Healthy Tailgate Recipes to Make This Football Season

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Football calls for snacks. It’s just a rule of the game.

Whether you’re watching the big match-up from an actual tailgate party, inside an 80,000-seat NFL stadium, or just from the comfort of your own couch, chances are you’re going to want something to nibble on before the coin toss even happens. But, rather than cook up (or take out) the typical football feast of greasy pizza, mystery hot dogs, chips, and beer, you might want to come up with another game plan.

Instead, try making some of these 24 healthy-yet-satisfying game day snacks. From savory dishes to creative dips and easy snacks, trust us, you won’t even miss the queso from a can.

Savory snacks

Any viewing party calls for an assortment of craveable, bite-sized appetizers. Nothing too fussy or fancy—just delicious, satisfying food. Think tailgating classics like chicken wings, fries, and chili, but only made a little healthier. Here are 11 recipes you can mix and match.

Coconut Flour–Fried Chicken Wings

It’s not a party without wings. But most takeout options come drenched in sugary sauces or deep fried in trans fats—which doesn’t sound so appetizing. Instead, dredge fresh chicken in a batter made from gluten-free coconut flour that’s spiced with cayenne, paprika, onion, and garlic. Then, lightly fry it in coconut oil. The result is a lighter app that doesn’t skimp on the flavor.

Cauliflower Buffalo “Wings”

Even vegetarians can get in on the action with these “wings” made from cauliflower florets. Carnivores will like them, too—the hearty veggie can pass for meat when it’s slathered in a buttery buffalo sauce and roasted until crispy.

Paleo Chili

Scooped up from a bowl or slathered on top of a hot dog, chili is always classic game day fare. This recipe is for Texas-style chili con carne with tons of meat—and heat. As it simmers, the combination of six fiery spices, beef bone broth, and red wine vinegar develops an intense savory, spicy flavor. Set out a topping bar with green onions, cheese, sour cream, and other accoutrements, and let everyone customize their own bowl.

Crispy Tofu with Sesame-Ginger Dipping Sauce

Tofu isn’t just a convenient source of vegetarian protein—it also makes an addictive appetizer. This recipe yields perfectly crispy squares coated in sesame seeds. A dipping sauce made from tahini, honey, coconut aminos, and fresh ginger is the perfect accompaniment.

Coconut Shrimp

There’s a reason why you see coconut shrimp on the menu at so many chain restaurants: the sweet, succulent dish is pretty hard to resist. Now, you can make a gluten-free version at home that some might say even tastes better than dining out. As the shrimp fry, the shredded coconut coating toasts in the pan and releases that iconic tropical flavor.

Paleo Chicken Nuggets

When the craving strikes, there’s nothing—nothing—that sounds better than a 10-pack of hot, golden chicken nuggets. The only problem? You can never be sure what’s really inside each little patty. Learn to make your own at home using ground chicken, eggs, and coconut flour for a snack you can enjoy guilt-free.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries with Chipotle Mayonnaise

Plain fries are again squashed by their sweet competition. With such vibrant color, creamy consistency, and slight nuttiness, sweet potato fries make the perfect bites. Here, a dusting of cumin, cayenne pepper, and chili powder brings out the heat, while a zesty chipotle-lime dipping sauce gives this snack even more zing.

Gluten-Free Fried Okra

No Southern celebration would be complete without fried okra; in fact, the crispy side dish is so good that even non-natives should consider adding it to the menu. The flavor of the vegetable—somewhere between eggplant and asparagus—is complemented beautifully by a spicy gluten-free batter, and their somewhat fibrous texture softens nicely when fried.

Green Spring Rolls

Balance out the heartier, meatier options on the table with verdant veggie spring rolls. Filled with avocado, spinach, snap peas, sprouts, and fresh herbs, they’re as fun to prepare as they are to eat.

Baked Brie with Fruit and Nut Compote

Baking brie unlocks the full potential of the cheese: It never tastes better than when coming out fresh and warm from the oven. A quick honey, walnut, and fig compote spooned over the top also brings out the creamy, sweet flavors. Serve with crostini or crackers for a sublime appetizer.

Vegan Cheese

For a plant-based hors d’oeuvre in a hurry, you can’t beat this vegan cheese log made from macadamia nuts, nutritional yeast, and plenty of herbs. The recipe calls for sage, parsley, onion, and garlic powder, but experiment with other flavors to customize the spread to your liking.

Creative dips

What game day potluck would be complete without dips? Someone will probably show up with a vegetable platter, so you might as well be prepared with one of these tasty options.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

Ranch goes with just about anything: crudites, buffalo wings, baked potatoes, even pizza. The traditional dressing isn’t exactly good for you, though. Most store-bought options rely on hydrogenated oils and artificial additives for flavor. But, you can skip the processed varieties and try making your own vegan version at home. Soaked raw cashews recreate the creaminess of buttermilk, while parsley and chives give the dressing a fresh, herbaceous flavor.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Even the most low-key viewing parties usually include chips and salsa. Instead of opting for the lackluster jarred variety, whip up this a homemade bowl in just five minutes. Canned roasted red tomatoes have already been charred to smoky perfection—just add a few herbs and spices, and you’re done.

Red Pepper Walnut Dip

Ever heard of muhammara? The traditional Syrian dip blends red peppers with walnuts and breadcrumbs. Dip fresh vegetables in it, spread over toasted bread, or serve alongside grilled meats. Either way, the tangy flavor will win over any guests.

Cauliflower Hummus

Here’s yet another novel way to use cauliflower—as a substitute for chickpeas in hummus. Swapping it the vegetable keeps the hummus remarkably light in texture and low in carbohydrates. Plus, the recipe is totally vegan, gluten-free, and Paleo-friendly!

Pumpkin Hummus

Football season just so happens to also be pumpkin season, which is the perfect excuse to make this timely dip. Pumpkin puree lends a wonderful creaminess and gorgeous orange hue to same-old hummus, but don’t worry—it’s still very much a savory dish.

Easy desserts

Don’t make a foul and forget dessert! After all the salty, savory snacks, your guests will probably crave something sweet. Skip the bakery line and make one of these eight treats ahead of time. There’s something for everyone, from chocoholics to candy lovers.

Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Bites

Five ingredients and a few hours of freezer time are all you need to whip up these frozen treats. Two slices of banana sandwich creamy peanut butter, and then the whole thing is covered in “magic” chocolate shell before being frozen to set. The result is an ice-cold, bite-sized dessert that football fans of all ages are sure to enjoy. If you’re taking these portable treats to-go on your way to the stadium, just remember to store them in a cooler so they don’t melt in the hot sun.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Bites

Nutella lovers, rejoice—here’s a dessert that has all the familiar flavor without all the added sugar. These chewy hazelnut-cashew squares get their sweetness from medjool dates and coconut sugar, while a dark chocolate coating gives them some extra decadence. Bring the cooler for these, too.

Chocolate-Covered Pumpkin Seed Brittle

This riff on classic peanut brittle mixes it up with gourmet ingredients like pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, and cardamom. Dipping each slice in dark chocolate and sea salt doesn’t hurt either. The one thing that stays the same? That delightful crunch you get with every bite.

Homemade Caramel Apples

Bust out this recipe as the showstopping centerpiece of your game day spread. These gorgeous caramel apples require just four ingredients and 15 minutes of active work. It’s all thanks to melted-down vegan candies—they save you the hassle of making the caramel coating from scratch.

Healthy “Snickers” Bars

Snickers bars have four signature components: peanuts, caramel, nougat, and chocolate. Thankfully, you can capture all four flavors in a healthier version using only roasted peanuts, medjool dates, natural peanut butter, and dark chocolate. Have extra on hand—guests will probably devour a pan before the game comes back from commercial.

Chocolate-Almond Braid

This pastry might look complicated, but it’s actually surprisingly simple to pull off. As you wrap the flaky gluten-free dough around a dark chocolate bar, plait it to create an impressive braided pattern and then bake for 30 minutes. If you weren’t already sold, watch the way the the chocolate oozes out when you slice into it.

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites

For the times when the whole gang invites themselves over at the last minute, throw a pan of these brownie bites in the oven. They’ll be ready in just 20 minutes, and your home will smell divine. They also happen to be gluten-free, vegan, and Paleo-friendly, though you’d never know it from the rich, fudgey texture.

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Here’s the real champion of the day. Don’t just make traditional chocolate chip cookies— make one giant cookie the size of your cast-iron skillet. You can even treat it like a cake, and frost the top with your team’s logo. So festive!

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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