Tailgating is all about chips, dips, burgers and beer. But there are easy and tasty swaps you can make to lighten things up. Try these eight nutritional game changers at your next tailgate – we promise no one at your party will complain.
1. WINNER: Guacamole, LOSER: Nacho Cheese
Swap out the nacho cheese for guacamole and save yourself loads of unhealthy fat, sodium and artificial ingredients. Part of the green fruit category, one-fifth of an avocado has just 50 calories and 20 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Avocados also contribute good fat to the diet and are sodium-free. Make your own fresh guacamole with ripe avocados, tomatoes, onion, chiles, cilantro, lemon and lime juice.
2. WINNER: Gardein Crispy Chick’n Sliders, LOSER: Meat Sliders
Not only are sliders a touchdown on any tailgating menu, they offer built-in portion control. The only problem is that it’s all too easy to overeat these greasy treats. It’s time to give meat-free products a chance on the playing field. Meatless products, like Gardein, have come a long way in their ability to please a carnivorous crowd. One Garden Crispy Chick’n Slider has only 190 calories and 11 grams of protein—mini-bun included.
3. WINNER: Sweet Mango Slaw, LOSER: Creamy Coleslaw
An easy way to lighten up your favorite football fare is with mangos. Adding mangos to your tailgating dish can instantly reduce the fat, calories and sodium in the item, while providing a naturally sweet taste and boost of antioxidants. A one-cup serving of mangos has just 100 calories and provides more than 20 different vitamins and minerals for good health. Instead of the predictable creamy coleslaw dish made with mayonnaise, lighten things up with a sweet mango slaw. Not only will this slaw swap raise your nutrient intake, the sweetness of the mangos is a nice taste compliment to the more typical savory dishes at your tailgating party.
4. WINNER: Greek Yogurt Dip, LOSER: French Onion Dip
Skip the processed, store-bought dips and top that chip with a homemade Greek yogurt dip. Greek yogurt has all the texture and tang of sour cream, but with a much better nutritional make-up. Greek yogurt is high in protein, which helps promote fullness. It offers twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt, packing in 15 to 20 grams for a 6-ounce serving -- that’s the same amount of protein in 2 to 3 ounces of lean meat. Whether you prefer a classic spinach dip, garlic and herb dip, or caramelized onion dip, using Greek yogurt as your base instead of sour cream or cream cheese will win you the extra nutritional point, every time.
5. WINNER: Grilled Chicken and Grape Skewers, LOSER: Chicken Wings
A favorite grab-and-go fruit for any tailgate is grapes. A 3/4 cup serving of California grapes contains just 90 calories and has no fat, no cholesterol and virtually no sodium. While grapes are delicious right off the bunch, they also work wonders on the grill. Try firing up some Mediterranean Grilled Chicken and Grape Skewers. The heat on the grill will caramelize the grapes, which taste great with the heat from red pepper flakes—no blue cheese necessary. Extra point: California Grapes are in season through January, just like football.
6. WINNER: Hot Sauce, LOSER: Creamy Dressing
Instead of a high-calorie creamy dressing, why not spice up those chicken skewers with a dash of hot sauce? There are tons of hot sauces on the market that deliver a low-calorie, low-fat way to add some flavors to your favorite foods. One teaspoon of hot sauce has about one calorie, while one teaspoon of creamy dressing has about 40 calories. Plus, you’ll likely use a smaller portion of hot sauce than dressing to get the same flavor enhancement. Do check the sodium of your favorite hot sauce and aim for less than 50 milligrams per serving
7. WINNER: In-Shell Pistachios, LOSER: Pretzels
You may think you’re doing well snacking on pretzels instead of pistachios while watching the game, but a recent small preliminary study by researchers at UCLA suggests -- but does not prove -- that controlled portions of pistachios when substituted for controlled portions of refined carbs, such as pretzels, may be a smart snack choice -- even for those managing their weight. Not only are pistachios a top pick for taste, but they're also packed with protein and fiber to help keep hunger at bay. Plus, the shells may offer a visual cue to help you eat less.
8. WINNER: Light Beer, LOSER: Mixed Drinks
Since beer is the fifth food group for Monday night football, there are some super-light options now available that make it easy for the calorie-conscious to down a few with minimal guilt. You can find some ultra-light beers that contain fewer than 70 calories a bottle (light beer has about 95). Regular beer has 150 and mixed drinks are the most dangerous, packing in hundreds of calories per drink. However you choose to toast your team, alternate it with water to stay hydrated and headache-free.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Visit her website at http://www.patriciabannan.com/.