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Published on May 30, 2020

Healthy Eating at the Fair

fair food booth

Summertime means it’s fair and festival season in the Northwest:  

It also means that fair food trucks will be offering a variety of delicacies – some healthy and some not. 

County fairs, the Washington State Fair, and countless other festivals around the area offer indulgences such as funnel cakes, turkey legs, foot-long hotdogs, snow cones and a plethora of deep-fried snacks – from Snickers to cheesecake to butter (yikes)! 

Making good choices

What can you do to eat healthy while still enjoying yourself at a festival or fair? 

EvergreenHealth nutritionist Marcy Dorsey, RD, offers these tips for making good choices at your next outing:

Eat before you go.  Whether you go to a fair or festival for a few hours or an entire day, if you eat before you go, you’ll be less likely to visit the food vendors right away or to graze on fair foods all day long. 

Try going to a festival just after you’ve eaten a meal at home, or if you plan to eat your meal at the event, have a healthy snack before you arrive. 

Eating something with healthy carbs and protein will give you energy for a long day outside on your feet.   

Bring your own snacks.  If you have your own healthy snacks on hand, you can limit the treats you purchase at the fair. 

Choose snacks that contain protein and healthy carbohydrates, such as an apple and a handful of nuts, a cheese stick and whole-grain crackers, or berries and a cup of Greek yogurt. 

Stay hydrated, but don’t drink your calories.  Bring your own water bottle to the festival, if permitted, and drink from it throughout the day. 

That will help keep you both full and hydrated, which is critical when you’re walking around in the sun for hours at a time. 

Water and unsweetened iced tea or iced coffee are good drink options. 

Sugary lemonade, sodas or milkshakes will add calories quickly without giving you much, if any, nutrition.

Consider all the food options and choose wisely.  Be choosy when you are at a fair or festival, and don’t simply eat whatever you happen upon first. 

Take the time to check out all the food vendors and their offerings and then make a plan; some events let you look at menus before you arrive. 

Choose vegetables over chips or fries and grilled or roasted meat over fried. 

Go easy on the butter and sauces, opting instead for mustard, pickles, or salsa. 

Sit down to eat.  Mindless eating is a major pitfall of outdoor festivals. 

Even if you choose some kind of “food on a stick,” sit down and savor it slowly. 

Pay attention to what you’re eating, and you’ll be less likely to overindulge.

Share the bounty.  Sharing a treat with your friends and family is a great way to sample some of the less-than-healthy treats at the fair without regret. 

Many fair foods come in generous portions that will allow several people to enjoy them. 

Indulge just a little and enjoy it!  Pick your favorite treat and enjoy!  A festival or fair is a special occasion, and it’s okay to splurge on a favorite decadent treat. 

Try to keep things in balance by eating well and playing more the rest of the day or weekend. 

Choosing your fare at the fair

When choosing a festival food indulgence, it helps to be informed. 

Knowing the fat and calories in foods can help you make sensible choices and avoid eating several thousand calories in a day at the fair.  

Marcy suggests these alternatives to some common fair foods:

Instead of a funnel cake, made of deep-fried dough and topped with powdered sugar with 760 calories and 44 grams of fat 
Choose: A caramel apple for 334 calories and only 6 grams of fat, plus 4 grams of fiber and the nutrition of a piece of fresh fruit. 
Note: It would take 3.5 hours to walk off the calories in one funnel cake!

Instead of a fried turkey leg, which contains a whopping 1,136 calories and 54 grams of fat  
Choose: Chicken or steak kebabs, which, aside from being grilled instead of fried, will usually include some grilled vegetables to boot.
Note: If you still choose the turkey leg, be sure to remove the skin before eating.

Instead of a fried onion blossom, which contains 1,175 calories and 72 grams of fat – as much fat as you should get in an entire day 
Choose: Roasted corn on the cob.  With only 50 calories and 1 gram of fat, it’s among the healthiest choices at the fair.  Even with butter, it’s only 200 calories. 

Instead of a fried Snickers bar, with 450 calories and 30 grams of fat 
Choose: Saltwater taffy for your sugar fix. Three pieces contain 180 calories and only 2.5 grams of fat. 
Note: It will only take 50 minutes to walk off the taffy, while the deep-friend candy bar will take more than 2 hours!

Instead of a snow cone, which despite being made mostly of water can contain from 270 to 550 calories depending on the size and amount of flavored syrup 
Choose: Cotton candy.  It’s pure sugar, but only around 170 calories per serving with no fat. Or get that snow cone, but order it with just a drizzle of syrup.
Note: For a cold treat with some nutritional value, try frozen yogurt for calcium or a frozen chocolate-dipped banana for potassium and antioxidants.

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