Every year in the fall we attend family weekend at each of our kids’ colleges.   It’s a fun time to see them in their element at school, tailgate like a college kid again and catch a football game. I’ve learned over the years, if you come with plenty of food, the college kids are all about tailgating with the old folks. With several years of college tailgating under my belt, I’ve learned some tips and tricks for set up, entertaining and quick and easy cleanup. As your families grow older and your seniors head off to college, I thought I would share some tailgating ideas you might want to try when you’re the old folks at the college tailgates.

I start my tailgate planning by searching Pinterest for decorating and food ideas. WARNING: I do tend to get a bit carried away with a theme. It’s fun for me but totally not necessary. I start with school colors and a football theme, find a few tailgate friendly recipes and go from there. See my tailgating Pinterest board HERE.

I’m so mad at myself.  In creating this post I realized that I hardly got any photos of our tailgates; absolutely zero photos of any of our K-State tailgates.  🙁  It was always so crazy getting every out and ready as people started to arrive that apparently I never took photos.  Here is a look at the few memories I could find.

Now on to a few of my favorite tips I’ve learned over the years.

  1. I ask my college student to determine the location we will be tailgating and to invite friends & their families. We bring two 6’ folding tables and two 8’x8’ pop-up tents. There could always be a chance of rain and plenty of room for everyone to huddle under tents is a lifesaver in wet conditions. Don’t forget something to stake/weigh the pop-up tents down in the event of wind. I plan plenty of food options and sometimes other family members attending bring dishes, as well.
  1. For easy cleanup, tossable tablecloths are a must. I purchased a roll of plastic table covering in school colors (SHOP HERE). That way I have plenty to use year after year. You just roll it over the tables, cut with scissors and tape underneath the table to prevent blowing in the wind.
  1. I like to plan/host parties (birthdays, graduation, tailgates) so over the years, I’ve collected cheap clear plastic serving trays in various sizes (SHOP HERE). Bonus, having all the same color/type of trays makes the overall look of the table cohesive. The same goes for serving utensils.  Foil pans (SHOP HERE) are also a good option for tailgates as you can simply toss them during cleanup and not have to worry about transporting them back home.
  1. Flies inevitably gather on tailgate food. Bring a roll of plastic wrap to cover foods and detour flies. The stickier the better so it stays put in the wind.
  1. If you are the crafty type, you can help decorate the table by making football themed containers to hold utensils, condiments, etc. Again, I keep these and use them year after year. If they are football themed, as opposed to school colors, I can use them for both of my kids at different schools.

  1. Now comes the food. I’ve learned that depending on the school, sometimes you don’t know the start time of the football game until a week or two before the actual game. That could mean an early morning tailgate (breakfast foods) or an afternoon tailgate (lunch foods).   Since there are rarely electricity options, planning simple cold food is best. We have a portable grill (SHOP HERE) to warm breakfast sandwiches or hot dogs & hamburgers. Everything else is cold. If you really want to get fancy, you can add a portable battery pack that will run one to two crockpots, as well. This is what we use HERE.

  1. Typically, college kids come prepared with their own drinks. I do like to bring a cooler full of ice and water bottles to offer to everyone to keep them hydrated (if you know what I mean). For fun for the over 21 crowd, I make fall themed Jell-O shots or spiked gummy bears in plastic shot containers (SHOP CONTAINERS HERE) that are always a hit.

  1. Add rock salt in with ice in a cooler.  The salt lowers the temperature of the water and keeps food/beverages colder longer.
  1. We have experienced our share of rainy day tailgates. I’ve learned to keep cheap plastic disposable rain ponchos on hand (SHOP HERE). Bring them for your family or offer extras to those that don’t come prepared. Simple tricks like these make the kids remember your tailgate and look forward to when you come again the next year.

  1. Tailgating spots fill up quickly so it’s not always possible to claim the exact spot you had planned. Make it easy for your crowd to find you by flying a large school flag or helium balloons attached to long strings from your tent.
  1. Add to the fun by supplying entertainment, too. Tailgate games can be purchased or made from scratch and are always a hit. You can even go as simple as providing a Bluetooth speaker and a football. (INSERT GAME IDEAS COLLAGE)
  1. The least fun part of tailgating is the clean up. I like to make it as simple as possible. Bring a large plastic tub to put dirty serving dishes in to transport home. A plastic grocery sack can also be used to wrap up dirty serving utensils. Leftover food items go back into the cooler, or better yet, are left with your college student to eat later. Then just roll up the plastic tablecloths and throw them away. Lysol wipes can be used to wipe down tables before loading back up, if desired.

With the tips above and a simple checklist, you can wow the college kids with a fun tailgate experience and plenty of good food that they have missed since being home.

Here is a comprehensive checklist I’ve created that I use each time I prep and pack for a tailgate.

Click here to print a checklist for future use: Printable Tailgate Checklist


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