Soon, parking lots of colleges, high schools and professional stadiums across the nation will be filled with fans gearing up for another sporting season - and the tailgating celebrations that go hand-in-hand.
Die-hard tailgaters have come to revel in the culinary pride of putting together the best and most creative barbecue and tailgate grub. While traditional menus feature staples such as hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans and cold salads, tailgate "chefs" are now only limited by their imaginations.
However, traditional tailgating fare hasn't been high on the nutrition scale, and this pre-game celebrating is a classic example of food-centric entertainment in which people unintentionally become less conscious of the calories they consume.
Score big with better-for-you options
Approaching your tailgating food shopping and preparation with slight changes can make a big nutritional impact, allowing you to enjoy both the game and the good food that goes with it.
One tool to simplify your tailgating prep is the NuVal(r) Nutritional Scoring System. Many grocery retailers are now providing scores (on a scale of 1 to 100) on the price tag to help guide shoppers of all ages toward more nutritious food choices - the higher the score, the higher the nutritional quality of the food or beverage.
"Contrary to what many people think, celebrating before the big game doesn't have to mean ditching sensible eating. Food can be fun, flavorful and better for you - even the snacks," said Marisa Paolillo, a NuVal nutritionist. "It begins with smarter choices at the grocery store, and simple swaps for some of your favorite foods. But keep in mind, offering more nutritious food does not mean you can eat endless quantities."
Tips for your tailgate menu:
The rules of thumb on better-for-you tailgate side dishes are that baked is always better than deep-fried, and homemade recipes allow you to control the ingredients. Paolillo offers these tips to help consumers pick tailgate foods that not only fill up hungry sports fans, but also add nutrition to the fun:
* Choose lean grilling options such as skinless chicken breast (NuVal 57) or hamburgers made with 95 percent lean ground beef (NuVal 57). Skip calorie-rich condiments and boost the flavor of your burger with toppings which earn high NuVal scores like: NuVal 100 - mushrooms, grilled onions, fresh pineapple, jalapenos, and roasted red peppers; or NuVal 88 - avocado.
* Ditch pre-packaged marinades for endless homemade and fresh options. Combine herbs such as basil, rosemary or dill with citrus fruits, spices, onion and garlic with a little olive oil.
* Grilled corn on the cob is the perfect grill buddy, and it's easy. With a NuVal Score of 100, fresh corn on the cob can be cooked on the grill either wrapped in its own husks (more dramatic) or in aluminum foil. Add flavor with herbs and spices before roasting.
* Use whole wheat pasta for macaroni salad, and add plenty of veggies and a meat or bean as a protein source to boost the nutritional value. Replace heavy pre-packaged creamy dressings, which often contain hidden sugar and sodium, with homemade vinaigrettes to control the ingredients.
* Black beans and corn, with NuVal 100 scores, add nutrients and a Southwest flair to guacamole and salsa, and they're great for dipping tortilla chips and bite-sized vegetables.
* Shrimp or chicken skewers, with NuVal scores averaging 57, are a great protein alternative to traditional hamburgers and hotdogs, especially when prepared with chunks of onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, and sweet peppers (all scoring NuVal 100).
* Add water to the cooler to keep tailgaters hydrated. Fresh lemon and lime add a citrus flair.
Need more tips? Find a participating store near you at nuval.com/location.