream cheese, ½ cup buffalo sauce, and 1 dry ranch packet. Serve with raw veggies or whole wheat crackers like Wheat Thins. This is always a hit! 

GREEK YOGURT ARTICHOKE SPINACH DIP: Artichoke dip is always a crowd pleaser, but it is usually very high in calories and saturated fat. To make a healthier version, use one cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt, 14 oz. artichoke hearts (in water, drained), one cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese, a 10 oz. pack frozen spinach, 3 garlic cloves and ¼ c reduced-fat parmesan cheese. Chop hearts and mix all ingredients together, saving some of the cheeses to top the dish with. Place ingredients in a casserole dish, top with extra cheese and bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or put in a slow cooker if you have access to electricity at the tailgate.

TURKEY OR CHICKEN BURGERS: Sure you can still serve beef patties but you can also offer a leaner meat option such as turkey or chicken burgers. A lot of people do try to eat healthier, so this is a great alternative to please multiple people. Always check the nutrition label and make sure they are not tricky and have as much fat and calories as beef patties.

ALCOHOL: While no alcohol would be the best option for being “healthy”, let’s be realistic and chat about a few lower calorie booze options for the big Saturdays. I recommend sticking to light beer and/or vodka with club or seltzer. I love Tito’s, water, lime juice and fresh mint for a refreshing game day beverage. Make sure you always have water on hand and try to drink a bottle in between each alcoholic beverage. Keep in mind that each light beer is going to cost you around 120 calories, so try to spread them out over the course of the day and night and don’t overdo it. Drinking heavier beers or mixed drinks are going to do a lot of damage due to the high quantities of alcohol and sugar.

As we gear up for an amazing, fun time of the year (especially in Alabama), remember to be prepared and be conscious of your choices on the weekends. Derailing your diet on the weekend can significantly impact your week’s hard work. Mindless calories add up quick.

If you are in charge of the tailgate, do yourself and your guests a favor and incorporate healthy options. Your guests will appreciate it and if all adhere to decent diets, holidays won’t be so detrimental with the mindset of “starting over” at the New Year!

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