Good Life

Each bite done right: Tailgating is a time to exercise moderation

The Each bite done right column features work from members of Penn State’s Student Nutrition Association.

Tailgate season is in full swing. Gone are the humid and sluggish days of summer, and back are the brisk days of fall. Football is one of America’s favorite pastimes, and one of Happy Valley’s greatest obsessions. Devoted fans brave the elements each week to spend time with great friends and fellow football lovers.

There is a certain expectation when one is invited to a tailgate. Those invited typically expect three things: fun games, entertaining conversation and delicious food.

For the health-conscious, the food may present an issue. Options are usually limited to what is typically considered “party food.” Hot dogs and hamburgers are the main course, and side dishes can range from potato salad to chili. Chips, crackers and cookies usually aren’t far away. Snacks are set out on a table from setup until game time, which is dangerous for those with little self-control.

Many people will try to ignore the food completely, which can be harmful if a tailgate lasts for several hours. Others will simply give up on their diet before the party even starts, resulting in a binge that will be regretted later.

Going to a tailgate doesn’t have to be scary. There are ways to have a good time without stressing about the calories in each bite. Substituting some of your favorite dishes with healthier options can decrease calorie intake without sacrificing taste. An easy way to satisfy the majority of guests at a tailgate is to provide a main course of hot dogs and hamburgers. Most people are a fan of one of those options, if not both. Chicken breasts are a great alternative to patties and dogs. As a lean meat, chicken is just as delicious but with a much lower fat and calorie content.

Serving sliders is also a great way to keep people from eating more than what they’re actually hungry for. Placing an entire hamburger on someone’s plate often makes them feel obligated to finish the entire thing, causing them to overeat. Sliders are often half or less than half the size of a typical patty. Eating a patty or hot dog without a bun also cuts out unnecessary carbs and calories. Whole wheat rolls are a healthy alternative to white bread.

No party is complete without an assortment of salty and sweet snacks. Chips and dip are easily accessible and commonly seen in various flavors. Entire tables are often dedicated to a layout of sinfully sweet desserts.

Having fresh vegetables with low-fat ranch dressing or guacamole is a great option for the “grazers” with little self-control. Fresh fruit is a refreshing treat when the temperature is hotter than it should be during football season. Pretzels and unbuttered popcorn give a satisfying crunch without heaps of empty calories. A warm slow cooker with chicken and vegetable chili is healthy, delicious and warms the whole body when Mother Nature decides that winter has arrived early.

Most importantly: Stay hydrated. Tailgates often last for hours in less than optimal conditions. Having a drink in hand gives you something to do so that your hands are not reaching out to grab every available snack.

Diet sodas and low-calorie juices are a good option if water is too plain. Always stay away from sugary mixers and drinks like punch, margaritas and heavy beers. It is a good idea to stay away from alcohol completely, but limiting yourself to only a few drinks is the next best thing.

Remember, anything is fine in moderation. Eating one cupcake or cutting one slice of that mouthwatering cake will not destroy a diet. Waistlines do not expand with one swig of that rich hot chocolate that everyone is carrying around. Relax, enjoy the company and support the team you love.