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5 Tips for Healthy Football Tailgating

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You’ve worked hard all summer to stay in shape, fitting in regular LBT time and sticking to your healthy eating habits. But now it’s fall and we know what that means – football season, or more specifically, tailgating season.

Tailgates are a fun time to reconnect with family and friends, many of whom you only see during football season. You should celebrate and enjoy yourself without stressing over eating perfectly. That said, if you overdo it to the point where you feel lethargic and bloated for the next week, it’s likely to trigger a cascade of unhealthy choices.

With good planning, it is possible to have a fun and healthy tailgate. Check out my top five tips:

Vegan Gluten Free Cookies
  1. Organize a healthy tailgate group. More than likely, there are at least a few people in your tailgate group with similar fitness goals. Make a pact to bring nutritious dishes. Not only will you have more healthy options to choose from, but you’ll create accountability as well.
  2. Make simple ingredient swaps. Many classic tailgate dishes can be easily remade with simple ingredient swaps. Pack 100% whole grain hamburger buns and maybe even a few frozen bean and vegetable burgers. Stuff potato skins with grilled veggies, beans and guacamole instead of bacon, cheese and sour cream. Use plain yogurt rather than mayo for creamy dips, slaws and salads. Most people won’t even notice the makeover!
  3. Bring less dessert. I don’t know about you, but after our tailgate, there’s always tons of leftover desserts. While it’s a good thing we’re not overindulging in sweets, it’s not so great for the person stuck with an entire pan of leftover cookie stuffed brownies. At tailgates, most people won’t eat more than one sweet, so plan to bring one serving per person plus a little extra for visitors. Even better, prepare a healthy dessert, like these fully-loaded, vegan, gluten free cookies or this cookie dough dip sweetened with dates
  4. Limit yourself to two drinks. This can be difficult, especially if it’s a long day of tailgating, but remember, the more you drink, the more likely you’ll end up elbows deep in a bowl of cheese dip. Pack low sugar or sugar free drinks like unsweetened ice tea, kombucha and flavored seltzer. If you’re tempted to drink more, just ask yourself, do you really want to spend half the day in line at the port-a-potty?
  5. Make a plate. You’re much more likely to overindulge if you mindlessly munch while chatting by the food. Admittedly, this is one I struggle with, but I’ve found it’s helpful to make a plate of food instead of grazing. While you’re at it, cover 50-75% of it with healthy choices. With less room for splurge foods, you’ll be forced to pick what foods you really want.

At the end of the day, if you eat three cupcakes or drink a few too many cheap champagne mimosas, don’t beat yourself up about it. The most important thing is that you have a great time! Life goes on, so wake up the next morning, go for a walk, eat a nourishing breakfast…and maybe sneak in an extra Pure Barre class!

Gameday Bean DipGameday Bean Dip

I just love this creamy white bean dip, which you can blend with brightly colored vegetables to create your team colors!

    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 2 14-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • ½ teaspoon salt

Optional team color ingredient:

    • Red – ¾ cup roasted red bell peppers, 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 1 large roasted beet
    • Orange – ¾ cup pumpkin, carrot or sweet potato puree
    • Yellow – ¾ cup roasted yellow bell peppers, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 large roasted yellow beet
    • Green – 1 cup packed raw kale, spinach or arugula, 3/4 cup green peas
    • Purple – ¾ cup cooked purple potatoes, 1 large roasted purple beet

Heat olive oil in a small skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Scrape garlic and olive oil into a food processor with the beans, lemon juice, salt and coloring ingredient. Blend into a creamy dip and serve with colorful raw vegetables, tortilla chips or brown rice crackers.

 Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian and food blogger at She offers nutrition coaching nationwide via telephone and Skype. 

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