Tips for healthy tailgating

healthytailgate_smallFootball season is upon us, and fans across the country are gearing up to celebrate game day by tailgating.
People look forward to tailgates in part because of the classic tailgate menu of festive but unhealthy foods and drinks (beer, chips, cookies, etc.). But what if you want to provide healthier options, without sacrificing taste, or keep yourself from falling into typical tailgating habits?
Liz Weinandy, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, offers some tips on how to stay healthy while tailgating.

Unhealthy choices we often see at tailgates and how you can avoid them
“Tailgating is fun and the foods and beverages are at the core of the fun. However, we need to balance the amount of calories we take in on the big day or, by the end of the season, we may be in regret mode,” Weinandy says.
“One of the biggest problems I see is that people often drink too much,” Weinandy says. “Alcohol is an appetite stimulant, so it makes you want to eat more. It also decreases your ability to burn fat.”
To prevent this, Weinandy suggests setting a drink limit for yourself, only drinking closer to the game instead of all day, and using calorie-free mixers.
“The other thing to be careful about is grazing all day with high-calorie foods,” she says. “Try to limit yourself by putting measured amounts of different foods on your plate instead of continuously grazing around the food table.”

Some healthy food options for tailgating
If you’re looking for great-tasting alternatives to junk food, here are some of Weinandy’s favorites:
  • Fruit salad, chickpea salad, veggie trays and pasta salads with diced veggies make great side dishes and can replace chips or pretzels.
  • Instead of hot dogs or hamburgers, try lean grilled meats like skinless chicken breasts and pork tenderloin. Veggie burgers or salmon burgers are also good substitutes.
  • Replace high-fat chip dips with salsa. Salsa has about three-quarters fewer calories than a mayonnaise-based chip dip.
  • A great vegetable idea is grilled veggie kabobs. Cut up different vegetables and marinate in light Italian dressing and then grill.
  • Beans are also a good option. Try baked beans with limited amounts of added fat or a bean casserole. For a healthy bean recipe, check out the one at the end of this article.

But I’m really craving the unhealthy stuff
It’s best to prepare your own food and stick to it if you can, but there is room for some less healthy foods at a tailgate too. Weinandy says the key is moderation.

“I tell my clients to pick the top three foods that they know they really want and take a small portion of each,” she says. “A good rule is to always keep at least half your plate filled with veggies and fruit to avoid taking too much of other foods.  If there aren’t many good fruit and vegetable options, try eating off smaller plates.”

Preparing for your tailgate
There are a few practices that will help you stay healthy and mindful during the tailgate. The first is to eat breakfast.

“Sometimes people skip breakfast so that they can save room for all the food at the tailgate, but that usually leads to overeating,” Weinandy explains. “Eat a breakfast with some protein such as oatmeal and Greek yogurt or eggs and toast.”

Second, don’t drink on an empty stomach.

“We’ve all heard this before, but drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is dangerous and can lead to quicker intoxication. Make sure to eat something before you start drinking, especially if you’re diabetic,” Weinandy says.

Third, make sure to hydrate.

“Hydrating is always important, especially if you’re going to be outside in the sun and if you’re drinking,” Weinandy says. “Try to alternate between drinking alcohol and drinking water. I know it seems cliché, but it works.”

By sticking to these tips, you can have a safe and healthy tailgate.


Easy Bean Bake Recipe

Here's what you'll need: 

  • 1 can (16 oz.) each: butter, great northern, garbanzo, black, pinto and kidney beans
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons prepared mustard 
  • 3 tablespoons BBQ sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup each cooked rice and 2% grated cheddar cheese (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F. Open all beans and drain. Toss together in large bowl. Sauté onion in olive oil until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add onions, tomato sauce, mustard, BBQ sauce and brown sugar to beans and mix carefully. Mix in rice and cheese, if using. Pour into 13 x 9-inch baking dish and bake for 1 hour.  Can be served hot or cold and can be assembled up to 24 hours before cooking.

Makes 16 servings. Per serving (without rice or cheese): 190 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g cholesterol, 615 mg sodium, 37 g carb, 9 g fiber, 10 g protein.


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