Fall, Fairs, Festivals and Food: Tackling Fall Fair Food

The fall season in North Texas brings with it a wide variety of fairs and festivals from the State Fair of Texas to Greek festivals, Ocktoberfest and celebrations of the much-beloved taco. So how do you enjoy these delectable once-a-year treats without throwing in the towel on your healthy eating plan? Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Arlington, has some great ideas to allow us all to enjoy these highly anticipated annual celebrations without too much guilt.

“We all enjoy being outdoors at fairs and other celebrations this time of year, and great food and drink are part of the attraction,” Taylor says. “But with a little planning and research, we can enjoy these gatherings with family and friends without denying ourselves a delicious treat and getting off track on healthy eating. The key here is moderation.”

We asked Taylor to give us some practical advice to follow before heading out the door — without spoiling all the fun!

How can we splurge without too feeling too guilty?

First off, everyone can go and enjoy these events. I do, but there are some simple tips here to navigate the endless food options offered each year. First, consider portion control by sharing your food. The quantities served up in North Texas are usually enormous — so splurge on your favorite treat, grab a few forks or small plates, and offer to your companions. That way you’ll have a chance to try a lot of different foods without overindulging. 

Won’t walking at fairs and festivals help?

Yes, walking helps burn those food calories, but you might be surprised to learn that according to an Iowa dietitian who did the calculations, you need to walk 3 miles — or 6,000 steps — to burn off calories from a funnel cake. Or 4.5 miles (9,000 steps) to burn off a corn dog. That’s a lot of walking, but you can make a game of it. Whether you use a popular phone app, wrist device or pedometer, it’s smart to track your steps.

How do I make a game of walking and still eat my favorite fair treats?

Here’s a simple strategy that’s easy to follow at the State Fair of Texas: When you arrive, grab a map that pinpoints the locations of your favorite foods. Many of the same foods — corn dogs, for example — are offered at multiple spots through the fairgrounds. So, challenge yourself to walk to the farthest location – and you’ll get those steps in. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to hop on your favorite ride, see a cool exhibit, pet a farm animal or test your game skills on the midway.   

Are there kinds of foods we should avoid altogether?  What foods are better?

The real caution is avoiding overeating – and skip the foods that are super-sized.  We all have the mindset that more is better, but remember that controlled portion strategies are important – and walk off the food.  My advice is to go online and do a bit of research to look at the foods that are going to be offered.  I’ve also found healthier, creative food options indoors at the fair – where you also can get healthier, smaller samples at cooking demonstrations.  Again, the key is to do a bit of advance planning and map your strategy.

What’s your advice when it comes to drinks?

Many beverages offered at fairs and similar events are full of sugar and unwanted calories.  A helpful tip is to buy a bottle of water early and refill it as needed.  You’ll save money and calories – and will tend to be less hungry.   

What other advice would you like to share about navigating fall festivals and avoiding the temptation of foods offered there?

In addition to planning, I’d also recommend eating a snack, meal or smoothie before you go. You’ll feel less hungry and won’t be as tempted to overindulge in that giant order of curly fries or sugar-dusted funnel cake.

What time of day you enjoy festivals and similar festivals also is key. It’s a known fact that we tend to have better control of our diet earlier in the day so I recommend going in the morning or early afternoon if your schedule allows.

What happens if we eat too much despite the best of intentions?

Overeating is not uncommon because it’s easy to get caught up in the festive atmosphere with great food smells swirling all around you.  My advice is to not allow your trip to the fair to derail your good eating habits.  Start fresh the next morning and work to stay focused on eating well.

If you’re curious about your personal nutrition needs, check out our Wellness Tools section for calculators for fitness and health. For more information about this season’s North Texas fairs and festivals, click here for the Dallas Morning News’ guide. 

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