Tailgating — the act of carting, sometimes cooking and sharing good food (and, hey, a beer or two) onsite before a football game — excites some fans as much as the actual football game. Unfortunately, the tasty pastime is not known to be the healthiest fall tradition. Read on for five nutrition experts’ ideas for portable crowd-pleasing healthier choices any fan can cheer for.
Dani Little, MS, RD
Engine 2 Program Director“I love football. And I love to eat (and drink beer). My favorite tailgating foods are charred corn guacamole with unsalted chips or carrot sticks to dip and chickpea ‘meatball’ sandwiches with warm marinara and a toasted whole-grain bun! We love making the chickpea meatball sandwiches so much that we tailgate in our own living room!”
Pro Tip: Adding charred corn to this Oaxacan-Style Guacamole opens in a new tab gives a color and flavor boost.
Whole Kids Foundation School Programs Manager and Chef“Since my wife and I are both vegetarians, a lot of times game day can make us feel like we’ve been left on the sidelines. I always plan to pack a plant-based version of tailgating favorites, such as BBQ Jackfruit opens in a new tab that can be placed on any bun to fit in with the crowd. Pair with homemade barbecue sauce opens in a new tab, or sauté the jackfruit in your favorite sauce. For a great plant-based side dish, look no further than Buffalo Cauliflower opens in a new tab to get the game really heated up! Between these two dishes, you can make any tailgating experience a hit no matter what team you root for!”
Pro Tip: Call your store to inquire about availability of fresh jackfruit. The fruits are very large, so you can ask a produce team member to cut the tropical fruit in half or quarters so you can buy a smaller piece.
Allison Sloma, MA, RD
Product Compliance and Nutrition Analyst“Almonds, cashews and pecans are packed with a wide variety of important nutrients like vitamin E, dietary fiber, heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and protein. Mix our 365 Everyday Value Almonds, Cashews and Pecans with a little extra virgin olive oil and dash of sea salt and cayenne pepper and roast in the oven for a savory, satisfying snack.”
Pro Tip: Buy unsalted nuts so you control the amount of salt—and sodium—added to your crunchy snack.
Nutrition Program Director Whole Cities Nutrition“I swing by Whole Foods Market for ice and lots of goodies and pack it all in a small ice chest. We enjoy eating, drinking, laughing, and chilling. Some of our snack highlights from recent trips: a vegan mock chicken salad (such as this one opens in a new tab) or a package of vegan field roast to slice for sandwiches (plus real meat options for omnivores), grapes and strawberries, a variety of cheeses and crackers, beer and chilled white or rosé wine.”
Pro Tip: Look for whole-grain rolls in the bakery to go with your sandwich fillings.
Kathy Downie, RDN
Culinary dietitian and mom (and Auburn Tiger fan!)“With two young budding football fans, my husband and I don’t tailgate as much as we’d like, but college football night is almost as much about the food as the game. One of our favorites for game day is a chili that everyone can spice and top as they like, such as this not-too-spicy six-ingredient one opens in a new tab. It isn’t too heavy and has plenty of filling fiber and protein. I also feel like no tailgating event is complete without a trail mix to snack on. This sodium-savvy party mix opens in a new tab is one that my boys like to make and eat with me. (Well, they prefer the dried fruits, and I focus on the nuts and cheese.) It’s a win-win, which is all you can hope for on game day.”
Pro Tip: Have fresh cilantro sprigs, thinly sliced red onion and lime wedges for diners to boost chili flavor without excessive calories.