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Tailgating Tips for a Healthier Game Day

Show some team spirit!

Getting together before a big game can be a blast. Meeting at the home of a friend or in the stadium parking lot having a tailgate party. It's fun, but most of the time it also means fried fatty foods, high sugar treats and calorie-packed drinks.

You can still have a good time and great food, as long as you're willing to do a little planning. There are five things you should do for the best results. I know it works, because I did it on vacation.

Step One: Plan the Meal

When I went on vacation, I threw a dinner party for 35 people. We had a grill to cook on and some ice chests to keep things cold. My challenge was the same as a tailgate party. I had to choose something I could prepare in advance, which included both healthy meat and vegetables while also being easy to eat. Plus it had to taste good for people who aren't fans of "diet" food. My solution was a Sweet Chicken Shish Kebab recipe.

Shish Kebabs are simple. Cut up the chicken and vegetables in advance, place them on skewers and store them in a marinade on ice until you're ready to grill. They're easy to cook, incredibly tasty and the cleanup is fast. You can also customize them based on veggies that are in season or available where you live.

No grill? Make chili for the crowd. It's another dish that you can fill with healthy vegetables and customize in endless ways. Make a hearty lean meat version, something all vegetable-based or even a seasonal variety like a pumpkin chili. Serve it with a slice of whole wheat bread from the bakery. Nobody has to worry about cooking during the party and you can spend more time socializing.

Step Two: Snacks

Snacks before and after the main meal are another issue. Because chips are expected, I pick up the much lower fat baked versions. But let's face it, most baked chips are a poor substitute for the full-flavored taste of regular. To overcome that problem, I make dips the centerpiece.

The dip that gets requested the most is something called Texas Caviar (or Cowboy Caviar). It's a mixture of beans, veggies and spices that you use chips to scoop up. My favorite chips to serve it with are baked Tostitos Scoops. The first time someone tries it, they look at it a little funny, but after one bite they're hooked. Dips with fruit are another option. Around the holidays I serve fruit salsa & cinnamon chips.

Step Three: Serve Water First

Alcohol drinks tend to be higher in calories, so provide alternatives. Get low-calorie beers and plenty of water. When people first show up, offer them a bottle of water to get hydrated. Then if they grab a beer afterward, they're not as thirsty and tend to drink less.

Step Four: Limit the Choices

Studies have found that the more choices we're given, the more food we eat. Don't make a dozen different options. Bring or prepare a few really special dishes and avoid mindless fillers.

Step Five: Move Around

Bring games that keep you on your feet when the main game slows down. If you're at the stadium, take a walk around it. Plan on activities that will get you off your butt every hour or so.

Food Safety Advice:

Avoid spoilage by keeping things in their safety zones. Put a thermometer in your cooler and keep cold things below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a meat thermometer and check that beef is cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken to 170 degrees.

When you put food out unrefrigerated, don't leave it for more than two hours. If it's outside and the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, don't leave it out more than an hour. After the party, throw away food that's been sitting out. You don't want to be tempted to eat it and possibly get sick.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.