Few fall rituals offer as much fun — and temptation — as tailgating. For some, the festivities even eclipse the game itself and serve as a much-needed opportunity to reconnect with family, friends and fellow football fans not seen since last winter. Of course, it’s a great way to wreck the work you’ve put in with diet and exercise since then, too. Healthy tailgating might seem like an oxymoron, but it isn’t.
If your goal is to keep making weight loss progress, you have three options: 1) Skip the tailgate; 2) Go to the tailgate and don’t eat anything or 3) Find a way to go and take care of yourself. Since options 1 and 2 are not very fun, we recommend going with 3. Here’s how you’ll do it:
TIPS FOR HEALTHY(ISH) TAILGATING
1. FLIP THE BIRD
Burgers and hot dogs are a cookout staple, but chicken makes a healthier (and just as tasty) alternative. It’s better for your heart, has fewer saturated fats and you can easily find a trove of recipes to see you through to the playoffs. We especially like serving it on a skewer, potentially with some crunchy veggies and a tasty tzatziki sauce. Because everything tastes better on a stick.
2. WING IT
As “The Simpsons” once sang, you don’t win friends with salad. You can, however, win friends with vegetarian buffalo wings, swapping out chicken for lower-calorie (and nutrient-packed) cauliflower — especially when you serve them with a vegan substitute for ranch dip. (Maybe don’t advertise that part, at least not until after your buddies have tried it.) The best part? You can still go to town with the hot sauce, since nearly every hot sauce is virtually calorie-free.
If you still want to serve chicken, consider baking the wings ahead of time, rather than frying them. They’re still tasty but have way less fat.
3. GUAC ON
By now, you already know the virtues of avocados (plenty of “good fat,” tons of vitamins and minerals). You are probably familiar with the vices of most party dips (plenty of bad fat, not so many vitamins and minerals). You see where we’re going with this: Replace your standard-issue potato chips and French onion dip with veggies (or even kale or lentil chips) and guac. Bonus points for getting something super-fresh from the farmers market, especially now that it’s harvest season in most of the country.
4. LIGHTEN UP
We already told you about the virtues of lighter beer. Best of all, your favorite craft brewery probably now makes a more diet-friendly can of suds. Tailgate season is the perfect time to sample until you find a favorite. In case it doesn’t go without saying: Even if you’re drinking a lighter beer, you still need to hydrate with good old H2O. It will help prevent overconsumption, and you’re already up on the weight-loss benefits of water, right?
5. RUN SOME PLAYS
You’re not at a bar or a house party, you’re at a game. Likely in a parking lot. With space. Take advantage and bring a football or Frisbee — something to get you moving, even just a little. It’s not gonna replace a round of burpees (but hey, you could always do those in the parking lot, if you don’t mind being “that guy” or “girl”). But studies have shown any kind of movement is better for you than sitting. It’ll also keep you from reaching for that “no really, this is my last one” chip.
Originally published September 2017, updated September 2023
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