There was a time when meat and beer were all that
Kevin Thomas and his buddies needed for a good tailgate. These
days, though, animal crackers and juice boxes are just as likely to
grace the tailgating tables as brats and burgers.
Parking near a potty is a must and there has to be
room for a "timeout tent."
"It's a more family-focused tailgate," says Thomas,
who lives in Chicago with his wife, Beth, and 2-year-old daughter,
Thomas has been tailgating at Chicago Bears games
for as long as he can remember. As a kid, Thomas tagged along with
his grandfather and he wanted to share that same experience with
Beth and Annie.
"I love football and tailgating. You love to do
things you love with the people you love," Thomas says.
So, he and his friends have fashioned their
tailgates around their families. The group of about 30 brings games
and kid-friendly food and all the parents make sure there are areas
for kids to run around and play.
"We always have a special tent or place for the
kids," says Thomas' friend, Chris Brusznicki, also of Chicago.
Brusznicki often tailgates with his wife, Maureen, and their
children Evelyn, 5, Mack, 3, and Vivian, 1.
Brusznicki loves tailgating so much he started a
tailgating business - GameDayHousing.com, which helps Chicago fans
rent vacation homes for Bears (and college) games played at
stadiums around the country. Sometimes Brusznicki starts tailgating
at 4 a.m. or as soon as he can snag a parking spot. His wife
follows later with the kids. Tailgating is so much a part of their
lives that they dedicate the fall to football.
"When a friend says they're getting married in the
fall, we grimace because it's a football weekend. It's a pretty
important tradition and hobby," says Brusznicki. "We're pretty
close to all of our friends and we're all fanatics about football
and the teams that we follow and our kids are adopting the same
Though tailgating is essentially one big party,
it's not all fun and games. "Tailgating with kids can be work,"
With the help of Chicago tailgating veterans and
other experts, Chicago Parent compiled a handful of tips for
tailgating with kids.
1. Find the best spot.
You want the coveted tailgating spot-close to the
bathrooms and with enough room for little ones to run. "We try to
tailgate in an area where it's less congested and there's green
space," says Thomas. The Waldron parking lot just south of Soldier
Field is a favorite spot because of its close proximity to heated
2. Know the rules.
Check out tailgating regulations on the team's
website, says tailgating expert Dave Lamm, founder of
tailgatingideas.com., a website that provides tips for tailgating
with kids. In the parking lots near Soldier Field, tents and
balloons are not permitted, and grills and open fires are not
allowed in covered garages.
3. Bring kid-friendly
Though a lot of tailgating food like hot dogs and
hamburgers are kid-friendly, bring plenty of snacks and drinks.
Thomas usually makes sure Annie has her own bag of Goldfish
crackers and grapes, as well as sippy cups filled with her favorite
Debi Lilly, event planner at A Perfect Event in
Chicago, likes to go beyond typical tailgating grub.
"The perfect tailgate menu includes a colorful,
healthy menu of finger or fork-friendly foods-no time or place for
knives, cutting and such," Lilly says. A platter with cheeses,
meats and grilled vegetables is perfect, Lilly says. Then, have
some fun and create a chocolate board with cookies, brownies and
4. Expect to entertain.
It's easy to get caught up in the social event of
tailgating. But ignoring your kids might cause a meltdown. Bring
games your kids like to play and play with them. Keep them included
in setting up the tailgate or preparing the food. "You can't just
unfold a tailgate and expect kids to hang out and listen to adult
conversation for five hours," says Lamm. "If a kid doesn't feel
included, he'll get bored real fast."
Backyard games like bag toss or ladder ball are
good options, as well as coloring books and play dough. If all else
fails, break out the iPad or portable DVD player. Brusznicki and
his wife often split childcare duties. One parent might take the
children for a walk around the parking lots or by the lake, while
the other socializes. Then they switch. "We understand they need a
change of scenery," Brusznicki says.
One way to keep kids busy is involve them in
creating team pennants or posters, says Lilly. "It's great to have
a big list of fun up your sleeve."
5. Don't push your luck.
Know your kids' limits. It's
enjoyable for adults to hang out at a tailgate for six hours. Not
so much for kids. If your kids are new to tailgating, start out
slow, says Brusznicki. Start with two hours. If everything goes
smoothly, tailgate longer the next time. The key is to get the kids
to enjoy tailgating and want to do it again.
"Just do it. It seems like it might be hell in some
cases because the kids are so upset and it's so hard to do, but
kids adjust and they will be better behaved the next time," Thomas
says. "You kind of just have to deal with the adjustment
"It's just a ton of fun."
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