Amid the bright colors, dizzying rides and fried-food frenzy that is the county fair, even the most steadfast healthy eater may be tempted to overindulge. But you can indulge without going overboard.
Jumbo sodas, doughy desserts and greasy meats — all delicious, all not so nutritious. But you can't just skip them and go hungry on your day at the fair. Where's the fun in that?
Here are five tips for healthier eating at the fair.
Eat Before You Go
Before you go to the fair, you may be too excited to prepare a home-cooked meal, but you probably should. Anjali Shah, board-certified health coach and owner of health food blog The Picky Eater, says showing up at the fair with a full stomach will make you more likely to behave.
"Eat a regular meal before you go to the fair," she told dailyRx News. "Plan to go in between meals so you aren't starving when you get there, and that way you are less likely to overdo it at the funnel cake stand."
BYOV: Bring Your Own Veggies
Most fairs allow outside food, so take the opportunity to pack some carrot sticks, celery or whatever raw vegetable you'd like to snack on, recommends Wooster Community Hospital in Ohio.
You can also opt for fruit.
"If you can find it, get some fruit," Shah said. "Not candy apples or caramel apples, but just regular, whole fruit. Eat that as a snack while you're at the fair to help satisfy your sweet tooth."
Eating something healthy when you're craving fried food or other unhealthy treats is likely to help with your craving and keep you feeling full. Past studies have found that the fiber in fruits and veggies makes you feel full for longer.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of water at the fair won't just help you beat the heat — it's also a good way to make yourself feel full.
"Drink lots of water in between any snacks you get at the fair," Shah said. "That will help you to feel full and stay hydrated, which will make you less likely to crave a ton of the high fat/high calorie choices there."
Modify Your Food
Fair food might be unhealthy, but you don't have to take it at face value. If you're going to allow yourself to order something, ask the booth worker to modify it to make it more healthy, Shah recommended.
"For example, if you get corn on the cob, ask for it without butter and you'll be saving a ton of fat and calories," she said.
Wooster Community Hospital offers some other food modification ideas to make your fair food healthier. Want a soft pretzel? Go for it, but ask for it with no salt.
When faced with a choice in the type of meat on, for example, a sandwich, opt for the chicken rather than the steak or sausage — Wooster Hospital says that choice could save you about 300 calories.
And here's a sweet modification: choose the caramel apple over fried vegetables. The apple has about half the calories, Wooster says.
Sometimes a healthy snack from home or a healthy modification just won't do — you've got to taste some classic fair food. It's a tough spot to be in, but Shah says the solution is simple.
"Split anything you get with at least three people," she said. "Go in a group, and get some of the treats to share as a group. A piece of fried chicken divided amongst at least three to four people as a small bite is much better than eating the whole thing by yourself."
So, if you've just got to have that funnel cake with extra powdered sugar, get it — but share. After all, it's only fair.