When fans come together to cheer on their team, good eating is in everyone’s playbook. Tailgate fare can be about classic favorites: hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecue. But adding some super fun appetizers and small plates can score some major extra points.

Great tailgate snacks can carry on local traditions, provide an unexpected alternative to hot dogs and can even be healthy. Check out what some onsite chefs are doing to get the crowds fired up.

Dipping Into Game Day

“Students love gathering for special events, and food always brings people together,” says Nancy Heidtman, senior director of dining and culinary support services at Miami University, Miami, OH, where students can purchase make-it-at-home Cincinnati Chili Dip and Pepperoni Pizza Dip to devour before the big games.

One of Ohio’s most recognizable bowls, Skyline Chili, has been turned into a tempting dip that’s produced centrally at the Demske Support Center and delivered to on-campus markets. Students can use their meal plan to purchase the dips and other tailgate essentials like bags of chips and 2-liter bottles of soda (or pop, as it’s called in Ohio).

“Our special tailgate offerings were a hit,” Heidtman says. “They sold out quickly, and the markets saw a spike in sales due to these items.” Microwave- and oven-safe containers are part of the deal, along with cooking instructions and food-safety guidelines.

The cinnamon-spiked Cincinnati chili (which can be made in-house or found in a can) combines with a base layer of cream cheese and gets topped with Cheddar cheese. The layers of deliciousness go perfectly with a fall afternoon of football and friends.

Making it Memorable

Football games are always dramatic at West Point.

“Game day at West Point is a spectacle unlike any other,” says Kevin D’Onofrio, director of food service, DCA-Culinary Group, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. “From the Cadet parade prior to the game to the Black Knight alley fan-fest area of the stadium to the Cadet Parachute team delivering the game ball to the 50 yard line, a tailgate at USMA is one to remember…It transforms another football Sunday into a celebration of Duty, Honor and Country.”

While the skydiving is certainly an amazing feat, also amazing is that dining services provides not just traditional concession service, but specially catered tailgate parties for up to 1,500.

Sliders served from a station with pick-your-own toppings have been a popular choice, and so have mini-hot dogs. But an unusual pasta dish has been the surprise winner for many groups.

“I wasn’t sure about this, but I’ve gotta tell you, it’s really good,” D’Onofrio says, describing the flavors of pasta with prosciutto and cantaloupe in a tarragon cream reduction. It’s reminiscent of the good old appetizer cantaloupe-wrapped-in-prosciutto, but with the added appeal of pasta. It’s served on small plates so everyone can get the perfect portion.