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Game Plan for a Healthier Tailgate

Game Plan for a Healthier Tailgate

September is here and you know what that means…football! With that comes, plenty of food, and not normally of the healthy variety. While we all love our pizza, wings, and beer, we don’t love the weight gain those treats can easily bring. After all, you want to watch the offensive linemen, not be the size of one by season’s end, amirite?!

But what’s a guy (or gal) to do? Can you enjoy football and not partake in the aforementioned staples? Yes, you can! Below are ten healthy tips and game food makeovers for your next tailgate or Sunday watch party so you can enjoy the game, not carry the guilt of cheating on your diet. Bon appetite!

  1. Eat (a Healthier) breakfast

If you’re heading to Happy Valley, the Steel City or any other road trip college campus that requires you be out the door at the crack of dawn, then be sure to get up early enough to eat a good breakfast before you leave the house! The first rule of tailgating is right here, so, listen up! We’re talking lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains…not Pop Tarts or Tasty Cakes; however, delicious and convenient as they may be. If you really don’t have time to sit down and eat before you must go, then pack a healthy option the night before, that you can eat at your first pit stop or along the way. You don’t want to belly up to the tailgate buffet on an empty stomach, because that my friend, is a recipe for disaster!

  1. A Better Way to Grill

The ole BBQ, about as American as apple pie and about as frequent during tailgates as jerseys. But rather than grilling up a fatty burger or a rack of ribs, opt for some lighter fare. Say, some marinated chicken, a grilled Portobello or a lean beef or shrimp skewer. We know, we can already hear the groans, but hear us out! Avoiding high-calorie barbecue sauces in lieu of lighter marinades, fresh herbs, and healthy sauces are just as important, as this will help you stay on track. If you really feel like getting your healthy on, consider firing up some non-starchy vegetables, such as fresh peppers, red onion, and zucchini slices. Despite what you may think, if done right, they can be beyond flavorful and a real party hit. Something to think about…

  1. Chili Makeover

On a cooler fall day, nothing warms you up and is more crowd-pleasing than a beer! But the second-best thing is a good bowl of chili. While chili may never be the lightest menu item, it doesn’t have to a heart attack waiting to happen either! The key to a healthier chili is using very, very lean beef, ground turkey, chicken or even, dare we say going vegetarian. Just as above, you should also eliminate the high-calorie toppers, as well. We’re looking at you; cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips!

  1. Take a Skinny Dip

No, not that kind, for goodness sake, we would never (publicly) condone such behavior. No, no we’re talking the kind you typically serve at a tailgate! It’s easy to overdo when you have a table full of cheesy, calorie-rich dips in front of you. Because let’s face it, nobody…and we mean NOBODY only hits the dip once! Thankfully, there are plenty of lower calorie options that you will enjoy just as much! Our personal favorite is Hummus, with any one of a multitude of mix-ins, such as roasted garlic, beets, red pepper or even black beans. It not only packs a punch of protein but when it is served with healthy dippers, such as baked pita and fresh veggies, it’s a delicious alternative to a more traditional fatty dip. Homemade salsas and bean dips are also great options as well. If you’re sold on the traditional dips, at least consider substituting Greek yogurt for some of the fattier ingredients. Your heart and waistline will thank you later!

  1. For Fans of Wings

Is your mouth watering just thinking about them?! Whose isn’t? However, if you eat them every time you watch a football game, let’s face it, you’ll be buying a bigger size in no time. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Instead of deep fried chicken wings, use fresh chicken breast and bake or grill it, spreading the sauce on to baste as it’s cooking. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces when it’s done and serve it with celery sticks. You’ll enjoy that same great flavor while ingesting a lot fewer calories! You can also slow cook some boneless, skinless chicken breast with wing sauce, shred and stuff it into mushroom caps, then top with a bit of low-fat (or vegan…try Daiya brand at Wegmans!) cheddar and bake for a delicious game day treat. Better yet, swap out the chicken totally and try a baked turkey meatball with wing sauce or roasted buffalo cauliflower, and tell me your mouth doesn’t water after that too!

  1. Score a Touchdown with Your Friends!

YOLO, you say! So be it. But even if you want to splurge every weekend during football season, others may not want to do the same. If you’re hosting a party or tailgate, you’d be wise (and thoughtful) to provide plenty of low-calorie, healthier options for your guests, such as fresh fruit, light salads, lean proteins, and whole grain bread and crackers. Otherwise, it might just be the last party you actually have guests attend.

  1. Time for a Side Substitution

Forgo the fatty potato salad for a veggie-filled whole grain pasta or quinoa salad. What are these words?! Relax, while hard to pronounce, it is absolutely amazing! Get you some! A bit of olive oil, vinegar, a squeeze of fresh lemon and some fresh herbs will jazz it up enough to be the star of the buffet. A bean salad, grilled corn salad, sweet potato salad, Caprese skewers or grilled vegetable platter are other great options. While you’re at it, replace fatty mayo with mustard and other low cal condiments to complete the dish!

  1. Ditch the Chips…and (Sadly) the Nachos Too

We know, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. Think healthier munchies, such as air-popped popcorn, unsalted pretzels or nuts in the shells and roasted chickpeas topped with flavorful spices. If you’re serving dip, whole grain crackers, baked pitas, and fresh veggies make great dippers too, so you’ll have plenty of options!

  1. Liquid Refreshments

Yes, Virginia, alcohol does contain calories! If you’re not tracking the liquid calories, you’re making a big mistake. That’s why they call it a beer gut, you know! Check the calorie count of what you usually drink, you may be very (unpleasantly) surprised. You may want to switch over to a low-cal choice, such as Bud Select 55, Miller Genuine Draft 64 or Michelob Ultra, to name a few. You can also lighten up your cocktails by controlling your mixers and whip up a batch of skinny margaritas or mojitos. Whether you’re tailgating or just watching the game in your man cave, remember hydration is important. No, that doesn’t mean crack open another beer, as alcohol actually dehydrates you. We mean drink lots of water! Even if you’re drinking other things, actual water is key to getting to work on time, come Monday morning! #hangoversbegone

  1. Don’t Forget about Food Safety

Fact: food needs to be kept at proper temperatures to keep bacteria from growing. So, make sure that hot foods are kept hot and cold foods, cold. Don’t store both together when traveling…ever. Have coolers filled with plenty of ice to ensure foods are kept cold and refill the ice as needed. Lastly, bring hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to clean as you are preparing items at the tailgate so you don’t end up with a foodborne illness. Nothing ruins a party faster than that…

Finally, if you find yourself really craving traditional football foods, such as chicken tenders, wings, and hot dogs, then as the old saying goes: all things in moderation! Try filling most of your plate with healthy salads, fruits, and veggies and have just one hot dog or another of the items you’re really craving. After you fill your plate, move away from the table! You don’t want to spend three hours grazing and then wonder why you’re so bloated you can’t enjoy the game! Lastly, keep moving and stay active if you’re outside. Toss a football, play cornhole or ladder toss, or just take a walk. Whatever you can do, try to keep moving. And no, beer pong doesn’t count!

Good luck and most importantly have fun, because that is really what it’s all about!

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