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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Tailgating with a healthy twist

STILLWATER, Okla. – Now that autumn is just around the corner, it is not just the feel of cooler weather to which most people are looking forward. It is time to break out the portable barbecue grill, the pop-up tent, the corn hole game and an ice chest full of all things tailgating.

Football fans love to gather near their favorite team’s stadium, set up a portable kitchen and discuss football strategies that will take down the opponent. While hoping for a victory, be sure to keep good health and safe food-handling practices in mind to ensure everyone comes out a winner.

It is no secret that hotdogs, bratwursts, chicken wings and barbecued ribs, along with chips and a variety of dips are among tailgating favorites. While these foods can be tasty, they may not be good for the waistline, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

“You can up your healthy game by making just a few tweaks to some of your favorite tailgating recipes. Use lean ground beef if hamburgers or chili are on the menu. Have lots of tomatoes, lettuce, onions and other healthy toppings available,” Hermann said. “Choose lean cuts of beef, pork or chicken breasts for other entrée options. If it’s not a tailgate party without hotdogs, check your local grocery story for lower-fat varieties.” 

Chips and dip often are a staple at a tailgate party. To help make this option healthier, trade out traditional chips for baked pita chips or baked tortilla chips. Also, make homemade dips with plain Greek yogurt or low-fat or fat-free sour cream. A bowl of salsa is another great choice, along with hummus. Be sure to provide lots of cut up veggies such as cucumbers, celery, zucchini, various colored peppers, carrot sticks, broccoli and cauliflower for dipping. You also can grill some of these vegetables for a side dish.

While brownies, cookies and other sweets are among your favorites, fruit kabobs are a healthy choice for dessert.

“Your best option for a beverage is water. Soda, sports drinks and alcohol contain a lot of empty calories,” Hermann said. “Although football season is often thought to be the beginning of fall, we can still experience summer temperatures. Water is your best bet for staying hydrated and quenching your thirst." 

After planning your healthier menu, it is important to keep food safety in mind.

Most places football fans set up their tailgate will not have easy access to running water, said Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist.

“As you pack your gear and head toward the stadium, make sure to bring a jug of clean, potable water and dish detergent to wash utensils and cutting boards between grilling raw and cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination,” Brown said. “Be sure to pack the food thermometer to ensure your favorite tailgate foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Be sure to place the cooked meat on clean platters, not the platters that held the raw meat.”

It is a good idea to have more than one ice chest. One can be used to ice down your favorite beverages, while the other is used to keep cold foods cold. When it is time to turn off the grill and head to the game, make sure to pack your food back into your ice chests. It is important to make sure you have enough ice to keep the foods cold until you get home.

“If your tailgate party lasts several hours and the food sits out the entire time, adhere to the rule of ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’” she said.

Keeping these healthy and food safety tips in mind will help ensure everyone has a great time and is ready to cheer their team on to victory. 


Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078