Are you a fan of collegiate sports? Or out to support your kids’ school team? Either way, a pre-game tailgate party with family and friends offers a delicious and healthy way to cheer your team to victory. For community and school sports fans, the comradery that comes with tailgating – before and after game time -- builds team support for the long run.
The idea of tailgating likely started, according to the American Tailgating Association, when groups of civilians from both sides of the Civil War congregated with food and drink to cheer their “team” on during the 1861 Battle of Bull Run (albeit with some danger attached). As a sports tradition, credit for tailgating often starts with the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers – with Rutgers’ fans sporting scarlet-colored scarves and grilling sausages at the “tail end” of a horse, hence the term “tailgating.” Others credit Ivy League schools whose small parking lots required spectators to arrive several hours before game time to get a spot and so pass the time with food and fun. Another theory: tailgating came from the popular early 1900s custom of socializing with food after church before walking to a local baseball game.
Whatever the true history – and whether it’s a pre-game celebration for your local school or community athletics, collegiate sports, or even a professional team -- tailgating has become a spirited tradition. Decked out in team colors and attire, fans transport all kinds of gear to the game site: grills, music, tents, face paint, games like cornhole and ladder ball -- and coolers filled with food and drinks!
So, school sports fans … a short list for creative, health-smart tailgating:
Make your own game plan: 1) If you’re a regular tailgater, keep a packing checklist of essentials; besides utensils, plates, grill equipment, cutting board, hot pads and clean-up towels, remember hand sanitizer, insect repellent, water for hand washing, sun block, etc. 2) Make a menu with reasonable amounts of food; uneaten perishable foods should be tossed if they sit out too long (one hour at 90°F or more, two hours otherwise). 3) Prep ahead. For example, make No Cook Tomato Basil Sauce ahead to toss with cooked Dreamfields penne rigate at your pregame meal.
Score with a great main dish: 1) Make a chilled main dish salad your star player: perhaps Steakhouse Pasta Salad, Spanish Charcuterie Pasta Salad (with ham and chorizo) or Cobb & Rotini Pasta Salad (with chicken). 2) When the weather starts to chill, fill a thermos with soup; try a hearty Southwestern Chicken Rotini Soup. 3) Plan to grill –and not just burgers and hot dogs; try kebobs, vegetables (eggplant, portabella mushrooms, zucchini, bell pepper brushed with olive oil), chicken breasts, you name it! Tip: for Southwest Grilled Chicken and Corn Pasta Salad, you can make the salad ahead and grill the chicken as you tailgate!
Make food prep more than a spectator sport. As part of the planning, divide up the menu if you tailgate with a group. Grilling? Ask the “master griller” to take the lead as MVP of your meal.
Remember the side lines: 1) Match a flavorful pasta side dish with grilled, tailgate mainstays: a Spicy Caprese Pasta Salad served with chicken wings; BLT Pasta Salad served with burgers; or Elbow Macaroni Salad (Insalata di Gomiti di Pasta) served with brats. Keep chilled until serving time. 2) Pack whole fruit – it’s easy!
Keep fans hydrated: In hot weather, pack your cooler with plenty of chilled drinks: perhaps several kinds of canned juices for a tailgate mix-and-match juice bar and plenty of water. When the temperature chills, a thermos of hot cocoa, hot cider and hot soup hits the spot.
Stay within the safety zone: 1) Keep cold foods (such as pasta salads, dips, hot dogs, meat patties, raw veggies) in a clean, insulated cooler chilled with ice or frozen cold packs. Pack the cooler with 75 percent food and 25 percent ice or frozen cold packs. 2) Keep hot foods hot in another insulated carrier to serve right away. Wrap any hot dish (such as Vegetable Lasagna, Spaghetti Pizza, casseroles, baked beans) in heavy foil and then several layers of newspaper, or pack into an insulated casserole cozy that will preserve heat. 3) Separate! Pack cold, uncooked meat or chicken in a separate insulated cooler from ready-to-eat food. 4) Pack a food thermometer if you grill; cook to at least 145°F for steaks and chops, 160°F for beef burgers and 165 ºF for turkey burgers, medium steaks, or pork, 165°F for chicken breasts, wings and thighs.
Share with your fans. Bring enough food and drinks to share with fellow tailgaters. Swapping food and recipe ideas with new friends is part of the fun!
Organize more winning “plays”: For children who need a diversion as their siblings compete, pack some lawn games, too.
Clean up the field. Remember to bring strong garbage bags! If there’s no place to discard your trash, dispose of it at home later.
Enjoy, as you cheer your team to victory!
For more back-to-school tips -- Back to School: Suppers for a Smart Start! -- from Dreamfields, click here.