Seven Ideas to Make Tailgating Both Fun and Healthy
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Published on October 06, 2016

men tailgating at ball game

Seven Ideas to Make Tailgating Both Fun and Healthy

Whether you have a tailgate party in the parking lot of your local football stadium or in your own backyard, one of the best parts of this popular tradition is the food.

But the typical tailgating fare of hot dogs, chicken wings and other snack foods are often high in fat and calories, which can throw your wellness goals off track.

With a little pre-game planning, you can have a tailgate party with plenty of healthy game day food. That doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice taste — or a sense of fun.

For example, grilling doesn’t require any additional cooking oil, and it brings out the flavors of whatever you have on the grill.“Grilling is such a healthier option,” said Carri Oetken, RDN, LN, Avera Registered Dietitian.

Depending on where you’re tailgating, bring your own grill, or grill your food first and bring it along.

Also encourage your guests to bring something healthy, like a vegetable tray or fruit. “You can always turn tailgating into a healthy, fun event,” said Debbie Lancto, Health and Wellness Champion at Avera Health Plans.

Kick off your tailgate party with these healthy, better-for-you ideas.

  1. Use vegetables in place of chips. Thinly slice cucumbers and carrots, and use them as chips. Even dip them in salsa. “Those are next to no calories. You’re basically filling yourself up with fiber,” Oetken said.
  2. Make your own chips and salsa. Avoid the excess oil found in store-bought chips, and make your own tortilla chips to complement homemade salsa.
  3. Try appetizer-sized portions of meat. It’s common to serve the whole chicken breast or 4-6 ounces of hamburger meat if you’re grilling. Another option is to serve bite-sized pieces of meat with toothpicks.
  4. Substitute turkey or chicken instead of ground beef. If you’re making a casserole dish or nachos, use shredded chicken instead of ground beef to cut back on fat.
  5. Remember portion control. It’s easy to overdo it on chips, often the snack of choice at a tailgating party. Make your own pre-portioned bags by placing individual portions of chips in small bags. Also remember to have a snack before you leave or before guests arrive so that you’re less apt to overeat at the party, said Lancto.
  6. Make your own barbecue dry rub. Many recipes for grilling or tailgating often include plenty of ketchup and barbecue sauce, which can be high in calories, sugar and salt. “Dry rubs give you that same flavor, but without the additional calories and sugar,” Oetken said. Dry rubs will make the food taste better, and you won’t lose the flavor of the meat.
  7. Grill your dessert. Grilling fruits such as apricots, peaches and pineapple brings out the sweet flavors, without adding additional fat. “It’s so simple. Just throw the fruit on the grill. Add cinnamon or brown sugar if you want some added sweetness,” Oetken said.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

  • Flour tortillas
  • Olive oil
  • Lime juice
  • Cumin, chili powder, salt (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each tortilla into 8 chip-sized wedges (cut like a pie) and arrange the wedges in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Combine oil and lime juice with a sprinkle of cumin, chili powder and salt to taste. Brush over the tortilla wedges. Bake for 7 minutes. Serve with your homemade salsa.

(Recipe from Carri Oetken)

Grilled Peaches as Dessert

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
  • Canola oil (to keep the fruit from sticking to the grill)
  • Mint leaves (optional)

Add the butter, cinnamon, sugar and salt into a small bowl and mix. Heat the grill to high and brush the peaches with a thin layer of oil so they do not stick to the grill. Grill the peaches until golden brown and soft all the way through. Brush the peaches with a thin layer of the butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt mixture. If you want to be really fancy, add a mint leaf.

(Recipe adapted from Bobby Flay)

Sweet and Spicy BBQ Homemade Spice Blend

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in jar or food processor and store in an airtight container. Use it on anything from burgers to steak.

(Recipe adapted from Wellness Mama)

Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Homemade Spice Blend

  • ¼ cup onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons ground Allspice
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)

Mix all ingredients in jar or food processor and store in an airtight container. Brush a little bit of honey on your meat item and sprinkle this seasoning mix over the top for a great new flavor.

(Recipe adapted from Wellness Mama)

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