There’s no better way to celebrate team spirit than a tailgate party with family and friends! Whether you’re a first-time tailgater or a seasoned pro, tossing together a fun celebration is surprisingly easy and affordable. “No matter if you’re cheering on your college alma mater or rooting for your hometown NFL team (go Cleveland Browns!), it is a perfect excuse to host a football tailgate party,” cheers event planning pro Tara Berger, founder of One Stylish Party. “And don’t feel like a tailgate party is only for people who are attending a game. A tailgate can be in the stadium parking lot, a backyard or even inside your house with a perfect view of a big screen TV to watch the game. I decided to host my tailgate in a backyard and used a truck for the food display. It was so much fun!”
To get the look of Berger’s party (above), drape a table or your open trunk with plaid blankets in your team’s colors. Then line up small hay bales and craft-store wood crates and top with mum pots, trays of food, festive desserts and a few football-themed accents.
Toast the day with a tailgate party beer tasting
Beer is the go-to tailgate sip, but you can make the experience feel even more special by offering guests a tasting menu of different brews. First, pick up a selection of at least three different beers (add a cider for a happy hit of fall flavor). Just pour 3 oz. of each variety into clear plastic party cups and place on mini trays in order from lightest to darkest. Instruct guests to try the lightest first. If adding cider to your tasting menu, have guests sample it last, as the fruity flavor will refresh their taste buds. And if you have any beer left over after your bash, check out these genius uses for stale beer!
Delight your crowd with creamy mac’n’cheese bites
Creamy, cheesy macaroni bites are a perfectly poppable appetizer for your buffet. To do: Heat 1 cup of vegetable oil in a saucepan. Drop spoonfuls of cold mac and cheese into a bowl of flour then into a bowl of beaten eggs, then into a bowl of breadcrumbs. Drop coated bites into the oil, fry for 1 minute and set on a paper towel–lined plate. For a fun twist, try our Cheetos Mac and Cheese; for a crispier texture, try our Sheet Pan Mac and Cheese.
Kick off festive fun with football-themed flourishes
Every tailgate party should include playful flair that pays tribute to the reason behind your celebration: football! Berger shopped her home for “accents” like helmets, pennants and other little mementos from her favorite team. If you don’t have memorabilia on hand or don’t want to bring it outside) count on fun, lightweight decorations that can be used anywhere on your buffet, like these festive paper flags (Buy at BigDotOfHappiness, $16.99 for a set of 15). Or to get a similar look, cut out football, pennant and helmet shapes from scrapbook paper, then secure to dowels using tape. Stake “flags” into candy-filled pedestal vases (as shown here), bouquets or hay bales.
Surprise them with cute apple cupcakes
Kissed with caramel, these apple cupcakes offer a delicious fall flavor pairing. To do: Prepare spice cake mix according to the box instructions, swapping the water for apple cider. Pour batter into paper-lined muffin tins; bake. Next, simmer 1 cup of apple cider until it reduces to 1⁄4 cup, let cool, then whip with 2 (16 oz.) cans of vanilla frosting. Pipe onto cupcakes; drizzle on caramel sauce. Looking for more cupcake recipes? Try this delicious dulce de leche cupcake!
Transform your view with a fall garden bouquet
At her gathering, Berger added a bouquet to the buffet for a touch of fall beauty that echoed her team’s colors. For a similar look, fill a 6″-tall pedestal bowl with soaked floral foam. Next, simply cut 2 bouquets of supermarket blooms in your team’s colors to lengths between 10 and 12 inches. Insert the shortest stems into middle of foam, forming a rounded shape. Next, insert remaining stems into the outer edge of the foam, angling blooms outward. (Click through to find out how to dry your flowers and enjoy them all year long.)
Serve up eye-catching uniform cookies
Fill your treat spread with cookies that double as decor! To do: Roll out store-bought sugar-cookie dough and punch out shapes using jersey- and helmet-shaped cookie cutters (Buy at Amazon, $10). Then, add shapes to a baking sheet, bake per package directions and let cool. Beat together 4 cups of powdered sugar, 5 Tbs. of water and 3 Tbs. of meringue powder until peaks form. Divide into bowls and tint with gel food coloring. Spoon into squeeze bottles and squeeze onto cookies.
Serve up smiles with a surprising snack tray
Easily portion veggies, fruit, nuts, dips and more into the wells of a muffin tin! Tip: Pop snacks in paper muffin cups and set in the tin for grab-and-go ease (mini tongs make sampling simple!). Keep extras in a cooler to replace empty sections as needed.
Ensure food stays hot during your tailgate
To keep your favorite tailgate fare hot, reach for a cooler! First, line the cooler with foil, then heat a few bricks in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 300°F. Use tongs to place bricks in your cooler. Then add a layer of towels on top to provide insulation before placing containers of food on top. Add another layer of towels to fill in any open space and replace the lid.
Also smart: Sometimes even a perfect fall day can go from crisp to chilly in no time! Setting out a basket of blankets is a thoughtful gesture, and they’ll make a perfect take-home favor. Just roll up inexpensive yet cozy fleece blankets (Buy at Amazon, $36 for 6 blankets). Tie each with a ribbon, then place in a pretty basket.
For more football-friendly party ideas:
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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