Fair food: Making the right choices for you

Written by Robin Stahl, RD, CD on 8/2/2014 8:00:00 AM

Robin Stahl is a registered dietician at Community Health Network. 

Make healthy choices at the fair

When asking around the office what people love to eat when they attend the Indiana State Fair, I was not surprised to hear elephant ears, corn on the cob or lemon shake-ups. There's no doubt that Hoosiers love their traditional fair food.

It's easy, as a registered dietitian, to say that on your one trip the fair, you can let your stomach be your guide and eat what you want.  But these days, most foods are available year-round. Corn dogs and cotton candy are no longer just fair food. You can find them in the grocery store any time of the year. 

So, consider these parameters when choosing fair food:
  • Eat what you mentally and emotionally connect to the fair experience and value the food as a treat - something you truly only eat on a special occasion. (Elephant ears are an example.)
  • Eat what tastes good and you feel good about eating. In other words, eat what won’t make you feel sick and tired when you are trying to enjoy your time at the fair.
For those of you trying to stay healthy, you can find decent nutrition at the Indiana State Fair. Here are some food suggestions that will not leave you with stomachache: 

Grilled pork chops are a great source of lean protein with only 356 calories and 44 grams of protein for a 6 oz chop. Polish sausage with grilled onions and peppers on a bun has around 600 calories, 19 grams of protein and 1700 milligrams of sodium. Pork-on-a-stick is just that and a decent option. 

Side dishes
Corn on the cob is a vegetable that while starchy, has fiber and cancer-fighting properties, along with a fair dose of Vitamin A. For around 155 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates, you get a lot of ‘summertime in Indiana’ enjoyment. Ask for the cob unbuttered unless you have your heart set on going all the way. The deep fried vegetables may seem like a good source of some nutrition, but the amount of vegetables in a serving may not be worth the amount of fat and batter that surrounds them. 

Lemon shake-up's seems to be a staple for many at the fair. With as much as 1/2 cup of sugar per serving, this will not be a real thirst quencher. The calories are close to 400 and the carbohydrates are about 100 grams. Water is a better bet. Fresh milk is a viable option as well! 

Here is where you need to be choosy, or consider sharing your food. If you opt for a traditional elephant ear or funnel cake, you can expect to consume around 1200 calories. If you decide a milkshake is more to your taste, you’ll be getting 400 mg of calcium along with your 380 calories for a 10 oz cup. If you choose a fried candy bar or cookie, just add at least 300 calories to whatever is inside the batter.

But, if you must indulge at the fair, there are some ways you can work off those extra calories. Instead of taking the tram around the fair, walk. Instead of eating upon arrival at the fair, make a loop and decide what this year’s indulgences are going to be. Take a stroll through the animal barns, see the beautiful produce and projects the 4Hers have brought to the fair. Enjoy the midway and don't forget to stay hydrated.

Remember, the food is only a part of your day at the fair. Here’s to fond fair memories!

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