Eating healthy at the Great Jones County Fair is challenging but not impossible.
With help from Holly Paulsen and Marilyn McCall, two registered dieticians at the Jones Regional Medical Center in Anamosa, I was able to follow some tips they provided and seek out a few concession stands that offered healthier food options.
First tip: Start the day with breakfast.
This tip can be easily accomplished, especially if you planned to arrive at the fair later on in the day. Every morning before I arrived at the fair I ate my usual Honey Nut Cheerios with almond milk and a banana. Sometimes I ate a blue berry muffin to change it up.
Second tip: Stay hydrated with water or other low calorie beverages.
This tip was the easiest of them all. I always carried a bottle of water in my backpack and if I needed more I walked back to my car where I kept a cooler full of water for the rest of the day. I know that not everyone is able to walk back to their car conveniently to grab water, but if you can carry a few bottles in a backpack or reuse a water bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain you’re good to go. It beats purchasing bottled water for $3 at the food stands.
If you must have a beverage besides water, I recommend drinking a lemonade from the Walking Taco stand because the only ingredients are water, lemons and sugar. I inspected their method and was shown evidence of smashed lemons used to make the lemonade. If you want to stay away from the sugar in the lemonade you can ask for a cup of lemon water instead as a healthier option.
Third tip: Don’t eat the first thing you see. Walk around and check out the options. Look for grilled foods, kebabs, corn on the cob, fresh fruit, frozen yogurt, bananas and small portions of ice cream.
This is a useful tip. It’s tempting to approach the first food stand you see if you’re hungry and buy something, but if you walk around, you may find something better. This was true as I walked by each of the 30 some food stands looking for a healthier option. I came across lots of meat choices, which are good but I had to make sure they weren’t fried. That’s where it got challenging.
A lot of the stands offered chicken on a stick, which sounded good. I ate one, and it was delicious. After one hour, my stomach became upset because it was too greasy. I should have chosen a grilled item such as grilled shrimp on a stick from the Shrimp Shack or grilled meat at Steve’s Meat Shop, which included turkey legs, ribeye steaks, pork chops and hamburgers.
As I kept walking around to each food stand, I came across Marios Gyros, which offered chicken, lamb, beef and vegetables. Yes, I said vegetables. You could purchase a meal there that included carrots, squash, onions, broccoli, peppers or cauliflower. This was by far the healthiest stand I found because of all of the vegetables.
The second most healthy food stand I found was Doghouse Concessions, which offered gluten-free food including sirloin steak, pork, mashed potatoes, onions, mushrooms and green beans. I was told that I could order a bowl of just vegetables if I wanted to.
Their vegetable options were limited compared to Marios Gyros. Anyway, the third concession stand I found was the Old West BBQ, which offered pulled pork and smoked beef sandwiches, which aren’t too bad since they aren’t fried.
I could not find corn on the cob, fresh fruit or frozen yogurt. I did manage to find ice cream from the Jones County Dairy Producers and treated myself to one. I did see bananas and strawberries at smoothie stands. I asked an employee if I could just purchase a banana or strawberries, but I was turned down.
Fourth tip: Share your food.
Unfortunately it was just me, myself and I, so I wasn’t able to share food with anyone. I decided to bring a cooler and pack a sandwich to eat instead of fair food. If you attended the fair with family or friends, this tip would be easy, too. If you want a funnel cake or cotton candy next year bring a family member or friend along so you can share it. You’ll feel less guilty about consuming calories and sharing will help your waistline.
Fifth tip: Whatever food you choose, enjoy it! Find a comfortable place to sit. Eat slowly and savor your yearly treat.
I was able to follow this tip. I purchased an ice cream cone from the Jones County Dairy Producers and walked around the Berndes Center while I ate it. I only had one during fair week. The chicken on a stick was my “yearly treat.” I usually don’t eat anything on a stick at fairs, but this one seemed tempting to me. I enjoyed it until an hour later when my stomach became upset. Next year I’ll know better and choose a grilled meat option instead.
Sixth tip: Bring snacks and food that do not require refrigeration to tide you over until your next meal.
I was able to follow this tip as well. Because I ate breakfast every morning, I usually wasn’t that hungry for lunch. By lunch time I would eat a snack such as an apple, granola bar or trail mix. You could do the same by packing snacks that don’t require refrigeration if you plan ahead. Know what time you will attend the fair and plan accordingly. Go to the grocery store ahead of time and buy snacks like fruit and granola bars. Or pack sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly that don’t need refrigeration.