A guide to tailgating without packing on the pounds

Ahh, football season is upon us. The sound of the marching band. The roar of the crowds. The big plays.

The sweet smell of crisp autumn air. Oh wait, maybe that’s the pleasant smell of brats and burgers on the grill wafting through campus, or at home.

Football and food go together very well, which can but can be a dangerous combination leading to inhaling excessive calories.

But Kristen Smith, a die-hard college football fan and a registered dietitian based in Atlanta, knows a little planning ahead of time, and making a few adjustments — such as swapping out processed foods for raw vegetables and sliced fruit, can help curb unnecessary calorie consumption. Smith (an Oklahoma State grad) who is currently the bariatric dietitian at Atlanta Medical Center, said she enjoys chicken or pork barbecue during football season. To keep calories in check, she skips the bread and chips and pairs the barbecue meat with a green leafy salad or raw veggies with hummus.

MORE: Here's what these Atlanta dietitians eat for a snack

To prevent mindless eating, she always portions out her food on a plate, rather than eat directly from a bowl or container.

Jennifer Hill Booker, a personal chef in Atlanta and owner of the catering company Your Resident Gourmet,likes to mix traditional football viewing bites with low-fat options. For example, she often begins with a Black Eyed Pea Hummus platter paired with a plate of grilled hot wings, followed by fruit kebabs accompanied by queso and chips.

Booker, author of the new book “Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes With a French Accent” (Pelican Publishing Co., $26.95), said one of her favorite low-fat munchies is homemade popcorn dishes. By adding some spices such as cayenne or brown sugar for sweetness, popcorn can be an enticing and high-fiber, vitamin-rich alternative to chips. (One of her stove-top recipes calls for up to 1/4 cup of oil and 1/2 to 2/3 cup of popcorn kernels; once popcorn is popped, add 1-2 teaspoons of fresh, cracked black pepper, 1/3 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese and sea salt to taste.)

So whether you are enjoying an outdoor tailgating experience with a grill, or serving crowd-pleasing game-day bites in your living room, Smith offers the following guide to not overdoing it:

Be Mindful when Snacking

Snacks are one of the main attractions for most tailgates, and it can be easy to over-eat the countless number of cookies or chips within arms reach. Go easy on these types of foods because they offer little nutritional value and won’t keep you full for long. To ensure nutrient-rich snacks are available consider bringing one of the following: Fruit kabobs or fruit salad; Veggies chips (ie., kale chips or sweet potato chips); airpopped popcorn; Veggie tray with hummus or guacamole; Bean salad with corn and veggies

Think Healthy Grilling

Not all foods that hit the grill have to be greasy or loaded with fat. Consider one of these ways to add lean protein and vegetables to your next tailgate: marinate chicken in low-fat salad dressing; Add some veggies to skewers for kabobs, or fruit (see recipe for grilled peaches); grill lean beef or turkey patties (choose at least 93% lean) and consider grilling a non-meat burger like a bean or veggie burger

Make Recipe Substitutions

If you are making the game day food don’t be afraid to make some healthier recipe substitutions to keep calories in check. Substitute plain Greek yogurt for mayo in recipe such as potato salad, cole slaw, or deviled eggs.

Replace half of the fat in baked goods with a fruit puree such as applesauce Lay off the traditional buns and try using lettuce leaves or sandwich thins to hold your grilled meat

Watch the Alcohol

Food is not the only high-calorie temptation offered at tailgates. Most tailgates offer a sizeable selection of alcoholic beverages. When alcoholic beverages are consumed in excess, they can contribute a significant amount of calories and impair your ability to make sensible food choices. To curb your intake, consider the following: choose a light beer to save about one-third the calories; limit yourself to no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women (a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1 ½ ounces of distilled spirits, or 5 ounces of wine); mix distilled spirits with calorie free beverages, such as sparkling water and sip a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Drinking water will keep you hydrated and fill you up — ultimately leading to less eating (and less alcohol consumption).

Here are some recipe ideas

Recipe for Kale Slaw from (Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian, founder of 360FamilyNutrition (www.360familynutrition.org)

Kale Slaw

• 6 cups Kale, shredded

• 1/2 cup carrots, shredded

• 3 tbsp honey

• 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

• 2-3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

• 1 tsp salt

• 1/4 tsp black pepper


1. Place kale in large mixing bowl and gently massage (rub kale leaves together) for a few minutes to soften the fibers in the leaves

2. In separate bowl mix together remaining ingredients. Pour mixture over kale and combine well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving (if able refrigerate for several hours)

Grilled Peaches (Chef Bill Greenwald of Plantation Grille at Reynolds Plantation offers this simple, no-fuss treat for a tailgating party. (Instead of ice cream, serve with low-fat frozen yogurt.)


• 5 ripe peaches

• 2 tablespoons sugar

• Hot grill


Cut peaches into halves. Sprinkle a little sugar on each half of a peach. Grill 3 minutes on each side. Cool and serve with low-fat frozen yogurt on top.

For hungrier sports fans, the recipe could serve five (if folks wanted to indulge in a whole peach each), but the treat will likely satisfy closer to 10 since most would eat just half of a peach after munching on all the other tailgating snacks.


Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.