Navigating Fair and Festival Food

Fried dough, funnel cakes, corn dogs, deep fried cookies — should you resist all these temptations? We’ve asked the experts about those delicious treats

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

chipsFrom sugary drinks to deep fried everything, fairs and festivals offer a bevy of nutritionally poor food choices. To stick with your healthful eating plan, try these tips from area health experts:

• “One of the easiest ways to eat healthy at fairs and festivals is to bring your own water bottle. Avoid sugary sodas and lemonades — it can help you avoid tons of unnecessary calories.

• “Niagara County and Erie County fairs both have public water fountains and most vendors will give you a cup of water for free too. Bringing your own bottle or getting free water cups saves money for more rides.

• “Drink unsweetened ice tea to save calories.

• “ If you’re getting a sweet treat like a fried dough, try sharing it with a friend and going light on the toppings.”

Justine Hays, registered dietitian, senior nutritionist with Eat Smart New York through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County, Lockport.

• “I usually suggest that people prepare themselves for this. If you know you’re going to a fair or festival, don’t set yourself up for overeating. Eat healthy that week you’re going and then make sure you have a good meal before you get there. When you’re not super hungry, you can exert your control a little bit better. You can think about it and peruse the food available. You can see who’s got what.

• “Share a portion.

• “You can also take your own stuff, like fruit or nuts.

• “Look for better options. You might be able to catch them before they butter the roasted corn and get one plain. Turkey legs are usually done on a spit or open grill. That’s a reasonable option. Many fairs and festivals have barbecued chicken, which will be a lighter item. Most events have peppers and onions to serve with sausages. You might get a turkey burger or grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried stuff. A lot of places have a salad option. They might add chicken. A lot of times, they might have food with an ethnic fair. Greek or Mexican food may have healthier options like tzatziki on meat. Have them go easy on the cheese. You can do fajitas, which are going to be typically grilled chicken or steak with vegetables.

chicken tenders• “If you want ice creams, many places have frozen yogurt, which don’t have as much fat though they’re sugary. You can get a simple cone versus a gloppy sundae. You can do a fruit-based treat like a smoothie, which may be better than a milkshake.

• “Look for water rather than liquid calories. People eat the same amount when they drink their calories and they don’t realize it. People think I’m walking a lot so I can eat more but it takes a lot of walking. You burn only 100 calories a mile. Don’t rely on that. It’s not going to undo a lot of caloric damage.

• “These days, there are a lot of double burgers, triple burgers, and fried things. But I’m noticing more healthy options. That’s refreshing. You can find a lot more grilled and broiled things.

•”If there’s a real favorite of yours that’s fried, give yourself a chance to have it. Be present and really enjoy it, but be picky about it. Have the thing you really want, but not the things that make you go ‘ho-hum.’ You don’t have to finish the whole thing.”

Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian who offers nutrition and counseling services in Williamsville.