Tips for Healthier Tailgate Parties

Author: Alecia Pirulis

BBQ Grill

Fall means football – and football means tailgating! Whether it’s an official tailgating party in the parking lot of your favorite college or pro team or a “tailgating” party in your apartment (as long as there’s a television and football fans, it counts as a tailgate party!), there’s one thing you can be sure of – lettuce wraps and grilled veggies are probably not on the menu. Tailgate food trends toward the unhealthy … wings, cheesy nachos, loaded burgers, sliders, chili … but don’t let the season derail your healthy eating habits! Bring some of these to your next tailgating party (or make them as an alternative for friends and family who don’t want to load up on chips and dip).

Try making “light” versions of popular foods. For example, switch out the sour cream and cheddar cheese in your seven-layer dip with low-fat Greek yogurt and fat-free or veggie cheese. Use ground turkey instead of ground beef in your famous chili. Instead of deep-frying your hot wings, bake them! (If you coat them in a sauce made up of hot sauce, garlic, butter, and spices, place them on a cookie sheet and bake them, nobody will know the difference – shhh!)

Make a healthier kebab. Fill your skewers with fresh-cut veggies and put them on the grill for those who want a low-fat alternative to beef kebabs. Or, put cherry tomatoes, slices of cucumber, some black olives, and chunks of fat-free feta cheese on a skewer and grill — Greek salad on a stick!

Add a few Portobello mushrooms to the grill – make a marinade of oil, vinegar, basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. Let the Portobello mushrooms soak for about 15 minutes, and grill. Even your burger-loving friends will enjoy this healthy alternative.

A salty snack mix is a tailgating must – but you can lighten it up with this terrific recipe from Prevention magazine: first, coat a baking sheet with cooking spray, coat some pumpkin seeds with canola (or coconut) oil, and spread them on the baking sheet, roasting for 20 minutes at 350 degrees (stir often). Put the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with equal amounts almonds and pecan halves. In a small bowl, mix together about 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Add to the nuts and stir until well coated. Spread this mixture on the baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry. (Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn). Cool for about 20 minutes, and then put the mixture in a bowl and add about a cup of dried cranberries.

Offer some healthy alternatives with your traditional tailgate fare: sliders and hot dogs are great for some, but put out a plate of wraps (spread some hummus on a tortilla, add sliced turkey, lettuce, and slices of tomato and roll) or pinwheels (try cooked shrimp, avocado, almonds, and horseradish). Grill those brats – but add some turkey sausages to the grill, as well. (Add some whole-wheat buns and your health-conscious friends will thank you).

Make sliders with ground turkey – and watch as they are gobbled up! Mix the ground turkey with pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder. Shape them into small patties, grill, and then put each “slider” on a whole-wheat bun. Top them with a slice of tomato and some mashed avocado (be sure to add lime juice to the avocado to prevent browning).  Add a slice of fat-free or veggie cheese and watch these sliders disappear!

With just a few small changes, you can make the fall tailgating season healthier –while keeping it tasty! Be sure to make use of all of those wonderful fall fruits and veggies you’ll find at the farmer’s market this season to make everything from fresh salsas to grilled desserts.

Speaking of desserts, here’s one your friends will love – and they will never know it is good for them: double-fudge brownies! (From

Spray a 9X13″ pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put one small zucchini in the food processor and puree. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 cup olive oil and puree until smooth. Set aside. In a large bowl, stir together a cup of whole-wheat flour, a cup of raw sugar, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Pour the zucchini mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until it forms a thick batter. Stir in 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips. Bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool before cutting. (To save time, make these the night before your tailgate party – wrap them in foil and freeze.)