No matter your favorite sport, there's likely to be a tailgate celebration to kick off each game. Tailgating -- an outdoor party combining food and fandom, typically held in the parking area of college or pro sports arenas -- is not just a celebration of sports, but of good food. Unfortunately, often those eats (and drinks) run on the side of excess: meats, cheeses, fried foods and beer. Here's how to lighten up that next parking-lot party without going soft, and some cool gear for grilling and chilling, too.

Better chips and dips:

This is one of the easiest and most satisfying ways to slim down your party food because leaner substitutions for those crunchy-meets-creamy snacks are both tasty and easy. Not all lighter foods are created equal, but baked potato and tortilla chips tend to pack a lot of crunch without sacrificing taste. For fuller flavor, choose lower fat over fat-free dips, sour cream and dressings. A veggie tray packed with carrots, pepper slices, broccoli and bite-sized tomatoes served with tasty low-fat dips will disappear just as quickly as heftier fare. Try adding spices like dried onion or garlic to low-fat sour cream or mixing low-fat ranch dressing with salsa.

Instead of:

potato chips and fatty French onion dip, or fried tortilla chips and store-bought guacamole.

Try:

Guacamole and baked chips, hummus and pita chips, or a meatless seven-layer dip using just a thin layer of guac and low-fat sour cream.

Go lean or meatless:

One easy way to cut out a hefty portion of fat without sacrificing too much flavor is to skip the dogs and sausages and choose leaner meats instead. Shish kebabs are easy to prepare and pack ahead of time for grilling. Try some veggie kebabs or shrimp and chicken instead of beef. Foods that go well when skewered include: bell pepper, sweet onion, cherry tomatoes and chunks of pineapple.

Instead of:

hot dogs, bratwurst or beef burgers.

Try:

Lean turkey chili, veggie or turkey dogs and burgers, shish kebabs or chicken fajitas.

Fried food fake-outs:

The key to substituting your favorite fried goods is to keep the flavor and heft while ditching the grease. If you love hot chicken wings, find a lower-fat baked wing recipe and douse it in your favorite hot wing sauce. (Adding chunks of garlic kicks this up a notch without adding anything unhealthy.) And don't forget about corn on the cob, which grills relatively quickly and tastes great even without the added butter.

Instead of:

French fries, onion rings or fried chicken wings.

Try:

Healthy fries -- grill thin-sliced baking or sweet potatoes rubbed with olive oil, cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Prepare baked chicken wings at home ahead of time and reheat on site.

Lighter libations and condiments:

Carb-loaded beverages like beer can add more to a tailgating party than flavor. Alcohol tends to cause people to overeat, so either slow down and savor fewer of the buzz-inducing beverages or choose a lighter style like Hefeweizen or a quality light from a craft brewer like Sam Adams so you won't sacrifice flavor to save calories.

As for condiments, the good news is that many of the standards like mustard and ketchup aren't laden with either fat or calories. Hot sauces and salsas also make easy, light party food add-ons. Go for light dressings instead of fat-free to keep some flavor.

Instead of:

Mayonnaise or heavy beer.

Try:

Spicy mustards and quality light beer.

Great tailgating gear:

Portability and ease of use are handy when grilling off-site, and who wants to lug a heavy, full-sized grill and mess with charcoal when you can grab one of Coleman's

Road Trip

propane gas grills? As the name implies, it's designed for travel and is easy to set up and pack away. Coleman is also king when it comes to coolers that will last as long as your tailgate party. Its 54-quart retro steel-belted

coolers

do more than look cool; they're designed to keep everything cold for hours. To pull everything together in one easy package, check out the

Vulcan Tailgater

grill/cooler combo, which combines hot and cold storage and utensils into a convenient carrying case.

Tailgating has gained such popularity that there are even Web sites devoted to these outdoor sports-fan gatherings, including TheTailgatingPros.com, which features a free tailgating checklist. Take a look for ideas but don't forget to customize yours to feature healthier party fare.