Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year; the colors, cooler weather, fall-inspired food, smells, and of course football season. Some of my favorite memories growing up involved eating with the family and watching the Dallas Cowboys play…those were the days. Game day used to mean giving up on a healthy diet for the entire day and eating fattening, calorie-laden foods. Tailgating is another popular football experience that is all about creating new memories with family and friends, but often revolves around food to enhance the experience. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized tailgating no longer means throwing my healthy lifestyle out the window, and living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up on delicious foods and drinks. Try tackling some of these healthy tips and alternatives without a personal foul to your health: 

  1. Go to your tailgate with a plan in mind. Many calories are consumed while mindlessly munching away, watching the game and talking with friends and family. If you know you’re an out-of-control grazer, allow yourself to fill a small plate and then situate yourself away from the food to reduce temptation. By eating your food away from large serving dishes, it’ll give you a chance to think about whether you really want that second helping, while controlling your caloric intake.
  2. Some people may find that hunger is the primary motivation to eat at a tailgate. Arriving satiated may be a good way to improve self-control. If this is you, eat a snack or meal before you go, focusing on lean protein; some healthy fats, such as nuts; and drink plenty of water to avoid being dehydrated, which could also lead to hunger.
  3. Unless you’re one of those standing (and possibly yelling) at the television during the entire game, then you probably are not moving much during the game. Find ways to be more active! Get a game of touch football or catch going during pregame and/or half-time. Grab a friend and go for a walk! Get away from the food and enjoy the refreshing fall weather.
  4. Before diving in, survey your options and find the healthy choices. If the fruit and vegetable trays leave you less than enthused, other options include a deli tray with small pieces of cheese, turkey or ham; a small bowl of chili (sans cheese or sour cream); or a hearty soup or stew.
  5. Be a team player and contribute to the party! Bring a delicious guilt-free main course or side dish that both you and other guests will enjoy. This is especially helpful if you have food sensitivities or allergies.
    • Choose chicken kabobs with veggies over sodium-laden wings. If you must have your chicken wings, grill or bake them using a dry rub with lemon or lime juice and seasonings. As an alternative twist to the typical dip and glaze, you can also create your own honey mustard recipe.
    • Create some sliders with ground turkey or lean beef instead of regular size burger patties.
    • Use whole wheat buns and bring fixings such as lettuce, tomato, avocado, and mustard.
    • Substitute Greek yogurt in recipes that call for mayonnaise or sour cream.
    • Create a chili full of healthy beans, vegetables, and chicken or lean beef.
    • Create some stuffed bell peppers or make individual pizzas packed with vegetables on whole wheat crust.
    • The opportunities are endless!
  6. Choose your dips and sides wisely -- skip the basic ranch dip and use guacamole, hummus or salsa for your vegetables. Stick with the fall theme and try an artichoke or pumpkin dip. For different sides, try a slaw made of Brussel sprouts and a black bean corn salad. Bake your own pita or kale chips, or try baked sweet potato fries.
  7. You’ve made it this far; don’t blow it on dessert! Get creative and dip strawberries in dark chocolate. You can then use white chocolate to make seams and call them mini footballs. Create fruit skewers using your team colors. Use spiced pumpkin or bake some fresh fall apples.
  8. What about alcohol? Sometimes, nothing sounds better than wings and your favorite fall beer or cider. However, alcohol not only contributes to extra calories, but it lowers inhibitions and dehydrates your body. If you do choose to drink alcohol, use club soda as a mixer instead of sugary juices or syrups. Pace yourself and alternate with plenty of plain or fruit-infused water to avoid dehydration. Don’t let alcohol derail all your hard work and ruin your game plan!

Remember, living a healthy lifestyle does not mean you have to deprive yourself. If you’re hosting the tailgate, create your own recipes, so no one knows they are getting healthier options. If you’re a spectator, volunteer to help out and bring a dish or two! Small changes and adjustments can go a long way toward nourishing your body. Enjoy your food while cheering on your team. See you on Super Bowl Sunday!

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach
Wellness Education Specialist

This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.