Westend61 / Larissa Veronesi

The local summer fair may seem like an endless row of fried, dipped, and smothered, but we have our picks to eat festive treats and keep your health in check. 

August 10, 2017

One of my fondest summer memories growing up is going to the county fair. I would ride the Zipper carnival ride until I felt sick to my stomach, cheer for the tiniest porker at the pig race, and lick my fingers clean of powdered sugar from the brown bag that was once full of fresh zeppoles. I recall sitting with a cone of chocolate ice cream watching the fireworks light up the sky as the slowly melting dessert turned the grass brown. 

As I got older, these food-centered memories turned into a struggle to find something that wouldn't ruin my eating habits. At this past year's fair, my father and I chuckled at the fresh vegetables signs plastered on food tents with tempura batter fried scribbled underneath, leaving us to settle for a shared taco salad in a desperate moment of needing something fresh. 

Sure, nobody actually goes to the fair anticipating healthy options galore, but through the years I have found options tucked behind the deep fryer. Here are our picks for the best food at the local carnival, because it's not really summer without some fair food. 

5 Dishes to Skip

Deep Fried Anything 

At the heart of every fair is a paper bag full of deep fried Oreos and a plate of whipped cream topped funnel cakes. If the bag of cookies and dough on their own weren't enough, tossing them in a heavy batter and then cooking them in a large vessel of oil is a calorie bomb waiting to happen. 

If you find you must have something in this category to feel like you've been to the fair, go for a small container of old-school French fries. You'll save calories without the batter, and keep your sugar in check without crazy toppings.

Sugar Bombs 

Anything chocolate covered, caramel dipped, or piled high with whipped cream can be passed on. The extra calories just aren't worth it, and you'll get more out of something sweet that's a little lighter. See below for our recommendations to fulfill your carnival sweet tooth. 

Food in Bulk

Unless there are really 20 people with you willing to share your bucket of 20 cookies, there's zero need to buy anything in bulk. Once you've already paid for the entire container, you're more likely to over indulge, and nobody needs 32 ounces of lemonade or a bag full of deep fried Twinkies to themselves. 

Drinks 

It may seem like getting a beverage at the fair is a good alternative to a high-calorie snack, but drinks are hidden calorie capsules you should reconsider. Keep in mind that liquids still have calories, so that fresh squeezed lemonade you're buying is packed with tons of sugar and the beer you're sipping on has approximately 150 calories in one bottle. Keep yourself hydrated with a simple bottle of water or unsweetened iced tea; it will lower your calorie intake and help balance the high salt foods you may eat. 

Food Mashups

Burgers with buns made of donuts or grilled cheese are a disaster waiting to happen to your normal diet. These meals were originally made separate for a reason, because a burger topped with fried Oreos is likely more calories than you need in a day. Stick to a plain burger OR grilled cheese at the next county fair and save your mashups for combining veggies in a stir-fry at home. 

5 Dishes to Order

Corn on the Cob

Summer is the time for corn, and fairs are the place to get some tasty varieties. Don't go crazy with the toppings, but a simple piece of grilled corn can make you feel festive, while keeping your healthy eating plan in check. Skip the butter, or add it yourself to control how much goes on the cob.

Grilled Meat

Tons of fairs offer kebab-style grilled meats, turkey legs, and even grilled chicken sandwiches. Stick with this method of cooking lean proteins for a healthier alternative to fried chicken or a greasy bacon-wrapped burger. 

Simple Snacks

When it comes to carnival snacking, the simpler the better. Skip the soft serve ice cream and fried Snickers bar, and go with plain popcorn for a treat that's super low-calorie per its weight, or share a bag of roasted nuts for some filling protein and healthy fats. 

Fresh Foods 

Believe it or not, nearly every fair sells something fresh. I'm not recommending grabbing the sad plate of iceberg lettuce, but take the time to seek out fresh fruit options or even fresh veggies at some carnivals. Opt for chili powder covered mango on a stick, veggies and dip, or even try for a caramel apple with the caramel sauce on the side. 

Chilly Treats 

Your sweet tooth is bound to come out when you're surrounded by sugar coated everything, but there are tons of options at the fair that are healthier sweet treats. Fresh fruit smoothies, frozen yogurt, or Italian ices are great ways to avoid heavy, creamy splurges, while still giving you a little something sweet.