It’s football season — which means it’s tailgating time, too. Don’t let too many burgers and beers deliver a big hit to your diet.
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Instead, take a timeout from unhealthy habits and create a fresh game plan for tailgating. Adding a few healthy dishes to your menu can be a real game changer for your health. With these six tips, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor or fun.
1. Cook up some kabobs
If you’re firing up the grill, try some delicious chicken or shrimp kabobs. Stack the kabobs with your choice of meat, cubes of peppers and onions, mushrooms, pineapple, or other veggies or fruits you enjoy. Brush them with olive oil and your favorite herbs for a surge of flavor. Kabobs have fewer calories and less saturated and trans fats than other tailgate fare. And the peppers contain antioxidants that prevent oxidation of cholesterol during heating.
2. Skip the chips, keep the potato
If potatoes are a staple for you, try a baked potato bar rather than potato salad or chips, which are traditionally high in fat and calories. Rub the outside of the baked potatoes in olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and set them straight on the grill. Ahead of time, prepare a few bowls of toppings such as salsa, sautéed spinach, black beans and Parmesan cheese — all in moderation.
3. For pasta salad, go 100 percent whole grain
Transform a traditional pasta salad recipe into a healthier version by cutting out refined grains. When grains are refined, the two outer layers—the bran and germ—are removed in an attempt to enhance the taste and extend the shelf life. But this process also leads to a loss of important nutrients such as B vitamins and fiber. Using 100 percent whole wheat (or any whole grain) pasta instead will increase your intake of key nutrients associated with improved glycemic control and decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
4. Snack smartly
Calories can add up quickly, especially if you’re a die-hard fan tailgating every week. Try pairing your healthy entrée choices with nutritious snacks such as air-popped popcorn, grilled corn, multigrain crackers with hummus and guacamole, fresh veggies with a greek yogurt dip, or a fresh fruit salad.
5. Keep food safety in mind
Don’t let foodborne illness spoil your fun. Safe procedures include cooking meat to an internal temperatures of 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before eating), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry. Additionally, clean plates and utensils to avoid cross contamination, wash produce before preparation, and refrigerate high protein foods after 1–2 hours of sitting out (one hour for hot weather, two hours for colder weather).
6. Grab a Bloody Mary
Compared to beer, a Bloody Mary is a better drink of choice. These drinks provide more nutrients than other alcoholic beverages because the base is potassium-rich tomato juice. Just be sure to go light on the salt and always drink alcohol in moderation — defined as one glass per day for women and two glasses for men. And be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water.
Brigid Titgemeier, nutrition assistant at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, contributed to this article.