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Put a Healthy Spin on Game Day

boys football tailgate

Fall is in the air, and you know what that means…football season is here! Whether you are tailgating on campus or hosting a game day party at your home, following a few easy tips can ensure you have a fun and healthy game day!

Choose game day dishes that offer more nutrients.

 Some popular game day party foods are more nutritious than others. While it is ok to incorporate a few of your favorite cheesy dips or sweet desserts into your party menu, also choose dishes that contain a variety of nutrients from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Salsas, guacamole, pasta salads with veggies or broccoli salads made with low-fat mayonnaise or yogurt, and chili or soups containing veggies all offer a variety of vitamins and minerals that you will not find in that favorite queso dip. You can, however, pair your queso dip with veggies, such as sliced bell peppers, broccoli, or carrots sticks, to increase the nutrient content of the dish! Vegetables also contain fiber, which will help to fill you up and keep you from grazing throughout the entire game. In addition, avocados are a great source of healthy fats.

For dishes that include grains, choose whole grains such as whole wheat breads or buns, whole grain corn or whole wheat tortillas or tortilla chips, and brown rice. Whole grains offer more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined grains and are an easy way to improve the nutritional quality of your dishes.

Use alternatives to ingredients high in saturated fat.

Use low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream and mayonnaise. Many popular game day dishes, such as nachos, dips, chili, baked potatoes, and deviled eggs, are topped with sour cream as a condiment or include mayonnaise as one of their ingredients. Low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt is lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than regular sour cream and mayonnaise and has a similar taste and texture when incorporated into dishes, making it easy for you to enjoy healthier versions of your favorite dishes.

Use white meats such as chicken or turkey instead of beef and pork. Make your favorite chili with ground chicken or turkey instead of ground beef, or even put a spin on your game day menu and make a less traditional white chili with chicken. Instead of meatballs made with ground beef, try using ground chicken or turkey and incorporating lots of herbs and spices to provide loads of flavor. You can even incorporate seafood into your menu with fish or shrimp tacos. Just make sure to grill, bake, or broil instead of frying.

Be creative! Put a twist on your favorite game day flavors.

Buffalo-flavored anything is always a hit at any game day party. Instead of buffalo dips containing high amounts of saturated fat from cheese or cream cheese, try a buffalo hummus dip instead! Hummus, which is made with garbanzo beans (commonly called chickpeas), is low in saturated fat and contains fiber, protein, and many vitamins and minerals. To make buffalo hummus, add ¼ c – ½ cup of hot sauce (based on how spicy you want your dip) to a basic hummus recipe. Pair with celery or baked pita chips for a delicious and healthy game day snack!

Salty and sweet is also a popular flavor combo on both game day and every other day of the year. Try a snack mix with pretzels, nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries or other fruit, and maybe a few dark chocolate chips for a delicious snack containing healthy fats and protein to help satisfy your half-time hunger. Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Add popcorn as well for a great crunch with lots of fiber and few calories.

Be safe, and have fun!

Lastly, be sure to follow food safety recommendations to ensure that everyone leaves your party happy and healthy. If you’re hosting a game day party in your home, it is common to leave foods on the counter for extended periods of time so people can snack during the game. To ensure that foods remain at safe temperatures, however, keep cold perishable foods in the refrigerator until right before the party and do not leave them at room temperature on the counter for more than 2 hours before putting them back in the refrigerator. Keep hot perishable foods warm at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on the stove or in the slow cooker during service. If you’re having a tailgate party, keep cold perishable foods in a cooler with ice. Read more of the USDA’s food safety tips at the following link:

Although it may take a little extra planning, follow these tips so that you can enjoy many more game days to come with friends and family!


Written by Hannah Wilson, BS, UGA Doctoral Student, Dietetic Intern

Edited by: Alison Berg, PhD, RDN, LD, UGA Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist


Scripps Networks, LLC. Buffalo Hummus. Version current 2017. Internet:


United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th edition. Version current December 2015. Internet:


United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Keep Food Safe! Food Safety Basics. Version current 20 December 2016. Internet:


United States Department of Agriculture What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl. Hummus. Version current 2017. Internet: