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Lightened Up Tailgate Tips

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Whether it’s Friday night lights, college or pro football, flavorful things to eat and drink are key to winning the tailgate game. Typical game day snacks aren’t exactly the best choice for a balanced lifestyle, but with a little bit of planning, my suggestions will help you make lightened-up, portion-sized snacks and sips for your tailgate party menu that won’t add extra pounds. Consider all of your fan favorites and get ready to lighten them up! Include protein, vegetables and fruits in the mix. You will be amazed how flavorful they can be.

Host a Pre-Game Party to Remember: Menu options should include protein-filled snacks such as lean lunch meat, hummus, and nuts and remember to keep portion size in mind. These can be prepped and served in creative ways such as with a quick and easy marinade for chicken and seafood (recipe below) and served in football-shaped mini whole grain rolls to create portion-perfect “end zone” sliders!

Dress up your chips and avoid expanding your waistline by opting for baked tortilla, roasted Brussel sprouts or kale chips with hummus or Greek-style, plain yogurt-based dips in place of sour cream or mayonnaise. Fresh vegetables such as celery, carrots and jicama make great dippers too! Serve open-face whole grain sandwiches with lean meats, lettuce, tomato and mashed avocado for the creaminess of mayo or sour cream without the calories. And for dessert, get creative with assorted fruits for some out-of-this-world refreshing dessert kabobs. One of my go to recipes for fruit kabobs is paired with low-fat lemon yogurt, mixed with 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice and 1 teaspoon lime zest. You can thread any of your favorite fruits on wooden skewers like pineapple chunks, kiwi, banana, grapes, or any of our fall favorites.

You also need to have the essentials for safe food handling on-hand. Must-haves include:

  • Hand-washing or sanitizing sprays

  • Gear to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

  • Two sets of utensils for handling uncooked and cooked foods

  • A metal pail or heat-safe container to douse hot coals safely

  • Garbage bags and antibacterial wipes for clean-up

And don’t forget a first-aid kit complete with alcohol wipes, sterile gauze and bug repellant for those unexpected moments. Feel free to add personal must haves for game day, too.

Refresh Your Tailgate Menu: When it comes to scoring with football fans in the tailgate arena, beverages are just as important as the food. You want to make sure your group consumes plenty of fluids and won’t become dehydrated. By the time they’re feeling thirsty, they are already on their way to becoming dehydrated. Make mocktails with club soda or carbonated waters.

Citrus punches made with vitaminwater or vitaminwater zero are thirst quenchers with a bonus. Keep a cooler with ice and add mini cans of Coca-Cola. Any of these can be paired with my recommended tailgate fare to round out the menu.

Finally, plan to arrive and set up the food well before kick-off. Early arrival gives you plenty of time for fellowship and bragging, which is a big part of the tailgate experience. While it may seem like you’re gathered for the tailgate, the game is the main event. Once everyone on the team’s bandwagon has eaten, make sure your area is clean and you’ve packed a few snacks and beverages that are easy to reach for the post-game celebration.

With planning and a little creativity, you can turn your tailgate into a winning experience for your group and your waistline.

Chicken or Seafood Marinade:

Simply mix the first five ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice

  • 2 tablespoons ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauc

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled ginger

  • 2 minced garlic

Reserve 1/4 cup marinade and place remaining marinade in a zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken or seafood to bag; seal. Chill 4 hours.

Heat grill to medium-high heat, coat with cooking spray. Remove chicken or seafood from bag, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add to grill; baste with 2 tablespoons reserved marinade. Cook 6 minutes.

Turn chicken or seafood over; baste with 2 tablespoons reserved marinade. Cook 6 minutes.

Recipe can easily be doubled.

And, all you need is a football-shaped cookie cutter to make the mini whole grain rolls into an “end zone” slider!

Take Away: Planning ahead and enjoying your favorites in moderation can turn your tailgate into a winning experience for your group and your waistline.

Michelle Stewart is a registered dietitian based in Florida and a former consultant to The Coca-Cola Company where she provides practical nutrition information on behalf of the Company. All opinions are her own.

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