The air has turned crisp and chilly. Leaves are beginning to change color. Pumpkinpalooza has struck at local grocery stores. We’re getting into the autumn swing of things, whether that means raking leaves, pumpkin carving, apple picking or, my personal favorite, jumping around. And yes, by that I mean some good ol’ Badger football.

There’s nothing like a perfect, fall Saturday afternoon filled with rowdy chants, crazy marching band members and a Badger doing pushups. And you can’t forget the food.

For a foodie like me, football is almost as much about the food as it is about the game.

While the sound of a sizzling brat makes my mouth water and I love a good juicy cheeseburger with plenty of pickles right off the tailgate, I can’t eat like that every Saturday without feeling a little guilty. While tailgate spreads are often full of tantalizing choices, they also tend to be loaded with an astounding amount of fat. One trip across the tailgate can easily amount to 100 grams of fat or more. The recommended daily intake of fat for the average person is 65 grams. No worries: with a few simple swaps and substitutions, you’ll be on your way to hosting one healthy and tasty tailgate!

Bratwursts are the classic tailgate go-to. While they are a tradition, they’re also jam-packed with calories and fat — especially saturated fat — and should be thought of as a “once-in-a-while” game day treat. Fortunately, many national brands like Johnsonville, Jennie-O and Applegate have introduced turkey and chicken sausages which are a much leaner option for football fans and bratwurst lovers alike. With half the calories and one-third the fat found in traditional Wisconsin bratwursts, these alternative links don’t sacrifice taste for nutrition and won’t leave you with a gut bomb. They come in many varieties, such as smoked turkey, turkey-cheddar, chicken-apple and chicken-roasted red pepper, to name a few. Because of their impressive nutritional stats, it’s okay to indulge in seconds of these for the big game. And honestly, who eats just one brat?

My Top Pick: Johnsonville Turkey Sausage with Cheddar (120 cal, 6 g fat [2 g sat fat], 10 g protein)

Chips and dip is the perfect snack to nosh on while tossing the pigskin around street-side. While the combo of salty potato chips and creamy, cool onion dip is a fan favorite, it’s definitely not your body’s. Fried potato chips are loaded with greasy oils. When combined with the heavy, oil-based dip, you’re looking at nearly one-third of the recommended daily fat intake per serving. Keep in mind that a single serving of this classic snack consists of approximately 15 chips and two tablespoons of dip.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I sure have a heavy hand when it comes to dipping and could easily slather on a tablespoon or two of dip per chip. The good news is many options exist for varieties of chips and dips that you can include on your tailgate spread. Tortilla chips and salsa is a classic and much healthier route to take when it comes to your chipping and dipping needs. Look for baked tortilla chips, rather than fried.

Also consider crackers and pretzels made with whole grains as dipping vehicles, as whole grain products contain more fiber and will help you feel satisfied with a single serving rather than four. These options can have up to half the calories and one-third the fat compared to their fried counterparts. Instead of oil-based dips, choose tomato-based salsas heavy on the veggies or try a sweet fruit-based salsa if you’re looking to change things up a bit. Heck, you could even make your own! Most store-bought salsas have around 10 calories and contain no fat per serving. Get creative with salsa recipes in the kitchen and test out a variety of “dippers” and you’ll be convinced this combo deserves a spot on your tailgate.

My Top Pick: Savory – Triscuit Minis with ChiChi’s Thick & Chunky Black Bean and Corn Salsa; Sweet – Baked Tostitos Scoops with Mango, Red Pepper & Lime Salsa (See recipe below)

Thankfully, a veggie tray does tend to be included in the smorgasbord lineup, but generally only alongside a few bowls of ranch. There’s something about dip that makes vegetables enticing. However, the majority of these dips turn a healthy option into a monstrosity. Much like chip dips, ranch, dill dip and other vegetable dips tend to be sour cream or cream cheese-based. These ingredients again contain high amounts of fat with the majority of it saturated.

When choosing a dip to accompany your rabbit food, think Greek yogurt. More and more stores are stocking Greek yogurt-based vegetable dips in classic flavors such as ranch and dill. These dips are also a breeze to whip up in your own kitchen and offer the advantage of control over the ingredients included in the dip. By choosing low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt-based dips, you eliminate unnecessary fats and treat your body to an extra boost of protein, which will satisfy your appetite and help you avoid going crazy at the dessert table.

My Top Pick: Baby carrots, sliced cucumbers and bell peppers with Oikos Dips

A football party is not complete without desserts. A sweet treat is called for at any celebration, whether it be cookies, bars or cake. The key is not to overindulge. If you make the healthy swaps and substitutions suggested above, feel free to indulge in one serving of your favorite tailgate treat. If you are really jiving with the concept of healthy tailgating, bring a fresh fruit as dessert. Fruit is virtually fat-free, high in fiber and sweet enough to satisfy your post-meal sugar cravings. Try bringing a colorful fruit salad dressed with a squeeze of lime or fruit kabobs drizzled with dark chocolate as your dish to pass.

My Top Pick: Sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon (October is apple season!)

By practicing these easy and healthy tips, you can say so long to feeling miserable during the game and hello to more jumping around.

Tomato-based salsas are the norm and overshadow their less known sweet counterparts which are just as healthy. This fruity salsa is a one-step, one-bowl breeze.

Mango, Red Pepper, and Lime Salsa


  • 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
  • Juice of one fresh lime
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Remove from the fridge, stir and enjoy. Serve with baked tortilla or pita chips. For a different twist away from the tailgate, try topping grilled chicken or fish with this sweet and spicy salsa. Serves 6.