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Explore healthier options for football fans
Chef Adrian Bailey tends to his smoker behind the Brenau University cafeteria Monday morning. Bailey had several large pork butts cooking, along with a turkey breast and a piece of salmon.

As football season gears up, chicken wings, burgers and hot dogs will proliferate at tailgate parties, but the grease and fat can add unwanted calories and cholesterol to a person’s meal. However, two local food experts pointed out nutritional alternatives for the traditional football feast.

Brenau University chef Adrian Bailey suggests turkey burgers as a healthier alternative on the grill.

"A lot of people think a turkey burger’s going to be dry," he said in a phone interview. "But turkey burgers are very good when you put them on the grill."

Bailey seasons his turkey burgers with Montreal steak seasoning to add flavor. He also uses an unlikely secret weapon to keep the burger moist — spinach.

"I sauté spinach on the grill, then put it on a toasted bun," he said.

Another healthier tailgate option on the grill is smoked salmon, which Bailey calls his most popular dish.

"We’ll reduce maple syrup and a little soy sauce, and coat the salmon with it," he said.

He said the salmon should be cooked at 325 degrees for 15 minutes until it is crispy on the outside.

But the meal isn’t complete without side items such as mashed potatoes, potato salad and other carb-filled dishes. But Bailey pointed to simple, healthier substitutes loaded with flavor, not calories.

He recommended a simple gazpacho salad. This cold vegetable salad is made with red and yellow peppers, roma tomatoes, cucumbers and cilantro. Once the vegetables are combined, Bailey said, toss them with salt, pepper and V8 juice.

As an alternative for meat-and-potato fans, Bailey suggested a roasted potato salad. To make this dish, grill red potatoes, wrap them in foil and wait for them to cool. Once chilled, add sour cream and dill for a lighter side dish.

Toppings for the side items usually add unwanted calories, too. But Michele Melton of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommended fireside chefs to think outside the mayonnaise jar.

"A lot of times people want to bring dips that are based with cream cheese or just sort of heavier mayonnaise, sour cream sorts of ingredients," Melton said."There are a lot of really great recipes out there that use mixtures of vegetables, sometimes including fruits."

Melton suggested a dish called Texas caviar which includes corn, a variety of beans and tomatoes.

Another Mexican-themed side dish consists of black beans, onions, corn and cilantro. She does not suggests serving this with chips.

"You have to be cautious about what you serve it with," she said.

Melton also said although you may just be a guest at a tailgate party, bringing a healthy dish is a good way to ensure healthy options.

While vegetables are usually designated as a healthy side, combined with beef, it can be the featured meal.

"Kabobs are kind of a fun thing to do," she said. "That way you can choose leaner cuts of meat, and of course, you’re incorporating fruits and vegetables as well within those."