Dining Out: Fair Food

by in Dining Out, July 22, 2010

fair food

One of the highlights of my childhood was going with my parents to street fairs and carnivals. My dad made it a point that we try everything from the gyros to Polish sausages to caramel apples. By the time we rolled home, we were all moaning and groaning from stomach aches. Here’s how to enjoy those old favorites, sensibly.

Deep-Fried Fest
Most fairs have no shortage of deep-fried foods. Aside from the traditional French fries and fried dough, I’ve heard of deep fried Twinkies, cheesecake, pickles, candy bars, cookies, macaroni and cheese, butter and brownie bites. You don’t have to be a health guru to know that deep fried anything isn’t the healthiest choice.

Other high-fat foods offered at fairs include gyros, curly fries, corn dogs, caramel apples and corn on the cob (usually smothered in butter). Although utterly delicious, eating more than your share of these foods will lead to calorie and fat overload. Check out the calories on some of these fair faves:

  • Giant turkey leg: 1,136 calories, 54 gram fat
  • Funnel cake (1 cake): 760 calories, 44 grams  fat
  • Fried cheesecake (6 ounces): 655 calories, 47 grams fat
  • Foot-long hot dog and bun: 470 calories, 26 grams fat
  • Fried Snickers (5 ounces): 444 calories, 29 grams fat
  • Cotton candy: 171 calories, 0 grams fat

Healthier Options
Most folks who go to a fair want to indulge in some goodies. But if you’re looking for a healthier option, sometimes you just need to settle for the least offensive food. In this case, cotton candy and caramel apples are some of the better choices –as is corn on the cob (sans the mounds of butter). Keep your eyes peeled for fresh fruits and veggies, pickles and lean cuts of meat.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the fair without falling trap to the plethora of heart-clogging foods lining the streets.

  • Eat before you go: If you go hungry, you’ll be more likely to grab every deliciously greasy food in site. Better choices are made on a full stomach.
  • Go early: Arrive before all the enticing aromas draw you in.
  • Avoid grazing: Don’t take a little taste from every booth. Before you know it, you’ll rack up more calories than you need in one day.
  • Scout before buying: Walk around and decide which two or three foods you’ll order.
  • Share: The portions at most fairs were made for sharing.
  • Get a little exercise: Take a stroll around the area during or after the fair. Come prepared by wearing sneakers or other comfortable shoes.

TELL US: What’s your favorite fair food?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (11)

  1. Jennifer says:

    As a vegetarian my choices are limited when I attend a fair. Also, the price of a funnel cake (which would be my favorite choice) has gone up to $5.00 at most fairs! I usually eat before I go but if I must splurge, it would be either a funnel cake or some ice cream.

  2. @NitaLeotta says:

    I live in the Syracuse area and attend the famous NY State Fair – http://www.nysfair.org . The best advice in the article is to eat before you go, otherwise its impossible to resist temptation to binge. My favorite Fair food is fried dough.

  3. Donna says:

    Love the Ribbon Fries at the Fulton County Fair in Wauseon Ohio. They also have the BEST sausage sandwiches and milkshakes from the local pork and dairy producers.

  4. lynn says:

    wisconsin state fair – fresh, made as you wait, Cream puffs…totally awesome…too big to eat alone, must share.

  5. SugarFrosted says:

    Here in the south, if it can be battered, it can be fried. Arkansas State Fair has everything, plus BBQ, and Gyros. Also enormous candy/caramel apples and about 10 different kinds of fudge made while you watch. However, As a diabetic with high cholesterol, I don't eat anything at the fair. I usually carry a package of nuts and a bottle of water in my purse.

  6. Angie says:

    As a Syracuse native, I remember the NYS fair as a child, I always wanted the Cotton Candy, now that I am diabetic, I sometimes must splurge on carbs to avoid all the fat and sodium…but the prices can limit too much binging…haha

    Eating prior to going is the best way to curve your appetite during any type of socializing…

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