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Terrific tailgating tips

With football comes tailgating — and, of course, no football game is complete without a great tailgate spread! Here are some tips to serve the best tailgating food.

Friends tailgaiting

Whether you’re a traditionalist who serves burgers and dogs or you like to go gourmet, the key to an amazing tailgate experience is making sure you have the best food possible — both for flavor and safety. If you’ll be getting your tailgate on this year, make sure you print off this must-have checklist and pack accordingly.

Pre-game planning

About a week before you head out, make sure you have all the containers and other supplies you need. Decide exactly what you plan to take and find out how much room you’ll need for everything. You can either do a dry-run of packing everything or just make sure you have extras of all your coolers, baskets and plastic containers. Either way, follow these guidelines for packing.

  • Carry nonperishable foods in a clean picnic or laundry basket with the heaviest foods on the bottom.
  • Place perishables, such as meats and condiments, in a clean, insulated cooler chilled with ice or cold packs.
  • Pack foods that are already cold or frozen. A cooler packed with ice can’t cool foods adequately if they’re packed at room temperature.
  • Pack perishable foods between ice or cold packs; they’ll stay cold longer.
  • Pack uncooked meat, poultry or fish carefully in well-sealed containers making sure the juices don’t leak. Keep them in a cold, insulated cooler.
  • If the place you like to tailgate has electrical outlets and you tailgate or camp often, consider a portable refrigerator / freezer (they cost between $600 and $800).

The Playbook

When you get there, you’ll want to ensure your food is presented in the best way possible. All you need is a little pre-planning and you’ll have a tailgate menu to remember.

  • Mix hearty salads on the spot instead of pre-making them. Pack chopped vegetables in the salad bowls alone. Add canned meat, seafood or chicken onsite and dress just before serving. Reminder: Pack the can opener.
  • Pack for convenience. Tuck in ready-to-serve canned foods: three-bean salad, salsa, chili, sauerkraut (to top off the hot dogs) and German potato salad. Reminder: glass containers are prohibited at most venues. Cans provide a convenient and safe alternative.
  • Pack several kinds of canned juice and set up your own juice bar. If it’s allowed at your venue, you can also pack liquors and other alcohol as mixers for the grown-ups.
  • Return perishable foods to the cooler immediately after serving.
  • Keep your cooler in a cool place, not in the hot trunk or in the sun. Try to place it in the shade, under a tree or under a table.


Don’t forget about safety. No matter how great your menu, it does no good if all your tailgaters get sick. Keep these tips in mind.

  • Canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as their fresh and frozen counterparts (and they’re certainly healthier than chips and dip).
  • Canned food only needs to be warmed through before serving because they’ve already been cooked. Don’t forget to bring a warmer or portable burner if your venue has outlets.
  • Soups and stews are canned as soon as they are prepared to ensure the ultimate in freshness.
  • Canning is one of the safest ways to preserve foods while maintaining vitamin and nutrient levels. While you may not like using canned food instead of fresh or frozen at home, it’s probably the safest option when tailgating.
  • Available year-round, canned foods can easily be added to favorite recipes for a convenient meal solution.

This article was based on information provided by Adapted from The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide by Roberta Larson Duyff, RD.

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