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Enjoy the football festivities without fear of fat.

Cool autumn weekends bring blankets, blue jeans, and spirited football games. At colleges and universities across the country, game day has become a ritual of sophisticated food and festivity. The perfect formula for a fun-filled day involves toting along coolers, barbecue grills, and baskets of food, then serving up a feast from the trunk of your vehicle. Oh, yeah -- there's also the football game!

My first tailgating experience was a few years ago, when my son was a freshman at the University of Georgia. I was amazed at the sea of red and black in the enormous Sanford stadium. But even more remarkable than the crazed fans were the portable feasts that occupied nearly every square inch of the college campus before the big game. Tailgating has long since progressed from chips and cold sandwiches to sophisticated buffets complete with tablecloths.

This all-American fall ritual can seem a little intimidating when you're watching your weight. But there's no reason a tailgate picnic has to sideline your weight loss efforts. With a little planning, you can stick to your healthy eating plan while cheering on your favorite team.

Take a Tailgate Time Out

Before you dive into the buffet, follow these tips to curb your caloric intake:

  • Earn a little splurge on Saturday afternoon by saving a few food items from your eating plan during the week.
  • Before the festivities begin, have a small snack that contains protein and fiber (like cereal and yogurt) so you'll be less tempted to overeat.
  • Survey all the offerings before you load your plate, then select plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean dairy and protein.
  • Eat from a plate instead of continually grazing from the buffet. This will help you keep track of how much you're eating.
  • Remember that alcohol has plenty of calories. One tactic is to alternate alcoholic drinks with zero-calorie beverages throughout the day. Remember that too much alcohol can lead to increased hunger.

Score Points With Guests

If you're the party host, do your fellow fans a favor by making sure your buffet includes plenty of healthy offerings such as:

  • Fresh fruit, sliced or in salads or kabobs
  • Assorted vegetables with low-fat dips and salsas
  • Low-fat snacks such as popcorn, pretzels, and baked chips
  • Lean meats and seafood and low-fat cheeses
  • Whole-grain breads and crackers
  • Salads made with light dressings
  • Salsas, wraps, salads, or stews made with fiber-filled and high-protein beans

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