Women and man eating at a food truck
Wellbeing

Fun in a Deep-Fried World

Street fairs, carnivals, and outdoor festivals bring a cornucopia of challenging food options. Here’s how to navigate it all.

On a picture-perfect summer day spent strolling through a glorious street fair in New York City, my son spotted one of his favorite vendors — the crepe guy. Within minutes, my husband and son were sitting on a park bench eating steaming Nutella-filled crepes topped with undulating ribbons of whipped cream while I sat beside them eating my string cheese with as much delight as I could muster.

And I began to wonder: Am I approaching this the right way?

It’s a scene that may play out in your life, too, especially during summer and fall, the seasons best known for street fairs, state fairs, carnivals, and music festivals, all of which happen to feature an amazing array of food choices, many of them deep-fried. The problem? It’s not just the preparation method. “High-calorie foods are usually the things that are deep-fried in the first place,” says Jason Ewoldt, a wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, MN. “We’re talking high-calorie candy bars, Oreos, butter, cheese, and cheeseburgers.”

In other words, they aren’t offering deep-fried kale or cauliflower.

What’s the best way to prepare for a day spent surrounded by the sights and smells of every imaginable food on a stick? Hint: It’s not just about what you eat (or don’t). Read on for six smart strategies:

 

1. Pick one and enjoy


Never feel that you have to deprive yourself. If it simply isn’t the annual town fair without that funnel cake or corn dog, share it with a friend and make it part of the entire experience, suggests Carol Frazey, a fitness coach in Bellingham, WA. Focus on enjoying it — and the moment. Eating mindfully will slow you down and keep you aware that it’s okay to have the food you want — and wow, this is really good — but also be conscious that you’re having fun, are surrounded by smiling friends, and the event is about so much more than eating (and overeating).

However, if you do prefer to avoid the unhealthier food options…

 

2. Scout out the WW-friendlier vendors


Many festivals or fairs will post an online list of vendors several days or weeks before the event, so study that list, suggests Edwina Clark, MS, RD, a San Francisco–based dietitian. Then, seek out stands serving items like grilled chicken, veggie burgers, roasted meats, or kebabs. “These can be healthier options that also happen to be incredibly delicious and satisfying,” she says.

 

3. Eat first


Loaded French fries or a basket of powdered-sugar-topped fried dough have a lot more power over hungry-you than non-hungry-you. All the more reason to eat before you hit the fair. “Going to an event on an empty stomach is like grocery shopping when you’re hungry,” says Allison Sanders, a clinical dietitian at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital. “It’s a challenging situation, especially when an event such as a state fair has a limited number of healthy items.”

Two potential solutions: One, see the previous item about WW-friendly vendors — if available, enjoy your healthier fair-fare before you think about other foods. Or, two, before you leave the house, sit down and eat a satisfying wrap or pick a lean protein/whole-grain combo to help you feel fuller longer. (The second plan isn’t as much fun, obviously, but is the wise move if you want to have your appetite under control when you arrive at the event, says Sanders.)

 

4. BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks)


Not only will you save money on overpriced food and time spent on long lines, you’ll feel healthier, too. If the event allows outside items to be brought in, pack a variety of crunchy high-fiber veggies, including carrots, broccoli, celery, and snap peas (or visit your farmers’ market to see what else is in season). Prepare savory snacks to munch on, too, such as homemade flavored popcorn, roasted chickpeas, baked kale chips, and nuts, suggests Patti Green, a certified health coach in Williamsville, NY. Fresh fruit is a great option, too, since many varieties will be in season, are juicy-sweet, and have 0 SmartPoints. If you can pack a cooler, you can also bring perishable items like string cheese, single servings of hummus, and sliced fruit. 

 

5. Drown your hunger


In hot weather, cold water is your friend. Stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid overeating, says Jessica Fishman Levinson, a registered dietitian in Westchester County, New York. Steer clear of sugar-packed sodas and lemonade shake-ups, which aren’t really about quenching your thirst. Tip: Bring a refillable water container with sliced lemon, suggests Talia Pollock, a health coach in New York City. “Many summer events have stations where you can refill your own water bottle,” she says. “Just think how much money you’ll save, too.”

 

6. Remember why you came


Are you there just for the food? Or are you there for the attractions, the music, the rides, the people-watching, and the sunshine? If you can focus on all of that rather than the food, you’ll enjoy yourself just as much, and in the meantime rack up a lot of steps, create some memories, and feel terrific when you get home.

 

RELATED: What to Eat at the Fair