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Healthy Tailgate Food: Don’t Get Flagged for Overindulgence!

By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer at The Fit Father Project

healthy tailgate food

Whether you're in the stadium parking lot or your own backyard, enjoy your fandom guilt-free with healthy tailgate food ideas!

When you're caught up in the excitement of your favorite team, it can be easy to ignore what you're consuming.

And traditional tailgate or game-watching food — pizza, brats, beer, chips, etc. — isn't very healthy.

But, you can maximize your health by knowing which party foods to avoid and which healthier alternatives to pick instead!

When preparing healthy tailgate food, keep a few simple tips in mind.

First, make sure you have plenty of water to reduce the urge to drink soda or beer (or at the very least, too many beers).

Also, pick fresh vegetables, fruits, and protein foods over traditional tailgate snacks when possible and plan your menus ahead of time.

If you're not doing the hosting, bring your own nutritious foods and drinks.

Try these healthy tailgate food ideas at home or on the road!

Doing some grilling? Check out these healthy recipes for meats and vegetables!

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Healthy Tailgate Food: The Basics

Consider the following nutritious tailgate food this sports season!

Grilled Meats

Pass on the brats, hot dogs, and regular hamburgers in favor of healthier grilled meats.

Examples of those to choose include chicken, organic lean steaks, fish, shrimp, other types of seafood, turkey burgers, veggies burgers, or other plant-based meat substitutes.

Veggies

Many kids and adults don't eat as many vegetables as they should, so you can't go wrong when serving up veggies as healthy tailgate foods.

Consider veggie platters containing fresh-cut carrots, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, or bell peppers.

You might grill eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, or bell peppers.

String these grilled veggies on kabobs along with chicken, very lean steak, shrimp, or other healthy grilled meats.

Fruits

Fresh fruit is always a hit at tailgate parties, and for good reason.

Fruit is healthy, refreshing, tastes delicious, and makes the perfect replacement for sweet tailgating treats.

Consider preparing a fruit tray or fruit kabobs on skewers, and dipping fruit in Greek yogurt as a nutritious dipping sauce.

Choose watermelon, other types of melon, kiwi fruit, apples, pears, grapes, oranges, or any other favorite fruit.

Coat apples, pears, and other fruits (if needed) in lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.

Cheese

Bring a cheese tray to your next tailgating event!

Choose a variety of cubed or sliced cheeses and serve them with veggies, whole-grain crackers, or pita chips.

Nuts and Seed

Nuts and seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

They make the perfect healthy tailgate foods for snacking.

Choose dry roasted nuts and seeds without added sugar.

You might mix different nuts or seeds together or combine them with pretzels or whole-grain cereals.

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Healthy Tailgate Food: The Recipes

If you're looking for healthy tailgate foods, consider some of the following simple pregame recipes!

Avocado Hummus

Dip fresh veggies or whole-grain crackers into this nutritious, mouth-watering avocado hummus recipe!

Ingredients

  • 15-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 cup of cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Instructions

  • Drain the chickpeas and reserve 2 tablespoons of the liquid.
  • Transfer the chickpeas and reserved liquid to a food processor.
  • Add the avocado, cilantro, tahini, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt.
  • Puree the mixture until smooth.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 10

Blackened Salmon Sandwiches

Consider this savory blackened salmon sandwich recipe in place of hot dogs, brats, or traditional hamburgers as your next healthy tailgate food!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of wild salmon cut into four portions
  • 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning
  • 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 4 whole-grain rolls, toasted
  • 1 cup of arugula
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup of red onion, sliced

Instructions

  • Oil a grill rack and preheat your grill to high heat.
  • Rub the salmon on both sides with Cajun seasoning.
  • Grill the salmon until cooked through (about 3-4 minutes per side).
  • Mash the avocado and mayonnaise together in a small bowl.
  • Spread the avocado mixture on each roll and top it with salmon, arugula, and sliced veggies.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 4

Salsa Black Bean Burgers

Black bean and salsa burgers are healthy tailgate foods that taste as delicious as traditional hamburgers!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of salsa
  • 2 15-ounce cans of rinsed black beans
  • 1 cup of crushed whole-grain tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup of grated white onions
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons of chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of avocado oil, divided
  • 8 whole-grain hamburger buns, toasted
  • 1/2 cup of prepared guacamole
  • 8 tomato slices
  • 1 cup of sprouts
  • 1/2 cup of sliced red onion

Instructions

  • Put the salsa in a mesh sieve to drain any excess liquid.
  • Mash the beans with a potato masher in a bowl until well-smashed.
  • Stir in the salsa, chips, grated onion, egg, mayonnaise, cumin, chili powder, and salt.
  • Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes.
  • Form the mixture into eight bean burgers that are about three inches wide.
  • Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the burgers.
  • Cook them until browned and heated throughout (about 3-4 minutes per side).
  • Serve the bean burgers on the buns with sliced tomatoes, guacamole, sprouts, and red onion.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 8

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Spicy Cauliflower Bites

Instead of regular potato chips or fried veggies, consider this spicy cauliflower bites healthy tailgate food recipe!

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of cauliflower florets
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of hot sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons of chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • Toss the cauliflower in oil and salt in a bowl.
  • Spread the cauliflower mixture on a baking sheet.
  • Roast the cauliflower until it softens and browns (about 15 minutes).
  • Combine hot sauce, chili sauce to taste, butter, and lemon juice in a bowl.
  • Add the cooked cauliflower and toss to coat.
  • Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet and roast until hot (about 5 minutes more).
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 6

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Chili

This flavorful beef and vegetable chili recipe makes the perfect addition to healthy tailgate foods this sports season and all throughout the year!

Ingredients

  • 1 28-ounce can of undrained diced tomatoes
  • 1 10-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with green chili peppers, undrained
  • 2 cups of vegetable juice or tomato juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of dried crushed oregano
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 pounds of lean beef stew meat, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups of chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped celery
  • 1 cup of chopped green peppers
  • 1 15-ounce can of black or kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Instructions

  • In a 6-quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, vegetable juice, cumin, chili powder, garlic, and oregano.
  • Stir in onion, meat, celery, and pepper.
  • Cover the mixture and cook it on low heat for 8-10 hours or on high heat for 4-5 hours.
  • Stir in the beans on a high-heat setting.
  • Cover and cook the mixture for about 15 minutes more.
  • Spoon the chili into bowls and add toppings of your choice.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 10

Sweet Potato Chips

Replace traditional potato chips with nutrient-dense sweet potato chips instead!

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 14-ounce sweet potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

Instructions

  • Cut parchment paper to fit over a microwave-safe plate.
  • Coat the parchment paper with cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle the potatoes with rosemary, salt, and pepper.
  • Microwave the potatoes in four separate batches, on power level 9, for about 4 minutes.
  • Continue to cook in 30-second intervals until the chips reach the desired doneness.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 8

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Couscous Tabbouleh with Mint and Feta

This refreshing couscous and tabbouleh with mint and feta recipe works well with any main dish or healthy tailgating appetizers!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked couscous
  • 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 of a cucumber, halved and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of minced fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons of minced fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of pepper
  • 3/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • Lemon wedges (optional)

Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil and stir in the couscous.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat, cover it, and let it stand for 5-8 minutes or until the water gets absorbed.
  • Fluff the mixture with a fork.
  • Combine beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes in a large bowl.
  • In a smaller bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, seasonings, and oil. Drizzle it over the bean mixture.
  • Add couscous and toss to combine.
  • Serve right away or chill the mixture in a refrigerator.
  • Sprinkle with feta and serve with lemon wedges if you'd like!

Servings: 3

Berry Ice Pops

These berry ice pops are nutritious, delicious, and refreshing for any tailgate or pre-game party. Your kids will love them too!

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups of milk, divided
  • 1-2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries
  • 10 freezer pop molds or paper cups
  • 10 popsicle sticks

Instructions

  • Warm 1/4 cup of milk with honey in a microwave.
  • Stir in 1 1/2 cups of milk and vanilla.
  • Place the berries in molds and cover them with the milk mixture.
  • Top with foil if using cups instead of molds, and insert popsicle sticks through the foil.
  • Freeze the pops until firm, serve, and enjoy!

Servings: 10

Pork Tacos with Mango Salsa

Consider this satiating, healthy tailgate food instead of highly processed grilled meats!

Pork tacos with mango salsa are delicious and nutritious!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 3 cups of cubed fresh pineapple
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of dark beer
  • 3 pounds of pork tenderloin, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 16-ounce jar of mango salsa
  • 24 corn tortillas, warmed
  • Cubed fresh pineapple (optional)
  • Chopped avocados (optional)

Instructions

  • Puree the first nine ingredients together in a blender and add the beer.
  • In a slow cooker, combine pork with the pineapple mixture.
  • Cook the mixture, covered, on low heat until the pork is tender (about 6-8 hours).
  • Stir the mixture to break up the pork.
  • Stir the cilantro into the salsa.
  • Using a slotted spoon, serve the pork mixture on tortillas.
  • Add salsa and other toppings if desired.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 12

Capri Salad Kabobs

You can't go wrong when choosing Capri salad kabobs for your next healthy tailgate food, as the recipe is loaded with flavor and essential nutrients!

Ingredients

  • 24 grape tomatoes
  • 12 cherry-size fresh mozzarella balls
  • 24 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 12 skewers

Instructions

  • Thread 2 tomatoes, 1 cheese ball, and 2 basil leaves onto each skewer.
  • Whisk the olive oil and vinegar together.
  • Drizzle the oil mixture over the kabobs.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Servings: 12

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Tailgate Foods to Avoid

Whenever possible, steer clear of the following tailgate foods as they aren't so great for your health.

Highly Processed Meats

  • Ham
  • Sausage
  • Salami
  • Deli meats
  • Hot dogs
  • Brats
  • High-fat hamburgers
  • Regular bacon
  • Traditional meatballs

Refined Grains

  • White bread
  • White tortillas
  • White hamburger buns
  • Other refined grains

Fried Foods

  • Fried chicken
  • Fried onion rings
  • Fried cheese curds
  • Fried shrimp
  • Fried fish
  • Other fried foods

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

  • Soda
  • Lemonade
  • Sweet tea
  • Sugar-sweetened sport drinks
  • Sugar-sweetened energy drinks
  • Other sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-Sweetened Condiments

  • Ketchup
  • Barbeque sauce
  • Honey mustard
  • Many salad dressings
  • Other sugar-sweetened sauces
  • Relish
  • Sweet pickles

Other Tailgate Foods to Avoid

  • Doughnuts
  • Other baked goods
  • Regular potato chips
  • Candy
  • Traditional ice cream
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Regular pizza
  • Meatballs in sauce containing added sugar
  • Sugar-sweetened beef, pork, or chicken

Erin Coleman B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer at The Fit Father Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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