Football Season is Back! Healthier Tailgating Options for the Win

Football is back! I love football season, probably more than most. There is something about the fall, wearing blue and gold game day gear, watching the Pride of West Virginia get in its symbolic circle formation and hearing “Simple Gifts” that really puts a smile on my face, especially when I get the opportunity to visit with my folks and tailgate before home games in Morgantown.

My parents started my sister and I out very young as Mountaineer fans, taking us to games as little ones and dressing us up in cute cheerleading outfits. When my mom used to pick us up from after-school care, she would say, “ok, let’s go Mountaineers.” Of course, we knew what she really meant was, “ok, time to go home now girls,” but to anyone else outside of the state, they would have no idea what she meant, other than cheering on the home team. From after-school care to undergrad studies at WVU, sharing game day experiences with our family and friends has become a fall highlight from year to year.

Wearing team colors every week and planning Saturdays, Sundays even Mondays or Thursdays around games becomes a focal point in the fall, when finding healthy snacking and meal options may fall by the way side. Weekend meal planning can sometimes revolved around the game more so than finding or preparing healthy meals. When I think football game or tailgating, I crave bar standards, like wings, beer, dips, chips and who could forget pepperoni rolls! Pepperoni rolls deserve their own future post, but for now, shout of to our dear friend Jessica (J Poe) for sharing her grandmother’s pepperoni rolls during our last tailgate!

FullSizeRenderTimely, had to share 🙂

Taking a play out of Lemma’s playbook (pun intended), if there is a food memory or favorite not-so-healthy tailgate fan favorite (pun also intended) that you like to enjoy, then enjoy it, but you should err on the side of moderation. You can’t eat tailgate staples every game day throughout the season without keeping up with regular exercise and healthy meals during the rest of the week. Enjoy the game and cheer on your team, but also be cognizant of your food options and choices.

Chips and dips are great, but sub full-fat items for reduced fat or chips with veggies! I actually went to a work event last night and there were tall shot glasses with low-fat ranch or hummus with all types of fresh veggie sticks – the standards (celery, carrots and bell pepper), but also some fun additions (asparagus, green beans and jicama!)

There are ways to enjoy your favorite fall tailgating snacks, with some healthier choices and options. Two of my favorite recipes that accomplish this are my Aunt Karole’s chili recipe and walnut tacos. My Aunt’s chili recipe is a fond food memory for me. She first made it for me one fall evening for dinner nearly 10 years ago now when I moved in with her right after undergrad. I love her recipe so much, for many reasons. First and foremost, it is a one-pot or Crockpot recipe, which really is ideal for tailgating (I have made this recipe in the Blue Lot before a WVU game!) Another reason why I love this particular chili recipe, is because it is vegetarian and it is bean-based, but awesome legumes such as a mix of chickpeas, black beans and kidneys. I had never had a chili recipe previous to this one that had chickpeas and I will always include them in all my future chili recipes! You can also easily double this recipe for a large game-watching crowd!

The walnut tacos are a newer recipe that I shared with my husband about a month ago, right around the start of football season. Tacos are a great choice for a crowd, because guests can “choose their own adventure,” and create their own taco flights with different proteins, toppings, etc. This particular recipe is unique, mostly because I had not heard of using toasted walnuts as a protein for tacos, but it is super good! An interesting vegetarian/vegan protein option for a game watch buffet!

Karole’s Tailgate Chili

I still have the hard copy of this recipe printed somewhere, with my Aunt’s handwriting on what to substitute, double, etc. I will say, as a note, to buy an extra can of tomato sauce and/or diced tomatoes because sometimes the recipe can get very bean-heavy and extra sauce/diced tomatoes may help keep a nice chili thickness/thinness. Also, you can buy the diced tomatoes with the Italian spices already included, which helps in tailgating prep!

FullSizeRender (1)

Photos c/o Love and Lemons & M&M Food Market 

Walnut Tacos

Adapted from a recipe in The Washington Post, but originally from “Healing the Vegan Way,” by Mark Reinfeld (De Capo Lifelong Books, 2016).

My husband actually made this recipe for us for dinner about a month ago, and we had it for several meals! I actually added the rest of the walnut filling to a stuffed pepper recipe I made a few days later!

NOTE: The recipe does not call to toast the walnuts, but super yummy, if you can! You can also toast and cool the walnuts a day ahead and store in a dry, air-tight container, before preparing the rest of the recipe.

Make Ahead: The walnut crumble filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.


Tested size: 6 servings; makes 12 tacos



2 cups coarsely chopped raw walnuts

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (may substitute ground cayenne pepper)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed

1 cup chopped fresh tomato

1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage

Flesh of 2 medium avocados, sliced

1/2 cup store-bought or homemade salsa verde (see related recipe)

1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt (may substitute non-dairy yogurt or non-dairy sour cream)

12 cilantro sprigs

2 limes, cut into wedges

For the filling: Combine the walnuts, lime juice, cilantro, water, ground cumin, chili powders, salt and black pepper in a food processor; pulse frequently for a minute or so, until the nuts are reduced to pebble size. Do not over-process. Taste, and add more salt as needed.

To assemble the tacos, divide the corn tortillas among serving plates. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling on each tortilla, then add some tomato, a few slivers of cabbage, a couple slices of avocado, a spoonful of salsa verde, a dollop of yogurt and some cilantro.


Serve with lime wedges for last-minute squeezing.

Walnut Taco pictures by Casey 🙂

Post by Sarah






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