The only thing that rivals America’s obsession with sports is its passion for eating. So it’s no wonder that tailgating has become a national pastime. Stadium-adjacent parties have progressed from bags of pork rinds and cold sandwiches to sophisticated buffets with everything from rack of lamb to wheels of brie. Yet the typical cooking style is still grilling, which means pregame festivities continue to be ruled by dogs, burgers and sausages - along with their related sides and suds. While these mouth-watering foods can justify sitting through even the dullest of games, they’re also usually landmines for fat, sodium and calories. But with some careful shopping and prep work, you can keep your midsection tighter than the players’ spandex uniforms.
FEATURED WORKOUT: ULTRAFIT LEAN MASS PROGRAM>>
2 of 13
What to look for: Keep an eye out for brands that contain no more than 3 grams of saturated fat and 600 mg of sodium per sausage. And don’t dismiss turkey or chicken versions, which generally sack the fat.
Extra Point: Go ahead - smother your brat with sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage is not only loaded with nutrients like Vitamin C, but it may also improve your immune system and digestion.
2-Point Conversion: Order grass-fed, preservative-free beef brats, which are higher in healthy fats like omega-3s, at americangrassfedbeef.com.
What to look for: Chock full of protein, chicken may be the perfect tailgate food. Just remember: Naked is the way to go. “Removing the skin lowers the saturated fat and makes it healthier,” says Susan Kleiner, a sports dietitian and founder of the Power Eating Program (powereating.com). Also be wary of seasoned chicken breasts, which often pack enough salt to send your blood pressure sky high.
Extra Point: Add some life to those unseasoned breasts with Mrs. Dash sodium-free seasonings.
What to look for: “For burgers, choose those that come from leaner cuts like chuck, round and sirloin,” says Kleiner. Also look for the phrase “extra-lean”; it’s a good indication your protein- and iron-loaded burger is also low in saturated fat.
Extra Point: Bench those bleached-out white buns in favor of 100% whole-grain burger buns, which offer more fiber and other nutrients.
2-Point Conversion: Game meats like buffalo burgers are very low in fat and pack a winning taste. Find them at specialty meat departments or at exoticmeats.com.
What to look for: It may seem uncool to serve a heaping dish of vegetables, but here’s a little secret: Grilling caramelizes the plant sugars in veggies, adding tons of flavor and making them a perfect companion to your main dish. To encourage faster cooking and less burning, use vegetables with a high water content.
7 of 13
What to look for: Baby carrots are your best bet (10 medium/3.5 oz.): 35 calories, 0.5 g protein, 8 g carbs, 0 g fat.
Extra Point: Make shish kebabs: Marinate chunks of veggies and lean steak or chicken in a healthy teriyaki sauce - like Kikkoman’s Less Sodium Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce - then skewer and grill away.
8 of 13
What to look for: Impose a cap on sodium at 200 mg and saturated fat at a single gram. Steer clear of the over-processed cheesy and creamy dips; instead, go with hummus (pureed chickpeas) in various flavors, bean dips, salsa and guacamole.
Extra Point: Serve these dips with your own whole-wheat pita chips. Slice whole-wheat pitas into wedges, place on a cookie sheet, dust with cooking spray and garlic powder or grated parmesan cheese, then bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes (or broil for 3 minutes) or until the edges are crispy.
9 of 13
What to look for: To avoid the myriad culinary red flags that plague most store-bought pasta salads, go ahead and whip up your own with your favorite fresh veggies.
Extra Point: Use a whole-grain pasta like Lifestream Whole Grain and Flax (56 g): 208 calories, 9 g protein, 36 g carbs, 3.5 g fat (0.5 g sat fat).
2-Point Conversion: Crumble in some feta cheese or mix in a can of salmon for a protein and omega-3 boost.
What to look for: To limit calories, go light. Decline dark beers like ales, which pack more calories and carbs. Stouts, however, have fewer calories than many light beers.
Extra Point: Alcohol is a diuretic. To avoid a Monday morning hangover, drink 8 ounces of water between your brewskis.
2-Point Conversion: Dry red wine is packed with antioxidants, and one 5-ounce glass has about the same calories as a light beer: 102 calories, 0 g protein, 2 g carbs, 0 g fat.
12 of 13
Sodas & Juices
What to look for: If you’re steadfast on soda, opt for diet versions. “Better yet, mix fruit juices with sparkling water,” says Kleiner, who recommends buying concentrated fruit and vegetable juices like pomegranate and cranberry, which provide more vitamins and less processed sugar than fruit drinks and beverages.
Extra Point: Orange, grapefruit and cranberry juice are more nutritious than apple, grape and pineapple.
13 of 13
Forget the sugar-laden store-bought stuff. Try making your own homemade punch.