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How to plan a healthy tailgate party

Elizabeth Hall, Food City Dietitian • Sep 18, 2019 at 4:45 PM

The words “healthy” and “tailgate” rarely appear in the same sentence. Tailgates are known for delicious foods that are typically high in calories, fat and sodium. While enjoying these foods can definitely be a part of an overall healthful eating pattern, it’s important to watch portion sizes and be aware of some ways to lighten up your tailgates while boosting nutrition. Foods that have the tastes you love with extra nutrients are always a win-win! Follow these tips to plan a healthier tailgate for your family and friends this football season:


Maybe you don’t want to part with juicy hamburgers or famous hot wings. That’s OK! An easy way to lighten up your main dishes is to choose a leaner meat, such as 90/10 ground beef instead of 80/20. You could try mixing your beef with chopped mushrooms or other veggies to add flavor, texture and nutrition. Dress your burger with lots of veggies and place it on a whole wheat bun, which has more fiber than a white bun. For grilling other lean meats such as poultry or fish, choose a tasty marinade, which helps to break down the proteins and add tenderness. If you are making your own hot wings, try baking or air-frying instead of deep-frying. Your family may not notice the difference.


Lighter sides are quick and easy to come by. A tossed salad or even a fruit or veggie tray can add a light crunch to an otherwise heavy meal. For other light sides, try pretzels or baked chips versus regular chips. Get creative and give your sides a “theme” to support your favorite sports teams such as color-themed hummus with complementing vegetables. For sauces and dips, watch your portions, especially for cream-based options. Choose low-sodium varieties or make your own oil-based sauces and dressings when possible.


Oftentimes, limiting soda intake is a simple switch in a healthier lifestyle, but atmospheres like a tailgate make this behavior difficult to maintain. For hydrating options, try fruit-infused or carbonated water, so you still get a refreshing taste without the added sugar.

Elizabeth Hall, MS, RDN, LDN, is a Food City Registered Dietitian.

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