Tailgating is practically an American tradition.
Nothing quite compares to the excitement of gathering with friends to eat and drink before the big game. The crowds, the grills, and the beer are all part of the fun.
But if you’re trying hard to lose weight, the usual fun of tailgating may seem more like a threat to your weight loss goals. So, here are some quick tips to help you tailgate the healthy way!
Each region – and each team – has its own tailgating traditions. From bean dip to barbeque to burgers, each city puts its own flair on celebrating.
NY Giants and Jets fans love their chili and jambalaya, while Chicago Bears fans are likelier to serve up a grilled Krispy Kreme donut or hot dog.
Plus, you can always count on local favorites like mouth-water BBQ at the Houston Texans’ stadium, top-rate Mexican food before an LA Rams game, and killer chicken wings before watching the Buffalo Bills.
In almost every city, traditional grilled and fried munchies are coupled with plenty of beer to wash it all down.
For many of us, football games are just as much about the food, drink, and camaraderie of a tailgate as they are about the actual game.
Unfortunately, these traditional foods and drinks aren’t usually part of your food plan. So, if you love tailgating but also want to stay true to your healthy habits, this article is for you!
Whether it’s in the stadium parking lot or your living room, here are a few ideas to make your Sunday afternoons just a touch healthier.
No matter what food comes to mind when we say tailgating, these ten easy tips are sure to help you make healthier choices the next game day!
Healthy Tailgating Tips
Planning to tailgate before the big game this weekend? Here are 10 quick tips on how to navigate a tailgate and skip the post-party guilt of overeating.
1. Load up on veggies
Vegetables are high in nutrients and low in calories, making them the perfect food to munch on all day! If you love to snack and chat, keep a full veggie tray nearby.
That way, when you’re tempted to reach for chips or snacks, you have a much healthier option readily available.
Bonus: lots of common dips (e.g., ranch dip, bean dip, queso, salsa, chicken dip, guacamole, etc.) taste awesome with sliced bell peppers or baby carrots! Veggie trays are a great way to healthify the whole group.
2. Skip the beer
Beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) shouldn’t be on the menu while you’re losing weight.
Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives! Water is the best choice, but we know that can get boring. If it’s still warm in your neck of the woods, go for a low-calorie lemonade or juice.
Or, if you’d prefer something to help keep you warm this winter, grab a cup of diet hot cocoa or mulled cider. Having a special, yummy drink to enjoy will help you miss the alcohol a lot less.
3. Pick your favorite; skip the rest
People don’t gain weight from eating one cheeseburger or from having one serving of chips and queso.
We gain weight when we repeatedly eat too much unhealthy food too often (and don’t balance it with enough physical activity).
So, if you only tailgate occasionally and you’ve been looking forward to those special chicken wings all week, then go for it! Just limit yourself to a reasonable serving (6-8 wings), and then skip the much less exciting fries, chips, etc.
One treat is a good thing, ten treats are not.
4. Choose grilled over fried
This is classic diet advice, but it’s good to remember. If you have the option between two different preparations of the same food, go for the grilled option.
Something that comes off a grill is almost always lower in calories, lower in fat, and overall healthier than its fried counterpart.
You’ll commonly run into this decision with meats (e.g., grilled chicken vs. fried chicken) and vegetables (e.g., baked potato vs. French fries).
5. Pass on some simple carbs
Lots of our gameday favorites are loaded with simple carbs – those white, starchy carbohydrates with little-to-no fiber.
These carbs spike our blood sugar and can leave us feeling hungry, even after eating a full meal. If you can order your burger or hot dog without a bun or take off the top, that’s an easy way to cut down on carbs and calories.
If you’d rather keep the bun, aim for a side with plenty of fiber and/or veggies. Green salad, bean salad, or baked beans are promising options for a healthier side.
6. Plate your food before you eat it
Ever started eating a bag of chips… and then accidentally finished the whole thing?
If you haven’t done it with chips, you can probably name some other food that dissolves your willpower just the same (cookies, candy, beef jerky… the list goes on).
Anyway, your goal is to learn healthy habits and practice portion control, right? So, one of the best ways to avoid overeating is to take away the convenience of doing so.
Serve yourself one serving (…or maybe two) of your favorite tailgating snack, and then put the package away. Like far away. By removing the accessibility of the snack, it’s easier to resist the temptation to go back for seconds.
7. Indulge in appetizer or dessert, not both
For tip #3, I said to pick just one favorite to indulge in, but sometimes there’s not just one specific food that you’re craving. If there’s a whole table of delicious choices, make a little pact with yourself.
Decide whether you’re in a sweet or savory mood, and then choose to either munch on appetizers or dive into dessert. The key here is to pick one or the other, not both.
If you let yourself enjoy one or the other, you won’t feel as deprived, and by limiting your indulgence to one of the two, you also won’t sabotage your weight loss goals.
8. Stay hydrated
We say this over and over again, but only because it’s so important!
Staying hydrated is important for weight loss in general. Lots of times, we reach for food when we’re actually thirsty instead of hungry, so being short on fluids can trick you into snacking too often.
Instead, keep a water bottle (or glass) nearby and stay hydrated!
9. Think about toppings
Another way to save major calories with traditional tailgating foods like burgers, hot dogs, chips, and nachos is to think about toppings.
You don’t have to do the math to know that topping your burger with lettuce, tomato, and mustard is MUCH healthier than topping it with bacon, cheese, and special sauce.
With all the calories and fat you save by choosing vegetable toppings instead of meats and cheeses, you’ll still be able to enjoy your favorite proteins without blowing your diet.
10. Play social butterfly
Last but not least, get out and talk to someone!
We eat, drink and snack much more if we sit alone or just wait. Instead, push yourself to talk to someone new or busy yourself in the kitchen or at the grill.
By keeping yourself busy until the game starts, you’ll dramatically cut down on snack time.
Even if you start snacking once the game starts, chances are you’ll eat less than you would have if you’d been munching for the whole tailgate too.
Or, if you’d rather go all-out and make gameday a cheat day, that’s okay too!
Just make sure you’re not having cheat days so often or so extravagant that you’re undoing all your hard work from the week before.
If tailgating is a common activity for you, consider swapping one of your less-than-healthy staples for a healthier alternative, like the one below!
Tailgating Food Swaps
Swapping less-healthy favorites for slightly more balanced and nutritious alternatives is one of the secrets to maintaining weight loss long-term. Here’s one of our favorite recipe swaps to try at your next tailgate!
7-Layer Bean Dip to Cowboy Caviar
The traditional 7-layer dip is filled with fat and calories before you even consider the tortilla chips you use to eat the dip.
Between the cheese, sour cream, and refried beans, a half cup of 7-layer dip can easily ring in at 6-10 grams of fat in just the toppings. Plus that little handful of chips you use to eat the dip? Only ten tortilla chips pack a hefty 140 calories and 7 grams of fat.
So, instead, try some cowboy caviar instead this weekend! Cowboy caviar is more like a fancy salsa, so it has much less fat and fewer calories than traditional bean dip.
We also like this recipe swap because cowboy caviar has the added benefits of fiber in the beans and corn, healthy fats in the avocado and olive oil, and a punch of vitamin C in the tomatoes and peppers.
Enjoy this yummy dip with sliced pita/pita chips, or stick with tortilla chips. It’s up to you!
Do you like tailgating before the big game? Let us know if you’ve discovered any other tips or tricks to triumph at tailgates!