Tailgate Makeover

By Katie Provost, M.S., R.D., L.D. – September 1, 2014

Football season is here. Whether donning the colors of your college alma mater on Saturdays or rooting for favorite pro team on Sundays, it usually means tailgate or watch parties, which also means lots of food. Unfortunately, typical tailgating party foods may not boast much nutritional value, but following a few easy tips can give that tailgate a food fest makeover without sacrificing the fun.

Offer to bring something

Unless you are the host, there is no guarantee as to what food will be available. Offer to contribute a side dish or snack to provide a more health-conscious option, like a veggie tray or fruit salad, of your choosing.

Control portions 

People tend to eat the portions that are presented. At a tailgate party where there are socializing and distractions, eating mindfully and honing in on our fullness cues is difficult. Naturally reduce portion sizes by offering sliders (with mini buns or whole wheat rolls) versus full-size burgers. Grill up chicken kabobs, but alternate each piece of chicken with vegetables such as zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, and onion. You can also pre-portion dips (like a seven-layer dip) into individual plastic cups.

Think lean and mean

Meat is usually the main event at tailgates, and changing the type of meat can make a big nutritional difference. Choose leaner cuts of beef (93 percent lean) or mix it up with ground turkey, or bison burgers, which are naturally leaner. 

Beat over-snacking

Food spreads are usually centered on endless chips, dips, and baked goods. This makes it easy to graze and overeat. Whether hosting the party or bringing something, consider adding more nutrient-dense options. Some great and tasty snacks are a veggie tray with healthy dips (guacamole, hummus), salsa with baked tortilla chips, unbuttered popcorn, fruit salad or fruit skewers, and a plate with whole-grain crackers and cheese cubes.

Think out of sight, out of mind 

Strategically park that folding chair away from the food table and focus on the game or spending time with friends. When it’s time for food, fill up an appetizer-sized plate of snacks and then return to your seat. Hovering over the food table to catch up with someone creates an opportunity to graze and eat mindlessly.

Take a half-time fitness break 

Grab a buddy to go on a walk or, better yet, bring a football and get a game going in the backyard. Help the host clear plates and clean up dishes, which will get you off the couch and moving.

Here are Three Healthy Recipes for Your Next Tailgate Party


High-Protein French Onion Dip

What You Need:
2 medium onions, chopped
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 cups Greek yogurt (2 percent)

How to Make It:
Sauté onions, olive oil, and brown sugar in a pan on medium-low heat until onions are soft and medium brown in color, about 15 minutes. 
Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and paprika. 
Transfer onion mix to a bowl and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. 
Mix with Greek yogurt. 
Serve with veggies or baked chips.


Baked Jalapeño Poppers (recipe courtesy of skinnytaste.com)

What You Need:
12 jalapeño peppers, washed and sliced in half lengthwise
4.5 oz 1/3 fat cream cheese
5 medium scallions (green part only) sliced
2 oz (1/2 cup) shredded cheddar cheese (2 percent milk)
½ cup Egg Beaters or egg whites, beaten
½ cup panko crumbs
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
salt and black pepper
spray oil

How to Make It:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wearing rubber gloves, cut peppers in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and membrane.
Combine cream cheese, cheddar, and scallions in a medium bowl.
Combine panko, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper in another bowl.
Fill peppers with cheese filling with a small spoon or spatula.
Dip peppers in Egg Beaters.
Place pepper in panko mixture, using a spoon to make sure all the seasoning doesn't fall to the bottom of the bowl.
Spray a baking pan with oil spray (line pan with parchment for easier cleanup).
Lightly spray the peppers with a little more oil spray.
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until golden and cheese oozes out.
Remove from oven and serve immediately.


Crockpot Turkey Chili (recipe courtesy of blogher.com)

What You Need:
2 14.5-oz cans chili-style diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
2 lb. lean ground turkey
4 Tablespoon. chili powder
1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped

How to Make It:
Brown meat with chili powder in large skillet; drain.
Add the meat, undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, green pepper, and onion to slow cooker.
Cook in slow cooker on high for 4 hours. Set to warm.
Garnish with green onions 1-2 tablespoon shredded cheddar cheese, and a dollop of Greek yogurt, and serve warm.


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