The State Fair isn’t usually a place people go to eat a healthy meal. When a quick search for “Minnesota State Fair” and “salad” delivered the result “Jell-O Salad Ice Cream,” I knew this article wouldn’t be easy to write. Yet, I’m here to prove that it is possible to eat some delicious foods while still being able to fit in your jeans and managing to avoid excessive GI distress. You might think that the fair is a lost cause, but you can still get loads of healthy nutrients while eating delicious treats.
As a dietetic student and a long-time State Fair veteran, I present you with some tips for healthier eating at The Great Minnesota Get-Together:
Come prepared: The State Fair website has an awesome “Food Finder” feature. You can search food items by type or keyword. Just make sure to read the descriptions thoroughly. Lots of the lighter sounding foods such as the veggie kabobs and alligator were far from healthy, with descriptions such as “breaded and deep-fried.” Looking to keep your cholesterol intake under control or avoid added sugars? Use this tool to plan your meals at the fair before you go so you can keep your healthy intentions in check and avoid gobbling down the first fried cheese curd that calls your name.
Get the most bang for your calories: Empty calories abound at the fair, but there are plenty of options that pack important nutrients like protein, healthy fats and vitamins. Make sure your obligatory extra fair-calories are balanced with the good stuff so you’ll stay full and feel great. Choose entrees that come with vegetables like the hot dogs at Chicago Dogs that offer tons of veggie toppings or the mushroom and cheese crepe at the French Creperie. Maybe you’re the type of fair-goer that must have bacon to be satisfied. Try the bacon wrapped turkey leg at Texas Steak Out to fill up on protein and B-vitamins instead of the sugar loaded chocolate-covered fried bacon.
Choose your favorites: If there’s ever a perfect time to indulge, the State Fair is definitely it. However, you don’t need to try every deep-fried and battered culinary delight. Pick one or two foods that you have been craving all year or a new item that you can’t wait to taste. This will help you avoid a serious stomach ache, and why go on rides with a stomach ache?
Share: Split a few items with a friend and you both win! This is a “less is more” situation. Sharing with a friend (or two) allows you to sample more novelties while avoiding overstuffing yourself. Just make sure you’re splitting the bill, too!
Drinks OR Dessert: These two items tend to be loaded with added sugar and/or fat. For example, an average 16-oz. lemonade has 200 calories and 50 grams of sugar and a funnel cake will provide at least 35 grams of fat. If you’re going to have a treat, try choosing either drinks or dessert to keep calories at bay.
Stay active: Feeling like it’s going to be a double lunch kind of day? No one’s judging! Take a long walk around the fair and check out the great non-food festivities between each meal. This way you’ll burn off some calories, work up an appetite and get to see all the fair has to offer.
Hydrate: Water bottles are allowed into the fair, so make sure to bring extra! Staying hydrated will help you avoid getting tricked into thinking you’re hungry when you’re actually just parched. Having water on hand will also help you stay clear of sugary drinks to allow you to save room for a real meal. Fresh fruit and vegetables keep you hydrated as well, so load up on the numerous options around the fair.
Here are some great food choices, no matter what you’re craving:
Breakfast: The breakfast burrito at Juanita’s Fajitas is a good choice, with protein-rich eggs, calcium-filled cheese and healthy veggies. This hand-held delight will keep you fueled up for a long day at the fair.
On-a-Stick: Try the Northwoods salad-on-a-stick from Giggles’ Campfire Grill. The tomatoes and mozzarella cheese will keep you full and it’s served over wild rice, which is a great source of fiber. The grilled shrimp-on-a-stick from Fish and Chips Seafood Shoppes is another good choice.
Dessert: Veggie Pie offers bowls of refreshing and vitamin C-rich watermelon. For a frozen treat, try Jonny Pops’ fresh popsicles that are full of fruit and devoid of artificial ingredients; as a bonus, a portion of their proceeds go to important charities like Hazelden.
New Items: There are tons of new options this year. The Prime Rib Taco at LuLu’s Public House gives you a good dose of delicious protein and veggies. The SnoRibbons at Blue Moon Dine-In Theatre don’t just look beautiful and whimsical, they’re also low-calorie and low-sugar according to the fair’s website. The rotating flavors, like green tea black sesame and horchata vanilla, sound delicious.
Ethnic Food: Middle Eastern Food comes out on top as the healthiest fair option. From pitas to salads to veggie rich dips, these are some of the best choices at the fair. Try the Holy Land’s veggie kabobs, the falafel at Middle East Bakery or the Greek salad at Demetri’s Greek Food.
Deep-fried: If you absolutely need something deep-fried, try Fried Green Tomatoes at the stand with the same name or the “Sweeties Delight” mashed sweet potatoes-on-a-stick at Potato Man and Sweetie. Both of these options give you a serving of vitamin and phytonutrient rich veggies while satisfying your deep-fried craving.
Armed with these tips and suggestions you should be able to have a healthy and fun time. You can’t go wrong if you keep your focus on feeling good, being balanced, and enjoying the fair.
Quick Note on Deep-fried Foods: Why is deep-fried bad? Eating a few fried foods at the fair won’t cause serious damage. Yet, there are two major reasons eating fried food regularly isn’t a good choice. First, you don’t know what type of oil is being used. Often deep-fried foods are cooked in cheap and low quality oils that cause damage to our bodies. For example, trans fats are common in fried foods. These are the worst fats as they have been proven to lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good cholesterol” and raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol.” Secondly, deep frying foods adds calories and fat to items that often don’t need it. Cheesecake already has plenty of excess sugar and fat and its deep-fried version boasts an even greater amount of unhealthy fat. Bananas were having a great time being healthy all by themselves before the deep fryer came around to ruin them. Enjoy a few bites of deep-fried treats at the fair, but they don’t deserve a regular place in your diet.
Raina Goldstein Bunnag has a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and is currently a master’s candidate in nutrition and public health at the University of North Carolina.She keeps abreast of the latest health news and will be addressing relevant wellness topics each month. If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered in the column, please send her an email at [email protected].