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8 Tips for a Healthier Tailgate

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Cue the salty snacks, loaded hamburgers and belly-bulging desserts! With the official kickoff of football season comes a number of tailgate temptations that can cause any healthy diet to fumble. So, whether you plan to gear up for the big game in a stadium parking lot or the comfort of your living room, use these tips for a healthier spin on your next tailgate or game watch.

1. Fuel up with a healthy breakfast.

Tailgate 101: Never show up to your game day activities on an empty stomach. Arriving hungry can make you more susceptible to overeating and making poor dietary choices.  Fuel your appetite with a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast, like low-fat yogurt topped with fresh berries and granola; a boiled egg and half an avocado on toast; or oatmeal. A hearty breakfast will curb your hunger between meals, making it easier to make healthier snack choices throughout the game.

2. Play by the "rules."

Without a game plan, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and overindulge, so setting some ground rules before can help guide healthy tailgate choices later.

  • Take a lap around the buffet line to survey all of the offerings, then make your selections based on the two or three items you most want.
  • Eat from a plate rather than grazing from the buffet, filling at least half the plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Wait at least a half hour after eating to decide whether or not you are full before returning to the buffet table for seconds.

3. Lighten up with smart substitutions.

Prepping for the game means prepping in the kitchen. Don’t forget you can lighten up your signature tailgate recipe with these smart substitutions:
  • Instead of using sour cream, use low-fat unsalted cottage cheese plus fat-free yogurt.
  • Instead of using butter, use 1-tablespoon soft margarine or ¾ tablespoon liquid vegetable oil.
  • Instead of using heavy cream, use 1 cup evaporated skim milk or ½ cup low-fat yogurt.

4. Touchdown with healthy grill favorites.

Fire up the grill! Your favorite fat-laden, sauce-heavy recipes can be made healthier using these healthy grilling tips:

  • Bring 93 percent (or more) lean ground turkey or beef patties to the party.
  • Try sliders instead of full-sized burgers to cut down on the calories and fat.
  • Serve brats, hotdogs or sausages with less than 3 grams of fat per ounce.
  • Kabob chicken or shrimp, zucchini squash, onions and peppers.
  • Save about 100 calories each by saying “NO cheese, please,” forgoing the bun or passing on the ketchup and mayonnaise.
  • Load your burger with healthy fixings likes romaine lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado.

5. Grill by the playbook.

Grilling safety is important to avoid foodborne illness. First, check out these quick tips, and then, hop over to our complete grilling safety guide:

  • Bring a thermometer to ensure your cooler stays below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, brats and burgers are cooked to 160 degrees and chicken breasts to 170 degrees.
  • Pack coolers just before you leave, and use ice packs to maintain the temperature. Keep the cooler out of the sun during the tailgate.
  • If food won’t be served right away, store in a cooler immediately. When you get home, properly wrap and freeze meats that won’t be eaten with two to four days.
  • Throw away any perishable foods post-game.
  • Don't leave food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. If weather is hotter than 90 degrees, don’t leave out for more than one hour.
  • Bring hand sanitizer or moistened toilettes to keep hands clean.

6. Show your team colors with a healthy side dish.

If you aren’t hosting this weekend’s tailgate or game watch, bringing a healthy side dish is a way to thank the host and ensure a healthy snack option is available amidst a sea of brats and burgers. Show your team spirit by putting together a fruit or veggie platter in your team colors. Iowa State Cyclones fan? Serve a cardinal and gold fruit salad made with strawberries, cherries, raspberries, pineapple and bananas!

7. Break for half-time fitness.

At the half-time whistle, take the opportunity to jump off the couch to get physical! These half-time activities will get you in the football spirit, while keeping you moving:

  • Organize a quick game of touch football or cornhole with the family.
  • See who can do the most push-ups or jumping jacks during commercial breaks.
  • Take a 15-minute power walk around the neighborhood.
  • Clear the table, do the dishes or take out the trash.

8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Alcoholic beverages are typically considered a dieting “no-no” because they are high in calories and sugar. If you do chose to have an alcoholic beverage, a healthy tactic is to alternate alcoholic drinks with zero-calorie beverages (water is best!) throughout the tailgate. Keep in mind that the more you drink, the hungrier you will be, so limiting yourself to the recommended two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women can be a way to save calories.  
The start of football season doesn’t mean your healthy diet has to take an off-season. These healthy tailgate tips will ensure you’re equipped with a delicious and nutritious eating plan that will last you all the way from kickoff to overtime!