Stay Healthy This Tailgating Season!

By Jeff Quinn

It’s almost fall, which means the excitement of football season is in the air. For many of us, the upcoming weekends are bound to be filled with game watches, spirited barbeques, and all-day tailgates. These events can be tons of fun, but with them comes an abundance of tempting snacks, over-sized burgers, and rich desserts…not exactly ideal for someone who is trying to lose weight or control their diabetes.

Healthy Tailgate

In this video, Bob shows you how to cook for a healthy tailgate! He starts with a Greek Fraternity Salad, the he crafts Grilled Sliced Steak and Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches, followed by delicious and fun Strawberry Shooters.

Don’t let the traditionally fatty foods and alcoholic beverages consumed on game day take the fun out of your celebration. To help you out, we’re bringing you lots of tailgating tips so you can navigate the food and drink situation more easily this season.

Offer to Bring Something or Organize

First off, always offer to contribute to the party! Bring something healthy that you know you can eat and others will enjoy. If you can, volunteer to organize the tailgate or host your fellow fans at your place to watch the game. That way, you’ll have more control over the options on the table. (Make sure you assign someone to bring fruit and a salad!)

The host of the party is typically responsible for the main dish. Buy lean turkey or beef to make burgers instead of higher-fat ground beef. It's likely your guests won't even notice! Or, mix it up and go with somebarbecued chicken or kabobs with chicken and veggies.

To give yourself and your guests more healthy choices, put out some healthy side and snack options. Some good ideas are a tomato and cucumber salad, veggie tray, fruit salad, or unsalted trail mix.

Think Healthy Grilling

Barbeque grub doesn’t have to be fat-laden or sauce-heavy. There are a lot of ways to add nutritional value and lighten up traditional tailgating foods:


  • Bring some lean meat patties to the party (93% lean - or more - ground turkey or beef is best).
  • Opt for healthy burger fixings like avocado, tomato, and lettuce.
  • Forgo the cheese to save about 100 calories and at least 5 grams of saturated fat.
  • Whole wheat buns are easy to find, so pick some up for next week’s party.
  • Stick to mustard, which is lower in calories and carbs than ketchup.
  • If opting for brats, sausages, or hot dogs, choose those that have less than 3 grams of fat per ounce.
  • If beef is your meat of choice, choose a leaner cut like sirloin, t-bone, or flank steak.
  • Try sliders instead of full-size burgers – buy mini buns or whole wheat rolls and fill them with mini meat patties, small steaks, or barbecued chicken. Better yet, try our Healthy Mexican Sliders.
  • Grill up some chicken kabobs but include some zucchini squash, peppers, and onions on each skewer.
  • Keep the idea of a healthy chili or stew in your back pocket for the colder months of football season. Pack extra veggies into your chili and opt for lean protein like chicken or lean ground beef. Our Veggie Chili is another hearty choice that your guests will love!

For even more healthy barbeque ideas, check out our article – Healthy Grilling – Beyond Burgers!

Over-Snacking – How to Beat It!

Tailgates and football parties typically center around a spread of endless snacks and treats. With a dozen or so dips, chips, and baked goods to choose from, it’s easy to graze and overeat.

But easy on the chips, pretzels, and cookies – they’re dense in calories and carbs, and also low in nutrients. There are so many other nutritious, yet tasty sides and snacks to choose from. Here are some options that you might find on the table or that you can bring to the party yourself:

More tips for tighter snacking control:

For many people, the “out of sight, out of mind” tactic works. Park your folding chair away from the food table. Focus on the game and put your energy into cheering on your team and catching up with friends.

Take a small appetizer plate and fill it with the snacks you’ll have at the party. Keep in mind your meal plan and portion sizes. Resist going back for seconds and eat your snacks slowly so you really enjoy them!

It can also help you and others when you provide the nutrition information for any dish that you bring. Guests can use it to check portion sizes and carbohydrate counts!

The Alcohol Factor

Good food is a must when you’re tailgating, but you should also expect to encounter a sizeable selection of alcoholic beverages. Whether or not to drink can be a challenging issue for those who are watching their weight or managing diabetes. If you have diabetes and want to drink alcohol, here are a few steps to take to make sure you stay safe on game day:

  • Check with your health care team about whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol. For example, if you have neuropathy, drinking alcohol can worsen your symptoms.
  • Always eat food if you drink an alcoholic beverage. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is processed differently than food and can cause low blood glucose levels. Because of the calories in alcoholic beverages, many people try to cut back on their food intake. This is a mistake and can increase your risk of severe hypoglycemia – particularly if you take insulin or a pill that lowers blood glucose levels.
  • Stick to no more than 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women. (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1 ½ ounces of distilled spirits or 5 oz of wine.)
  • To stay safe, check your blood glucose levels to see how alcohol affects you.
  • Keep in mind that any alcohol you drink can cause you to make poor decisions when it comes to your diet. You can still enjoy a drink or two, but stay in control and do your best to make healthy choices.

Alcoholic drinks can also be high in calories, and they’ll add up quickly when you have more than one drink. Stay away from sugary mixers and drinks like punch, margaritas, and heavy beers. Some lighter options to consider are light beer or wine spritzers.

You should also make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available. Whether it’s Crystal Light lemonade or diet soda, bring your favorite zero-calorie drink so you have another beverage option.

Take a Half-Time Fitness Break

If you go to a friend’s house to watch the big game, take advantage of the break at half-time. Use that time to get up and move around a bit.

  • Grab a buddy and head out for a walk
  • Get the group together for a pickup football game in the yard
  • Help your host clear some plates and clean a few dishes in the kitchen

If you’re tailgating in anticipation of watching the game live, don’t forget to bring your own football to the party. Instead of spending the whole tailgate eating, drinking, and sitting in a camping chair, make an effort to get up and walk around every few minutes. Walk around the parking lot to check out some of the other tailgates or play some catch with another fellow fan.

Football season doesn’t have to be the off-season for your healthy diet. There are many ways you can put a healthy spin on your tailgate or game watch. Be sure to check out this month’s recipes, on-the-go tips, and our sample meal plan to see how you can stay healthy this season!

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