Navigating Fair and Festival Food

Fried dough, funnel cakes, corn dogs, deep fried cookies — we’ve asked the experts about eating 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:

• “Fair food is a summertime thing. If there is really something that it’s a one-time treat, you can make some room for it. Funnel cakes are something I cannot pass up. I’m not going to eat it by myself. Food should be something pleasurable.

• “Look for kebabs, turkey legs or grilled options. Corn on the cob is usually offered. Ask if you can get them to not douse it in butter. Or salt potatoes with the skin on them if you don’t get it in doused in butter.

• “Italian ices can be a nice sweet treat that won’t add up as fast as ice cream as far as calories.

• “Go for popcorn you may see at these events. Maybe don’t add the extra butter.

• “Or get roasted nuts.

• “Cotton candy, for what you get, with the air, you can eat a lot of it for minimal calories.”

Evelyn Mariani, registered dietitian, William A. Graber, MD, PC Utica and Syracuse 

• “My favorite thing to get at the New York State Fair is the gyro with grilled chicken loaded with lettuce and tomato and cucumbers. It’s delicious and I’m also getting in my vegetables.

• “I’m not saying I don’t get a fried dough as well as that’s one of my favorites. Sometimes if you’re at a festival or fair, it’s your time to enjoy that food. Enjoy being at that fair. There are lots of times we see foods we don’t get a lot.

chicken tenders• “Watch what drinks you’re having. They can be loaded with sugar and calories. I’d rather get my calories from food. Maybe that day, bring a water bottle. It’s one way to cut those calories a little bit. Bottled water usually isn’t as expensive as lemonades and other beverages. Many are unaware of the calories they’re getting from. Watch the slushies and drinks at the wine garden. A lot of calories come from those areas. It’s OK to indulge but be aware of what you’re ingesting. Look for the lemonade stand that uses Stevia so you don’t drink all that sugar.

• “Try roasted corn on the cob. There are more healthier options than there ever has been.

• “Portion size is a big factor. Share items, because some are huge. If you split them with someone, you get to taste these wacky, fun foods but not eating the whole thing.

• “If you’re there for a long time, that’s when bringing healthful snacks is important. You can’t live on State Fair food for a week. I do encourage people who will be there multiple times or who are working there to bring healthier options, like a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks.

• “The nutrients in milk will satisfy you more, as you get all the nine essential amino acids. It’s a nutrition powerhouse versus a drink that’s pure sugar. You get protein, vitamin D, vitamin A and potassium. It’s a fun tradition. and it supports the local farmers.”

Kelly Springer, registered dietitian and owner of Kelly’s Choice, LLC, Skaneateles

• “You can bring some fruit and vegetables from home.

• “Eating dried fruits in small amounts is healthful.

• “More and more, as people get educated, more options will be available.

• “You’ll be walking for the day–walking is the very best exercise–so that will help.”

Physician Az Tahir, High Point Wellness, Syracuse