5 healthyish tailgating recipes for football season

From above of crop anonymous man in casual clothes preparing sausages and zucchini slices on portable BBQ grill and drinking glass of red wine standing on terrace at home

Every sports fan knows the phrase, “It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.” Every sports fan also knows that tends to be nonsense… unless it refers to what happens before the game, that is.

Tailgating is the one part of football season where taking part is bound to bring you joy, regardless of how your team is doing. But while tailgating is good for the spirit, it’s not always kind to the body: It’s an activity where the food is not traditionally very healthy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the NFL can change the rules of the game when it wants to, there’s no reason you can’t change the rules of the pre-game, and have some healthy food for tailgating. To make that easy, we came up with a few crowd-pleasing tailgate food ideas for game day.

A note: While cooking food in a parking lot is both fun and reasonably hygienic, prepping meat in a parking lot is not. Thus we’re suggesting recipes which can either be simply prepped at home and brought in a cooler, or require minimal work (and no animal protein chopping) once you’re at the actual tailgate party. (And, of course, you can also make all of these at home before hosting your friends and neighbors for the next big game.)

In this article:

Chicken burgers

Burgers are a must at a tailgate, but traditional hamburgers are not particularly healthy, so what to do?

The answer is to skip the beef but keep the format. Chicken breast is healthy and tastes good if seasoned well and not overcooked. To avoid dryness, don’t overwork the patties: you want to use enough pressure for the ground meat to form the right shape, but no more. Time in the fridge or cooler will help them retain their shape.

Depending on how healthy you want to be, you could also use a mixture of chicken breast and boneless thigh meat as a way of adding a little fat.


1 pound ground chicken (either breast or breast and thigh).

1 teaspoon kosher salt/sea salt, ground.

1 teaspoon of the dried herbs of your choice: try oregano, or tarragon, or whatever spice mix you have in the cupboard.

1/2 teaspoon of paprika (optional, but adds a nice little pop).

Buns/Lettuce leaves.


Spread the chicken out in a thin layer on a clean surface (do this gently, as you want to avoid overworking the meat).

Evenly sprinkle the salt and seasonings over the meat.

Transfer the seasoned meat to a bowl, mix it gently.

Form the meat into 4/6 patties of the same size.



Cook the patties on a greased grill at medium heat for about ten minutes, flipping them half way through.

Do not press down on them with a spatula: this will give you a dry burger.

Put the patties in buns, lettuce leaves or the burger vehicle of your choice.

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*Note: this recipe can also be used for turkey burgers

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No mayo potato salad

Potato salad is another mainstay that is traditionally heavy on the fat. Replace the mayo with olive oil and you get something that’s healthier and perhaps tastier: lighter in flavor, with a nice acidity.

You could either make this at home and bring it with you, or bring the boiled potatoes and oil mixture separately, then throw the potatoes on the grill for a few minutes before mixing the ingredients together so you get a little char and warmth on the potatoes


1½ lbs potatoes, washed, and chopped into potato-salad size pieces (however you like them).

3 shallots or half a red onion, peeled and thinly sliced.

2 scallions (green parts only, or a mix of white and green), finely sliced.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the best olive oil you have on hand).

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus more on hand if you want extra acid.

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped.

2-4 tablespoons of other chopped herbs: fresh dill is good, so is tarragon.

Pinch of dried oregano or thyme.

Salt and black pepper to taste.

Prep and cooking

Boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes. You want a fork to easily enter them, and you want them cooked, but not on the verge of falling apart.

As the potatoes cook, mix the other ingredients in a bowl big enough to take the potatoes (if you’re mixing it all together in your kitchen) or in a jar with a good lid if you’re assembling at the tailgate.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and either mix them with the other ingredients or allow them to cool before taking them to the tailgate, where you can throw them on the grill before mixing them with the other ingredients.


This you should make at the tailgate if possible; it doesn’t require much space or time and it tastes best fresh. If you do need to make it ahead, keep the avocado pits and put them into the guacamole—that helps to prevent it going brown.

And yes, avocados contain fat, but it’s “the good fat.”

Ingredients (Multiply the ingredients if you have more avocados.)

2 Hass avocados—flesh scooped out. (Keep the pits if making the guacamole ahead).

1 serrano chili, seeds removed, chopped very finely.

1/4 cup chopped cilantro, or whole cilantro leaves.

Kosher salt to taste (but use it generously).

Chips, pita or vegetable strips, for dipping (which you choose will affect the healthiness).


Put the avocado in a bowl.

Mash in the chili and salt.

Fold in the cilantro (you don’t want to bruise the leaves).

If making ahead, put the pits in the bowl and put saran wrap over the guacamole, lightly touching its surface to prevent air from getting to it as much as possible. (This will help to prevent it from going brown.)

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Grilled eggplant

Eggplant is meaty, doesn’t require any pre-cooking, and tastes good with a wide range of seasonings (it’s also pretty healthy). In other words, it’s perfect for the grill.


2 eggplants

Olive oil (you’re already bringing stuff to the tailgate, so just bring a bottle of it: you won’t need all of it).

Kosher or sea salt.

The spice mix of your choice: mixed herbs, zatar, berbere, a chili con carne spice blend…

Prep and cooking

Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch to 3/4 inch planks. Try to make them all a similar thickness, so it’s easier to cook them simultaneously.

Brush the planks with olive oil on both sides and season with salt on both sides.

Cook the eggplant on a medium grill until darkly colored and soft (this is likely to take 10-20 minutes, depending on grill heat; flip the pieces half way through).

Towards the end of cooking, sprinkle on the spice mix so it gets lightly cooked but not burned.

Marinated chicken skewers

Skewers are fun, simple to make and good to eat while standing around. If they also happen to be healthy, it’s unlikely anyone will notice. You can do them with vegetables, of course, but chicken is also an easy, tasty (and yes, good-for-you) option. Here we’re suggesting you marinade the chicken with teriyaki, which is quick and delicious, but you could also use a combination of oil and the spice mix of your choice.


1 pound chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks. (Bite-sized because it makes the skewers easy to eat plateless while standing around at the tailgate, and also because it means the chicken will cook evenly and won’t dry out.)

Skewers (not exactly an ingredient, but definitely important).

Bottled teriyaki sauce.

Cilantro leaves or finely chopped spring onion greens to garnish.

Prep and cooking

In a bowl, mix the chicken chunks with enough teriyaki (or whatever other marinade you might be using) to coat them: you don’t want them swimming in the marinade, as this will make it harder to get a nice char when you grill them.

Put the chunks on skewers, leave them for at least 15 minutes before cooking them (longer is better; up to a day is fine) so they get a chance to absorb the marinade.

Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally, until they are cooked through (10-15 minutes).

Sprinkle on your cilantro / spring onion garnish.

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

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Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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