Fresh fall air, over-the-top team spirit, delicious food and your favorite beer — tailgate parties offer up a true slice of Americana! And this time of year, untold sports enthusiasts enjoy these gatherings every week, outside stadiums and in backyards from coast to coast.
Unfortunately, tailgating also has the potential to wreck your best-laid plans for a healthy diet. Hot dogs and lager, while some might argue to be among humankind’s great achievements, pack enough fat and empty calories to set you back several hours at the gym. Sorry to rain your parade, but it’s true.
That said, there’s no need for you to stand on the periphery of your group, forlornly choking down baby carrots while your friends inhale nachos by the fistful. No, that won’t do at all. What you need is a better game day game plan!
Bratwurst and hot dogs are tempting, but traditional varieties are chock full of saturated fat and sodium, not exactly heart-healthy. “Hot dogs are processed meats with a high content of salt, saturated fat, and additives including nitrites/nitrates, which may be carcinogenic,” said Jennifer Glockner, a registered nurse and the creator of Smartee Plate, on Eat This Not That.1 Resist the siren call of cured pork and all-beef products and reach for lower-fat options made from chicken or turkey. Or drive your meat-loving friends crazy with a vegetarian or vegan hot dog.2
If burgers are more your jam, opt for the leanest ground beef possible — 98% lean if you’re feeling virtuous, 93% if you want a little more flavor. Slap that sucker on a whole-wheat bun with ample tomatoes and lettuce, and you have yourself a veritable health food.
Yes, tater tots are delicious. Yes, we know you want fries with that. Yes, you could technically eat just one. But please repeat after us: Oil-soaked potato products are not your friends. True, they’re a decent source of potassium — that’s how we used to justify eating them, too — but we’d argue that the 170-300 calories and 10-15 grams of fat in each serving aren’t worth the tradeoff. Instead of regular fries, opt for a handful made from antioxidant-rich sweet potatoes. Or if you must have chips, choose baked. Air-popped popcorn and pretzels are also imminently snackable, lighter options. You might also cook up a batch of tots made from cauliflower, the cornerstone of the low-carb diet. Loaded with vitamin C and fiber, they’ll satisfy your crunch needs without sabotaging your weight goals. And it’s always easy to bring a veggie platter with a side of hummus to a party!
You didn’t think we’d forget this part, did you? Most regular beers have at least 150 calories in them, or as our inner grouch likes to think of it, between 10 and 20 minutes running on a treadmill. But fret not. Thanks to the wonders of science, we now have a plethora of perfectly acceptable-tasting light beers from which to choose — some with as few as 55 calories and 2 carbs per bottle. Or, you could crack open a can or single-serving bottle of dry wine and sip it s-l-o-w-l-y. We want rushing yards, not rushing blood-alcohol levels (which could lower your inhibitions in the eating department).
Don't drink alcohol? No problem! Although purified water is always a good choice, you could kick it up a notch by adding sliced fruit or cucumber. Or perhaps you’d like one of the gazillion flavored seltzers on the market, most of them with no calories and little sodium. Green and black tea, both excellent sources antioxidants, are another great choice.
The Sweet Stuff
No one expects you to bring a bag of grapefruit slices to the party. That’s ridiculous. But we also can’t give you license to chow down on gooey, football-size cookies, some of which contain a full meal’s worth of calories in one pillowy serving. Tough love mandates a compromise. Ginger snaps are big on flavor and smaller on calories and fat. Not a fan? Look for options with more than a gram of fiber, which fills you up, aids in digestion and also helps control blood sugar.3 Fig Newtons, anyone?
If you’d prefer candy, break off a few squares of dark chocolate, which has loads of antioxidants and enough flavor that a little goes a long way toward satisfying your sweet tooth.
What are your favorite tailgating health foods? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And may the best team win!