Healthy Tailgating Tips

It is that time of year again. The time when you hear the marching band play loudly to the crowd, the time when you see the cheerleaders wave their pompoms high in the air, and the time when you wait in anticipation for the referees to blow their whistles indicating the start of the game.

Fall marks my favorite time of the year. No I’m not talking about pumpkin spiced lattes or oversized sweaters…I’m talking about the return of football season!

Whether you root for your favorite college team or you only focus on the pros, the game is the same. No matter where you view your sporting events – at the sports venue itself or watched at home – they all have one common denominator: food. Tailgating (or pre-gaming as college kids call it) is meant to be a fun event shared with family and friends. However, often times these events pose a major roadblock for those of us who want to stay on track with our health. The following tips can help ensure that you are adequately prepared to tackle the tailgate without compromising your ability to maintain healthy eating habits in social events. For those of you who prefer baseball, hockey, soccer, or basketball to football, have no fear because these tips can be applied to any sporting event!


Make the Play Call and Plan Ahead

Before going to a tailgate or hosting one of your own, the first step is to plan ahead. Ask yourself “will there be healthy options where I am going?” If not, offer to bring items such as: cut-up vegetables, a fruit salad, vegetable chili, ground turkey burgers with whole wheat buns, grilled vegetable kabobs, baked chips, guacamole, hummus, or air popped popcorn as your contribution to the tailgate. If you are hosting your own game watching party, you’re in luck because this means you have full control of the menu. By hosting, you can ensure you have healthier options on hand for both yourself and your guests.

Avoid the Hunger Blitz

This tip particularly applies to afternoon and evening games. Avoid skipping meals before the tailgate to save room for calorically dense food and beverages. The skipping approach will inevitably back fire for two reasons:

1) you will over indulge at the tailgate/game watching party due to increased hunger, ultimately leading to an avoidance of portion control and
2) frequent episodes of under-eating and overeating can slow your metabolism.
Be sure to eat regular meals and snacks (breakfast, mid-morning snack, or even lunch) on the day of the event. This will keep your hunger hormones remain regulated and keep the starvation blitz in check. Choose pre-tailgate foods that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fat so that you will be less tempted to overeat when you arrive.


Defend Against Added Fat, Sodium, and Sugar

Most foods for sporting events are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. There is usually no green in sight (except for that 1 piece of lifeless iceberg lettuce on your burger…yikes!). In these situations, practice the act of “swapping.” Swap fried wings, potatoes, meats, chips, and vegetables for foods that are baked or grilled. Swap the fatty dip for a healthier one like Greek yogurt ranch dip (see recipe below), guacamole, salsa, or hummus. Swap chips for whole-wheat crackers, roasted, unsalted almonds, baked pita chips, or air popped popcorn. Swap beef burgers, hot dogs, and wings for salmon, lean ground turkey or skinless, boneless chicken breast burgers on whole-wheat buns. Swap large pizzas for mini vegetable pizza bites baked on cauliflower or whole-wheat crust. Swap baked goods for fruit salad or fruit kabobs. If you are watching the game in a sports venue, try your best and look for a concession stand that offers vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein options. Perhaps the venue offers fans a burrito bowl, wrap, or salad. Remind yourself that you are the one and only defender for what foods go into your body. Will it be something you will regret later on or will it be something that is nutritious?

Intercept Large Portion Sizes

Tailgates and game watch parties can often lead to increased portion sizes of foods such as chips, pizza, wings, and beer. One way to intercept the incoming portion sizes is to eat from a plate instead of continually grazing from the buffet, snack table, BBQ, or kitchen. This will help you keep track of how much you are eating. Prepare a plate containing half vegetables and fruit, ¼ protein, and ¼ grains. Fill up on those healthier items first so you are not as tempted to overdo the portions of foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal from your stomach that you are full. This means wait at least 20 minutes to assess your hunger before going for second helpings.

Ice the Kicker, Not the Beer

Sporting events often revolve more around alcohol than they do food. However unlike food, alcohol does not contribute any nutritional value. Alcohol has “empty calories” for it provides more calories per gram (7) compared to protein and carbohydrates (4) and does not provide any vitamins, minerals, or other important nutrients that your body actually needs. Additionally, alcohol impairs your judgment and may cause you to make poor dietary decisions such as forgetting how many times you stuck your hand in the chip bowl or how many wings you had (oops!). If you want to indulge, choose light beer varieties or mix hard liquor with sparkling soda (naturally fruit flavored or plain). Stay away from sugary beverages like soda, punches, cranberry cocktails, margarita mixes, and non-100% juices. If the game is stressful and you need that alcohol to get through, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 8 ounces of water between drinks. You can even get creative and make spa water using colored herbs, vegetables, and fruit of your favorite sports team.


Use Halftime to Get Moving

Halftime is typically 30 minutes, which means this is a perfect time to get out of your seat at the stadium or get your booty off the couch and get moving. Climb up and down the stairs from your seat or take a walk around the neighborhood or venue. There is probably a football, Frisbee, soccer ball, or corn hole set-up laying around waiting to be used. Use this time to clear your mind, unwind from the stress of the game, enjoy a breath of fresh air, and most importantly keep you away from the readily available concession stands and snack bowls.


Celebrate a Touchdown in the End Zone

Overall, tailgating is about having fun with friends and family. Make your focus about watching your favorite team versus the food. Practice balance and moderation – especially if you tailgate at every home game. One unhealthy meal or alcoholic beverage does not ruin everything, but an entire day of unhealthy eating and drinking may throw you off course. If this happens, pick yourself up the very next day and do not wait until the week starts to get back on your A game. Whether your team loses or wins, always remember to celebrate your efforts staying healthy during a sporting event. Now go get ‘em tiger!

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip Recipe

Prep time: 10 minutes


2 tbsp dried parsley

1 ½ tsp dried dill

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp dried chives

1 tsp salt (optional)

Ingredients for Base: 1-16 oz container plain, nonfat Greek yogurt


  1. Whisk all spices together until well blended.
  2. Mix 3 tbsp of the spice mixture into the Greek yogurt base (save remainder of spice mix in sealed container for future uses).
  3. Refrigerator or serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts:

Serving Size: ¼ cup dip
Calories: 33
Total Fat: 0g
Sat Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Carbohydrates: 2g
Fiber: 0g
Protein: 6g
Sodium: 166mg                       

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