It’s going on six years since I’ve returned to my alma mater for a tailgate and a football game, but today is the day!!

I have flashbacks from college, and the crisp fall days, manic student cheering section, “kegs ‘n eggs” and booze, (which I could hardly ever partake because of basketball season!) and tailgating food…

Come to think of it, most tailgating revolves around the food and drinks, including Doritos (I couldn’t resist sharing this hilarious Superbowl commercial!).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amXqs4Nnzvc]

But, there is a better way to get through football season without packing on the pounds!

Read on for a few quick tips on ways to navigate tailgating parties so that you aren’t left feeling and looking terrible.

8 Ways to Tailgate without Packing on the Pounds

Tip #1: Be Wary of Mystery Meat.

A lot of tailgating recipes call for conventional, cheap meats, like the lunch lady’s pink slime (as in processed meats with ammonia and inflammatory oils). Non-organic meats are laden with pesticides and hormones from treating the animals and their feed. Often, these toxins are stored in the animals’ fatty tissues, so eating especially red meat with its higher fat content, means more toxins in our bodies.

Healthier Substitutions: If there are only non-organic choices, choose chicken or turkey. Otherwise, BYOOM (Bring Your Own Organic Meat)!

Tip #2: Lay off the (regular) beer.

The average 12 oz. beer has 12 to 15 grams of carbs, tallying 36 – 45 carbs for three drinks!

Healthier Substitutions: Stick to light beer, which can have between 4 – 8 grams of carbs, depending on the version. As non-football(ish) as it sounds, wine is another low carb alternative at about 4 carbs per glass. Better yet, enjoy a tequila (0 carbs). 😉

Tip #3: Don’t go sonic on the tonic.

Guess what the label tells us? It has an enormous 29 grams of carbs (for some of us, that’s 1/3 or more our daily carb intake!), and nasty high fructose corn syrup (or HFCS, see this post for more) as the second ingredient. Bad and bad.

Healthier Substitutions: If you’re hardcore like me, choose filtered water and lemon or lime with your gin (or vodka). Otherwise, try La Croix naturally flavored, carbonated water in your local grocery store for a carb-free, sodium-free, preservative-free better version!

Tip #4: Hold the ketchup!

Loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup (or HFCS, see post here), ketchup is not worth the carbs and preservatives for the buck.

Healthier Substitutions: Mustard, real tomatoes (imagine that!), avocado slices, and if you MUST have it, an organic version of ketchup without HFCS.

Tip #5: Lay off the buns.

What kind of buns, you ask? I know, in the heat of the moment, it’s tempting to just grab them (okay, mind out of the gutter, people!)… that is, grab a burger, brot, dog (or whatever meat you fancy) with their complimentary bun. But, with its preservatives and more or less empty calories, bread’s high carbohydrate count raises our already elevated insulin levels from alcohol further. Stick to healthy fats to slow down alcohol absorption (i.e. olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.).

Healthier Substitutions: Un-wich it! Who says you’ll get boo’d if you choose lettuce leaves over buns? Don’t let those food pushers hate on you for being healthy! After all, Jimmy Johns has made the “JJ-Unwich” popular, using lettuce rather than bread. Or, just eat it plain with the condiment substitutions mentioned above.

Tip #6: Skip the chips (and crackers, etc.) and (unhealthy) dips.

These empty calories and highly preserved foods only confuse your body’s digestive system, further amplifying damaging effects from alcohol and other foods. Plus, just like Lays brags, “I bet you can’t eat just one.” Portion control is hard, when preservatives and man-made chemicals in the foods alter our chemistry and, thus, willpower.

Healthier Substitutions: For dip alternatives, try my Citrus Kick Guacamole. Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple has two amazing posts with deliciously healthy Superbowl recipes: here and here. As for dipping foods? Try carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, or celery sticks. Mary’s Gone Crackers is another healthier version of crunchy foods to dip.

Tip #7: Desert the dessert.

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Seriously, though, these tailgate foods are mostly processed, pre-made, grocery store foods that are going to leave you feeling terrible the next day. Is it really worth it?

Healthier Substitutions: Try a homemade dried fruit and nut mix (or my “No-Grainola” recipe), stick to fruit, or savor some dark organic chocolate! Other saviors if you’re tempted include popping a piece of gum or drinking some water.

Tip #8: Focus on non-food things and people!

Food can often be the primary focus at tailgates. Instead, focus on why you’re really there; for fun times with friends! I’m betting there will be activity options to distract you from the food as well; get active by throwing a football around or playing corn hole.

Now, go and take on this (healthy) football season with gusto! Remember that it is about 80/20; if you do take a bite of cake or dip a few chips, don’t do the all-or-nothing and fall off the bandwagon! Enjoy it, get over it, and make the next thing you put in your mouth healthy.

What are some other tips and tricks that you find helpful!?