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How to Eat Healthy at County Fairs and Carnivals

Eating Healthy in the Face of Carnival Food

Since Summer began, I've been to three county fairs, one water park, and a beach boardwalk amusement park. At the first county fair of the season, I let myself enjoy any of the classic carnival foods that I wanted to. In all honesty, I have a huge affection for hand dipped corn dogs and fresh cut spiral fries. But, with more county fairs on the schedule, I know this type of eating can't last. With three fairs already under my belt, here's how I've been staying healthy amid the Ferris wheels, deep fryers, and meat on a stick.

  • Pack your own snacks. Everything you eat at a fair doesn't have to come from a food shack. I mix things up by packing a few of my own snacks to enjoy while there. On a recent trip to the Marin County Fair, I packed plenty of water, whole-wheat crackers, and sliced watermelon. Bringing your own foods to snack on also helps combat the high prices attached to most food items sold at fairs.
  • Enjoy at least one indulgence. Part of the allure of a fair or carnival is the specialty food so don't deprive yourself. I plan ahead by indulging in foods that I know are specialties of each fair. Since the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has really good hand dipped corn dogs, I always plan to get one there. And there's no way I'm missing out on pasta from the Spaghetti Palace at this year's Sonoma County Fair. Since I already have an idea of what treat I want from each fair, it curbs spontaneous purchases based on hunger pangs.

See more tips for eating healthy at carnivals when you


  • Keep things small by sharing with your friends. An easy way to try out fun carnival food without going overboard is to split dishes with your friends. Funnel cake is a classic carnival food — it's also notoriously bad for you. Often my friends and I just want to try a bite of something so we'll get one dish and split it.
  • Sit down when you eat. Grazing at a carnival can be pretty hazardous given that most of the food choices are unhealthy. Even though you're at a fair, it doesn't mean you have to abandon your normal eating times. My friends and I always eat together at a table for lunch and/or dinner when we're at a fair instead of grazing on the go.
  • Choose healthy when you can. Not all fair food is bad, and some is definitely better than others. If you can, stay away from foods that go into a deep fryer, and look for grilled items instead. I usually can find grilled corn on the cob, meat kebabs, or barbecue turkey legs at most carnivals. Mostly use your common sense, it's easier to find healthy options if you're open to looking for them.
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Join The Conversation
Spectra Spectra 7 years
Every year, my husband and I go to the county fair and instead of eating tons of fatty fair food, we get a bag of cotton candy to split. It's not that high in calories and it's a fun little treat. It's the only time I ever really eat it, so I don't feel too guilty about eating it.
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