My childhood memories of the State Fair include rides, games, and animals, of course. But central to the experience was the food, and we all discussed ahead of time what we planned to eat.
Buttery, fluffy biscuits filled with country ham, and warm, chewy fried dough topped with powdered sugar – those were my non-negotiables. My gotta-haves.
We also usually tried the local ice cream, sampled a hushpuppy, drank local milk, munched on a couple of peanuts, and crunched into a Mount Olive pickle.
At the end of the night, I would buy and take home for later a caramel apple that I hoped was juicy, crunchy and tart inside, sweet and creamy and sticky on the outside.
Eating “healthy” did not enter into consideration on a trip to the fair.
That all came to a screeching halt for me two years ago when I started changing what I eat in a quest for better health, when I learned how what I put in my body affected the performance of my body. I’ve gone gluten-free, now avoid most conventional dairy products, and focus overall on avoiding the “bad foods” as outlined by my naturopath doctors.
Though I allow myself an intentional gluten-free deviation on rare occasion, a big ol’ paper plate full of deep-fried dough and powdered sugar no longer is on my “cheat” list. To me, it’s just not worth it for how I’ll feel in the hours and days afterward.
Last year, I swore off both the dough and the biscuit.
This year, I went with an expanded approach: Is it even possible to eat “healthy” at the State Fair?
This article is for the five of you out there who don’t think yet that I’ve lost my mind. And before my sister threatens to call social services on me, know that I told my teenager that he didn’t have to eat healthy along with me. His response? “I didn’t plan to.”
OK then, to the task!
We arrived Monday night and started surveying all of the options. At the NC State Fair, which continues through Sunday and last year attracted more than 1 million visitors, this is a big effort in itself. Hundreds of food vendors line the main section of the 344-acre grounds. Many booths offer turkey legs, fried dough, cotton candy and other sweets, deep fried Twinkies and vegetables, and hot dogs and hamburgers.
But a few offer some different and perhaps better options.
My son quickly chose a London broil sandwich with cheese, barbecue sauce and bread. I could have just asked for the medium-well meat on a plate, hold the bread, but I was looking for something that fit into more food groups. Last year I did see one stand that offered a salad with London broil or char-grilled chicken on top.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, a healthy eating plan:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Stays within your daily calorie needs
My own added guidelines for fair-eating ruled out anything fried (goodbye dough) because of the inflammation that it causes, and anything else likely to cause me a negative reaction – dairy, and gluten. Daily, I try to choose fresh, whole foods instead of processed ones, and again, avoid the 12 ‘bad foods’ as indicated by my naturopaths. Whenever possible, I choose locally grown and organic foods.
At the fair, we ruled out what we were not willing to eat. I wondered how a giant turkey leg stacked up nutritionally and learned that the myfitnesspal app tracks it with more than 1,100 calories and 14,400 mg of sodium. No thank you.
We were down to about a half-dozen potential choices. I identified these as our options:
· A taco salad from the Mexican food stand
· Gumbo or low-country boil from a Cajun stand
· A Chicken Luau Pineapple Bowl with pulled chicken, peppers, pineapple, and sauce over rice from a chicken stand with a giant chicken balloon above it
· Barbecued chicken, green beans and potatoes from a church-run food stand.
· A local food truck that serves sausages and toppings rolled up into French baguettes. I'm not sure it fits into the healthy category, but it fit the local and freshly made category at 9:45 p.m., so that’s what my husband chose.
I opted for the low-country boil, which tasted good at first but didn’t sit exactly well with me later. My husband said, once we were home, that I was brave, eating shellfish from a fair-food stand. I wish I had seen the chicken pineapple bowl before I bought the combination of boiled shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn. Maybe I'll go have the luau bowl for lunch.
In short, it’s possible to find some “healthier” options at the fair, though it will take resolve, perseverance and extra walking (movement = good for you!).
Of course, if you wreck your diet, tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to get back on track. Hopefully, one day's gorging won't derail you completely. And thankfully for our health, the fair isn’t in town every day.
Question: Do you have a favorite “fair food?” What is it? How and what do you think about eating healthy? I welcome your comments below, or in our free “Faith and Sweat” group on Facebook. We focus on self-care, nutrition, health and wellness, and you can request to join HERE.