The weather's cooling down, pumpkin spice is in the air and football season has arrived. This also heralds the arrival of one anticipated thing in football-crazed towns around the country: tailgating.
If you're trying to be healthy,though, a tailgate is really the last place you want to be, thanks to the massive amounts of beer and potato chips.
But while they're generally characterized by greasy foods and heavy drinking, there are plenty of ways to make your tailgates this fall a little healthier and safer.
Prepare well in advance.
The morning of the tailgate is not the time to start planning your day. You'll just end up stressing yourself out and forget something important. It's best to develop a plan earlier in the week and then start preparing the day before.
Here are some items you'll definitely want to include on the list: Lots of ice, utensils, napkins, plates, cups, water bottles, grilling items, sunscreen, sunglasses and mosquito repellant, among other things.
There are obviously tons of other items you'll end up packing, but these are some of the basic necessities that you shouldn't forget -- especially for early fall games.
Get some sleep.
The night before a long day of tailgating is important. You don't want to go out partying and bar hopping until the wee hours of the morning.
Instead, have a casual night at home with some friends and try to get some sleep. All of the following day's activities will require some energy -- the last thing you want is to be hungover and grouchy.
Eat a good breakfast.
When you wake up on the morning of the game, take your time and eat a solid breakfast. People often forget about this all-important meal and then end up regretting the decision later.
It could be hours before you're actually able to eat, which is not a good thing, especially if you end up drinking alcohol. But even if there's food, your hunger will leave you guzzling unhealthy carbs and greasy snacks. Eat some breakfast and you'll avoid these issues.
Choose healthy foods.
Speaking of tailgating food, bring some healthy options with you. Hopefully others will bring some healthy menu items along as well, but you can't count on it.
There's plenty of recipes you can try. Ditch the queso and guacamole and instead, opt for a healthy black bean and corn salad.
It takes just a few minutes to make and each serving contains 110 calories, four grams of protein and four grams of fiber. Pair it with some whole-grain chips for an easy to-go snack.
Or there's greek yogurt deviled eggs. Everyone loves deviled eggs, but they aren't the healthiest option. That recipe swaps out mayonnaise for greek yogurt, which makes it a little healthier and actually, even tastier.
One of my favorites is parmesan-crusted zucchini fries. Bye-bye grease and hello zucchini! This isn't the healthiest recipe in the world, but we're talking about fries here. These are better for you than your average fries and make for a fun and unique finger food.
There's a healthy twist for just about any tailgating staple -- do some research and see what you can find.
Don't overcook the meat.
Darkness is a great background for fireworks, but it may be harmful when it comes to the color of barbecued meat. If cooked at high heat for a long amount of time, grilled meat creates an unhealthy compound called heterocyclic amine that may increase the risk of cancer.
Heterocyclic amines are chemicals that form when muscle meat -- such as beef, pork or poultry -- is cooked directly over an open flame. They form when amino acids, sugars and creatine react at high temperatures and have been linked to higher rates of tumor development in the breast, liver, colon, skin, prostrate and lungs.
If you aren't the grill master and have no say how the meat is cooked, you can always cut off the blackened portions. However, it's still possible these heterocyclic amines are present in other parts of the meat, so keep that in mind.
Step away from the snack table.
When you find yourself at the tailgate, be careful with where you position yourself. If you're standing next to the food table talking with friends, you'll find yourself snacking more than you realize.
This sort of mindless grazing is what will get you in trouble. Take just a few steps away and continue your conversations. You're much less likely to stop your conversation and walk to grab a snack, which will help keep your calorie intake down.
Put on sunscreen and avoid unnecessary exposure.
If it's a game early in the season, chances are the temperature will be very hot. This is especially true if you're down south. Take extra precautions to ensure you don't get overheated or sunburned.
While you don't want to wear a bunch of layers in the heat, a light UV protective shirt -- such as the ones Columbia Sportswear sells -- are ideal. Additionally, apply sunscreen, wear sunglasses and keep a hat nearby.
The last thing you want to do is end up passing out or getting burnt to a crisp on a day that's supposed to be filled with fun!
Combine heat, salty foods and alcohol and it can leave you with unwanted side effects -- which include nausea, headaches, fatigue and even vomiting. In addition to spending time in the shade and protecting yourself from the heat, it's crucial you stay hydrated when tailgating.
Try avoiding drinks that have high sugar content, such as soda and fruit juices. These absorb slowly in the body and will leave you feeling lethargic later in the day. And of course, always drink lots of water.
Be a responsible drinker.
Alcohol is a big part of tailgating for many football fans. And while there's nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two, make sure you're being a responsible drinker.
Make sure you aren't drinking too fast. There's no need to go drink-for-drink with other friends -- it's not a competition.
You should also always know how many drinks you've had. Record a little note in your phone or write a tally mark on your arm. It's never a good idea to mindlessly drink without realizing what you're putting in your body.
What you should be mindfully putting in your body, though, is water. As a rule of thumb, drink one bottle of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. By alternating between alcohol and water, you not only pace yourself, but you also stay hydrated.
If you follow these rules, you'll be able to enjoy some alcohol while watching the game. Otherwise, you may end up regretting your decisions.
Always travel in pairs.
If you're leaving the tailgate to go to the restroom, visit another tailgate or go into the game, always make sure you're traveling with someone else. Not only can you get lost, but you also never know what's going to happen.
Cellphone service can be spotty at best and it's not a good idea to get separated from your group when there are thousands of people walking around.
Get off your feet.
In some games, fans stand on their feet the whole time. While there's nothing wrong with this, you can easily get fatigued if you've also been standing for hours at a tailgate.
During the tailgate, make it a point to get off your feet and sit down for a few minutes. This will conserve energy and help you stay rested. Ideally, you should find a spot in the shade and drink some water at the same time.
Never drink and drive.
This is one you hear over and over from parents, teachers and friends, but it's worth repeating. Never -- under any circumstances -- drink and drive. If you've had a lot to drink, have a friend drive you home. If you can't have a friend drive you, call an Uber.
If nothing else, wait a couple of hours until you've sobered up. Drinking and driving puts your life and those around you in danger.
Go, fight, win!
Whether it's college or professional football, there's nothing better than gathering for a little pre-game fun and tailgating with your friends and family. Good food, good drinks, good sports and good people make for an unforgettable day.
Just try to keep healthy and safe to make sure it's not a day you want to forget. So, who's ready for some football?