Game plan for healthy tailgating

Healthy TailgatingClean out your coolers, scrub those grills and set up the ladder ball! Tailgating season is here, and we have the game plan to turn a fat-filled fumble into a healthy touchdown. All it takes is a few fresh plays and strategic substitutions for delicious results like chili-lime chicken kabobs.

Let’s face it: The customary graze-and-grab at typical tailgate parties features high-fat proteins, low-nutritional-value chips and dips, an overstocked dessert table and calorie-rich drinks. 

So here’s a simple game plan for transforming a tailgate fumble into a healthy touchdown for you and your fellow fans.

Prep for health with a pregame huddle

Make a plan, coordinate dishes (especially the desserts) and provide plenty of healthy options on game day, advises Claire Cody, clinical dietitian at The University of Kansas Hospital. 

Healthy proteins should be at the center of the party. Try breakfast tacos for an early kickoff or these chili-lime chicken kabobs for an afternoon or evening game. 

Substitute healthful snacks 

There’s no need to sideline the traditional tailgate menu – just make some healthy substitutions. Replace store-bought salsa and guacamole with the homemade variety, and you’ve significantly boosted the vegetable quota and nutrients. Add a fresh fruit tray and a vegetable platter accompanied by hummus instead of high-fat ranch dip, and you’ve given your guests great options for healthy grazing. 

Plan your defensive moves

Not hosting the tailgate? Be ready with a strong defense of your own. Alternate adult beverages with fun, hydrating drinks like cherry-limeade infused water, and bring a healthy dish to share. When you’re ready to munch, make it a meal. Grab a plate, take a seat and be mindful of what you’re eating.  


Chili-Lime Chicken Kabobs

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1½-inch pieces

1 red onion
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 c pineapple chunks, fresh or thawed

Night-before preparation
1. In a small bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, lime juice, chili powder, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper for marinade; add salt and pepper to taste. 
2. Place chicken in a shallow glass baking dish and pour marinade over, stir to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. 
3. Prep vegetables. Cut peppers and onion into 1-1 ½ inch squares. 
4. Place skewers in a cup of water. Ensure they are submerged and soaked through before use. (Otherwise they will catch fire on the grill.)

1. Preheat grill for medium-high heat. 
2. Thread chicken onto skewers alternately with peppers, onions and pineapple. Discard marinade.
3. Lightly oil grill grate. Grill skewers 10-15 minutes or until chicken juices run clear. 

Adapted by Claire Cody from

Cherry-Limeade Infused Water

12 pitted cherries, halved (can be previously frozen!)
2 limes, thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh mint 

Place lime slices, cherries and mint leaves in a one-gallon pitcher. Using a muddler (or back of a spoon), lightly bruise the mint leaves until the oils begin to release. Fill pitcher with ice, then water. Place in refrigerator overnight to let flavors blend. Serve in clear pitcher to display all the colorful fruits and herbs.

Adapted by Claire Cody from