Tailgating Tips for a Healthy Season

Emily Bailey | Stay Updated with NASM!

Fall is football season and what does football season mean? It means it’s time to bring out the tailgating gear! Tailgating is meant to be a fun event shared with family and friends, but there are steps we can take to make sure we are adequately prepared the day of the big event to alleviate stress, over-indulging, and food safety concerns.

The number one successful strategy for nutrition is planning ahead. Yes, it takes time, but the more you practice and make it a habit, the more efficient it becomes. We know you’ve all heard that the path to health “is a lifestyle change.” Let’s start with making your tailgating season a healthful success. Always remember first and foremost, everything in moderation.

If you have nutrition clients, communicating the importance of moderation can pay dividends for their overall health. 

Prepare Ahead

  • Prepare your food the night before and place in storage containers.
    • Marinade kebabs/chicken overnight – remember to marinade your vegetables too.
    • Shape or pack up burger patties between sheets of wax paper.
      • Try ground turkey or bison burgers for a leaner option and add whole oats as a binder instead of bread crumbs to increase fiber.
    • Cut up vegetables and fruit and store in sealable bags.
    • Make the dip.
      • The dip doesn’t have to be cheese. Try healthy swaps: Ranch Greek yogurt dip (see recipe below), avocado for guacamole, or hummus are all easy options.
    • Set up the slow cooker station for the wings or chili. Check out a healthier wings recipe, Tailgate Kickin’ Chicken, below.
  • Freeze water bottles the night before. They can be used in place of ice until they melt. Then voila! Extra water for hydration and between alcoholic beverages. (We will discuss that more later.)
  • Have labeled plastic totes or drawers for all your tailgating essentials. Then they are organized and easily transferred from home to the party spot.
    • Designate and label the totes or drawers: One for serving ware; napkins, plates and utensils; one for bottle openers, koozies and cups; one for sunscreen, hand sanitizer, trash bags, insect repellant, etc.


Food Safety Tidbits:

Avoid food borne illness with these tips:

  • Have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available. You never know if a sink with soap and water will be nearby.
  • Hang a paper towel roll using a bungee cord from the tent struts.
  • Keep coolers out of the sun, store them either under the canopy or under a tree.
  • Keep your cold food cold and your hot food hot.
  • Do not leave food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hot weather (90 degrees or above), the time limit drops to one hour.
  • Slow cookers work great as food warmers. Seasoned tailgaters know how to use their generators for TVs, food, and fun for their tailgates.
  • For an extra layer of food safety, keep a thermometer in your supplies to ensure your cold food is staying below 40 F and your grilled food is cooked to an appropriate internal temperature.


Navigating the Tailgate Table:

Appetizers, dips, alcohol, and treats!

  • Before the festivities begin, have a small snack that contains protein and fiber so you’ll be less tempted to overeat
  • Avoid skipping meals before the tailgate to save room. This approach will inevitably back fire for two reasons. 1.) You over eat due to waiting too long. Then wait too long again to eat because you’re over full and the cycle repeats. 2.) If skipping meals is a common practice, over time metabolism is slowed.
  • Eat from a plate instead of continually grazing from the buffet. This will help you keep track of how much you’re eating.
  • Not your tailgate? Offer to bring fresh fruits or vegetables and dip (see the recipe for homemade ranch Greek yogurt dip below). This way you know there will be healthy options offered.
  • For every alcoholic beverage you have, match it with the same amount of water. This will slow down your intake and help you keep track of how much you are drinking. It also helps to keep you hydrated and hydration is key to preventing a hangover.
  • Staying hydrated will also decrease fluid retention (water weight gain) from increased sodium, carbohydrate, and alcohol intake during the tailgate.
  • Think baked or grilled versus fried. This includes wings, potatoes, etc.
  • Take a break from the plate and tailgate table and go play. There's probably a football or two you can throw or even a cornhole set waiting to be used.

Overall tailgating is about having a good time with friends and enjoying the game. Make the focus on good times and the game versus focusing on the food. Practice moderation - especially if you tailgate at every home game or you are a true fan and travel tailgate too! One tailgate per month allow for indulgence. However, avoid indulging at every one. One meal, one day, one weekend doesn’t ruin everything, but get back on track the first meal or snack post-game and avoid waiting until Monday. Enjoy cheering on your team this fall!


Tailgating Recipes


Tailgate Kickin’ Chicken

Have your wings and eat them too!


2 pounds chicken breast tenderloins

1 cup of your favorite hot sauce (I recommend sriracha as a lower sodium option)

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup lime juice


  1. Mix together the hot sauce, garlic, yogurt, oil, and juice. Pour into a large, sealable baggie.
  2. Add chicken to bag, marinate for 30 minutes. For best results marinate for 12 hours or overnight.
  3. Grill chicken until cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F or broil in the oven on low rack.
  4. Serve with your favorite dip and sides.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 4oz

Calories 265       Fat: 11g        Cholesterol 96mg        Carbohydrate: 2g        Fiber: 0g

Protein 38g         Sodium: 440mg (depends on brand of hot sauce)


Ranch Greek Yogurt Dip


For the Spices Mixture

  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 ½ tsp dried dill weed
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried onion flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried chives
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)


  • 1-16 oz container plain Greek yogurt


  1. Whisk all spices together until well blended.
  2. Mix 3 tbsp of the spice mixture into the Greek yogurt base (save remainder of spice mix in sealed container for future uses).
  3. Refrigerator or serve immediately.

Note: Pairs great with raw vegetables.

Tip: For a salad dressing consistency mix in low-fat buttermilk, amount to your desired level of consistency.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: ¼ cup dip

Calories: 33     Total Fat: 0g (if fat free yogurt)        Sat Fat: 0g       Cholesterol: 0mg

Carb: 2g             Fiber: 0g                 Protein: 6g         Sodium: 166mg


Sample Game Day Meal Play-by-Play – Kick Off Time: 1 p.m.

Breakfast: Smoothie with ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 TBSP nut butter of your choice, 1 cup spinach leaves, 1 small frozen banana, 1 cup frozen strawberries, 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (depends on consistency preference), 1 tsp chia seeds or ground flax

Snack: Apple and almonds

Lunch: Grilled kickin chicken, homemade ranch Greek yogurt dip with raw vegetables, hummus and chips

Halftime Snack: Saw vegetables and guacamole

Dinner: Salad with spinach, romaine mixed with cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, and peppers topped with salmon and quinoa. Olive oil and vinegar for dressing.



  1. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 4th Edition. Roberta Larson, Duyff MS, RD, FADA, CFCS.
  2. DietmasterPro software, nutrient analysis. Lifestyle Technologies.
  3. Sports Nutrition A Practice Manual for Professionals, 5th Edition. Christine A. Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, CSSD, Editor in Chief Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Author

Emily Bailey


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