With football season finally here, pregame tailgating is in full swing. And who doesn't love a good parking lot party with great friends, flowing beer, and a spread that could rival any Super Bowl party? The only trouble is, if you don't watch it, tailgating can do a number on your waistline. Traditional favorites like chicken wings, cheese dip, brats, and burgers are fat-packed calorie bombs that offer laughably little nutrition, and beer and booze sack you with hundreds of empty calories. Indulging once in a while won't kill you, of course, but stuffing your face with this stuff week after week will leave you loosening your belt by season's end.
To help make your tailgate parties a whole lot healthier, we called in nutrition ace Mitzi Dulan, registered dietitian and team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals. Dulan also spent eight years as the Kansas City Chiefs' team nutritionist, where she helped future NFL Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez transform his diet from fast food and pizza to lean protein, veggies, and unprocessed foods. Together, she and Gonzalez wrote the book The All-Pro Diet: Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Live Like a Champion (Rodale, 2009). Here, Dulan shares her top tips for cutting calories and fat before the big game without sacrificing flavor.
Eat a meal, don't graze.
With so much food laid out for the tasting, it's so easy to graze mindlessly. "If you're constantly grazing, then over the course of a few hours, you'll end up eating way more than you would have if you ate all at once," Dulan says. "Instead, look at tailgating as a meal. Fill your plate one time, sit down, and eat slowly." Since we tend to eat dishes that require a fork more slowly than finger food, those healthy side items can help us eat less overall. "Using a fork helps you slow down and savor each bite," Dulan says. If you do get the urge to snack before or after the main meal – which, let's face it, you probably will – reach for fresh veggies or nuts instead of potato chips or nachos.
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