“Healthy” and “tailgating” are two words seldom used together.
Many people prefer to keep it that way.
Game day means brats, ribs, barbecue, hamburgers, chips and dip, potato salad and other high-fat foods.
Who cares? We’ll call it healthful if we bring light beer, right?
A typical tailgater will consume an estimated 3,000 calories on one game day, said Regan Jones, a registered dietitian and avid tailgater.
That’s a potential 36,000 calories consumed by one person during the course of an SEC season.
If you’re not taking that into account the rest of the week, it could pack 10 pounds onto your waistline, Jones said.
And for die-hard football fans, there is also the NFL to add more game days to the mix.
On the heels of tailgate season are the holidays – another time when people give themselves permission to let healthful eating fall by the wayside.
“You’ve essentially taken a third of the year and thrown (healthful eating) out the window,” Jones said. “And then people get to New Year’s and wonder why their pants don’t fit the same way they did last year.”
But who wants to sacrifice the fun of traditional tailgate fare?
Jones said you don’t have to. Her approach is to enjoy the high-fat foods you love, trim the fat from them when you can, and bring something healthier to round it out.
She knows from experience. Tailgating is a big deal to her and her family.
Jones is an Auburn graduate and a loyal fan. Her husband is a Mississippi State graduate and pulls for Alabama, but he will happily watch any football game that comes down the pike.
“We would probably tailgate for high school football if we could,” she said.
Because she is a dietitian, Jones said she’s known for bringing healthier dishes, but she doesn’t often bring home leftovers.
She thinks part of the problem with bringing healthful tailgate food is that people are afraid of bringing something no one will eat.
Small changes can add up to big calorie savings, she said.
Take, for example, tortilla chips and salsa. That’s always a favorite, and it’s actually not terribly unhealthful.
Corn chips that have only three ingredients – one major brand has only corn, oil and salt – may not be exactly low-fat, but at least they’re whole grain.
Balance it out with a low-calorie salsa. Jones has become known for her black-bean and corn salsa.
“It’s something that people love and they don’t think, ‘She brought the healthy salsa,’” she said.
If your signature dish is spinach dip or sausage balls, then bring those. Jones advocates enjoying those dishes that make the game-day experience for you. Just scale it back in other areas.
If you must have the cheeseburger, enjoy the cheeseburger and load up the rest of your plate with healthier options.
“I tell people all the time if you trim 100 calories out of your diet every day for a year, you can lose 10 pounds,” she said. “It’s so small. It’s less than a Coke. If you let that go out of your tailgate, it makes a big difference.”
Maybe bring some fruit to balance those sausage balls. As an Auburn fan, Jones shows her team spirit with a tray of cantaloupe and blueberry skewers. It’s healthful and simple. University of Georgia fans could try strawberries and blackberries, for example.
If you’re used to bringing high-fat dishes and want to start cutting back, a fruit tray is a great place to start. Most people like fruit, they just don’t think to bring it to a tailgate party, she said.