July 01, 2015 Healthy Living

Fear Not the ‘Fair Food’ Season

Ah, the fair. The sights, the sounds, the SMELLS! For many, it’s a summertime tradition. Whether you are there for the rides, the shows, or the animals, the one thing you always end up doing is eating. For those who are trying to stick to healthy eating habits, a day at the fair can be a minefield of fat-filled and fried temptation.

As you pass through the gates, you hit a crossroads – do you seek out the grilled veggies, or do you head straight for the deep-fried Oreos? Thankfully, with a little planning, you can find (fairly) healthy food AND indulge in a treat or two.


While corn dogs and french fries are common staples at concession stands, there are vendors who offer food for the more health-conscious consumer. At many carnivals and fairs, you can find grilled chicken, baked potatoes (go easy on the butter and sour cream), and fruit (no, candy apples don’t count!). You can even find international and specialty eats. For example, those who prefer to go meatless will have a new choice at this year’s New York State Fair. Syracuse-based Strong Hearts Café will be the first all-vegan/vegetarian vendor in the fair’s history.

Know this, though, in your search for healthy options, you are going to encounter some unbelievable concoctions. Need proof? The brave souls at Syracuse.com sampled every food vendor at the 2014 NYS Fair. Here’s a taste of what they ate:

  • Deep-fried mashed potatoes on a stick. Yup, this is real. And, you can get this as part of a deep-fried platter with such items as fried mac-and-cheese and fried manicotti.
  • The Heart Attack Burger doesn’t have a full description, but there is a mention that it comes with mac-and-cheese on top.
  • Fried peanut butter and jelly. Enough said! But if you want more, this same stand also offers the TwinX – a Twix bar in a Twinkie, with bacon. Oh, did I mention … it’s fried!


I know, the deep-fried-smothered-in-chocolate-topped-with-sugar treats can be near-impossible to resist. But consider the “cost” before taking a bite. On the CalorieKing™ website, you can look up a variety of foods that are commonly sold at carnivals and fairs to get a general idea of nutrition facts such as calories, fat, and sodium content.

Here are a few examples from CalorieKing (remember, these are estimates):

  • Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich (13 oz): 679 calories, 36g fat, 1,250mg sodium
  • Nachos with Cheese (9” plate): 859 calories, 59g fat, 1,811mg sodium
  • Deep-Fried Oreos (5 cookies): 891 calories, 48.1g fat, 847mg sodium


By now, you are probably thinking, “All right already! So what CAN I eat?” Rest assured, you don’t have to go hungry. There are tasty choices available that will satisfy your hunger without the guilt of overindulging. We’ve even included a few fair favorites. Here are the “blue ribbon” winners*:

fairfood_blueribbonHave This:
Grilled chicken pita with ranch dressing (12.1 oz) 679 cal, 19.2g fat (Skip the ranch dressing to cut the calories and fat; add veggies such as lettuce and tomato, if possible.)
Not That:fairfood_x2
Smoked turkey leg w/skin and BBQ sauce (1lb, 3 oz) 1,145 cal, 54g fat
fairfood_blueribbonHave This:
Jumbo corn dog (6 oz) 375 cal, 21g fat or a chili dog (6 oz) 450 cal, 32g fat (Drop the chili and you can save a few calories.)
Not That:fairfood_x2
Jumbo bratwurst w/bun (9.4 oz) 803 cal, 60.5g fat
fairfood_blueribbonHave This:
Fried artichoke (9 pieces) 250 cal, 14g fat (If you really want the onion, stick with onion rings – 6 rings clock in at 620 cal, 26g fat.)
Not That:fairfood_x2
Onion flower (battered and deep-fried full onion) 1,319 cal, 72g fat
fairfood_blueribbonHave This:
Fudge (1.5 oz) 200 cal, 11g fat (It’s a small serving, but fudge is rich enough to satisfy a sweet tooth without having to eat large amounts.)
Not That:fairfood_x2
Cheesecake on a stick (6 oz) 654 cal, 47g fat
fairfood_blueribbonHave This:
Sherbet (8 oz) 270 cal, 4g fat ……..   …  …   ……..          ………         ……. ……….. …….. ……   ………. ……… .. ……..  …… …  …….
Not That:fairfood_x2
Ice cream on a sugar cone (10 oz) 774 cal, 42g fat

*Estimates are based on calorie counts from CalorieKing.com

As you may have guessed by now, the keys to making it through a day at the fair are being prepared and not overdoing it. Planning + moderation = happy and satisfied.

Here are tips from WebMD and Nutrition411 on how to enjoy the fair:

Don’t go hungry: If your stomach is rumbling before you even get to the fairgrounds, the temptations are going to be hard to resist.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day: Don’t confuse thirst for hunger.

Share your food: If you just gotta have it, consider sharing your plate. This way, you get a taste but you’re not on the hook for consuming all of the calories.

Be mindful: If you spend the day constantly munching, you will lose track of exactly how much you consumed. Set aside a time in the day where you sit down and enjoy what you are eating.

Bring your own: Yes, you may be able to bring a cooler with your own food and drinks into fair. Check the fair’s website for policies and restrictions.

Watch out for sneaky calories: Liquid calories (soda, beer, etc.) add up quickly. In addition, watch the condiments you add to your food – think cheese sauce, ranch dressing, sour cream, butter, mayo, barbecue sauce, etc. Remember, each of these items add to the total number of fat and calories you take in.


fairfood_cheesecakeIt’s OK if you do eat some of the less-than-healthy fair foods. Moderation is the key. If you do go overboard, don’t beat yourself up. One day will not derail your healthy lifestyle. Make a plan to get back on track.


An easy fix is to add exercise. With CDPHP® inMotion™, you can track your workouts and log your food – all on the go! Better yet, it’s free! You can even determine what you need to do to work off those extra calories.

Say you do have the cheesecake on a stick for 654 calories. It will take about one hour of running/jogging* to burn it off.fairfood_oreos

Planning on eating five deep-fried Oreos (891 calories)? Get ready to swim laps* for more than an hour and a half. If you take on that entire onion flower (1,319 calories) by yourself, expect to be in your spinning class* for 2 hours and 20 minutes!

*Activities/calories burned based on 5’5” 150lb female.




Now that you have armed yourself with information, get your plan together, and have a great time! The calendars below give you a glimpse of some of the fairs taking place this summer across New York. We’ve also created a convenient, printable list for you. Looking for more fairs? Click here for the full New York state list.




Thanks to Therese Gadomski, CDPHP Health Promotion Specialist, who contributed to this article. 

Ali Skinner
About the Author

Ali Skinner is a communications professional with nearly 20 years of media, marketing, advertising, and public relations experience. She joined CDPHP in November 2011 and currently serves as Vice President, Communications and External Affairs for one of the top health plans in New York and the nation. In this role, Ali oversees all internal and external communications, public relations, and government relations for the plan’s 400,000 members and 1,200 employees. A self-described recovering journalist, Ali spent 10 years writing and delivering news for a number of television and radio stations in the Syracuse and Albany, NY markets. Today, she uses her journalism background to help patients and the public make sense of complex health care topics.

6 Responses to “Fear Not the ‘Fair Food’ Season”

  1. Bertha Rand

    You are right about the food. We are a small fair but we do have several vendors that serve meals like chicken n’ bisquits with veggies or hot turkey with mashed potatoes and coleslaw. Plus real strawberry shortcake or green salads. But lots of people like the fair food because it is a once a year event so the indulge. Hope you come north to the beautiful Adirondacks for a fun, family experience. Note: Westport is half way between historic Fort Ticonderoga and the home of 2 Winter Olympics – Lake Placid. (Still working on our web page but the schedule is right.) Thanks for posting our fair dates Aug 12 – 16, 2015. Admission is $12. each which includes the carnival rides, (no tickets to buy – ride all day on the admission price) parking and most of the show.

    • Deanna Amore-Mies

      Thanks for the comment. It’s nice to see that even small fairs offer healthier options. We hope folks head out and enjoy your fair no matter what they eat! ~ Deanna

  2. Anthony Ostrander

    Great article! More reasons why I do not go to the fair. If only some of your “Have This” choices were fresh veggies or fruit then I would be set.

    • Deanna Amore-Mies

      Hi, Anthony. Thanks for the comment. It was tough to find a healthier “Have This” equivalent to the foods listed. Luckily, there are plenty of farms in our area that offer a variety of fresh produce. Check out our farmers’ market and pick-your-own guides. If you have a favorite that we may have missed, please let us know! ~ Deanna

  3. Gayle Smith

    Loved this article! I’m in Human Resources and I am sending a link to our staff (most have CDPHP). Timely and really great article – not dry and preachy, but very practical. Thank you. (P.S. I love the Washington County Fair). Great to see the links to fair websites.

    • Deanna Amore-Mies

      Hi, Gayle: Thank you for the compliments! Also, thank you for sharing with your staff — it’s wonderful that you’re helping your employees make healthy choices. I hope you and your co-workers have a great time at the fairs. ~ Deanna

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