When surveyed as to what they most look forward to when attending a fair like The Big E – which just opened its doors for 17-days now through Oct. 4 – the resounding answer is usually “the food.”
For some whose cholesterol numbers are good and who are generally healthy – splurging for one day by munching their way through The Big E on the new Deep Fried Apple Pie, Turducken Sandwich made of turkey, duck, chicken and stuffing served like a grilled cheese, or The Big E Craz-E Burger, a bacon cheeseburger served between two halves of a grilled glazed donut – may not be a problem.
But, what if you are trying to lose weight or manage your high cholesterol or blood sugars? And what if your doctor has prescribed a gluten-free diet? You certainly don’t want to skip The Big E and deprive yourself and others of a good time – yet the temptation to eat, eat, eat is challenging.
Come up with a game plan
“The answer is to plan ahead,” said Michelle Edwards in Food and Nutrition Services at Baystate Medical Center, who along with many of her fellow dietitians go to The Big E to enjoy all that the fair has to offer.
Even before arriving at The Big E, Edwards suggests having a snack with protein, such as an apple with peanut butter to provide you with healthy carbohydrates and protein.
“This will help to prevent you from over-eating and also helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels,” she said.
Drink lots of water
Another thing to think about is staying hydrated before you go and while you are at The Big E.
Some options are to bring in your own water bottle, buy water or seltzer with a twist of lemon/lime or a splash of cranberry juice, unsweetened iced tea or flavored water to quench your thirst.
A great thing about these options is that in addition to staying hydrated, you are not filling up on empty calories from sugary beverages and can put your calories toward the foods that you want to splurge on at The Big E, noted Baystate registered dietitian Lora Warren.
Save splurging for unique foods
“Think about what you want to eat before you order it. Don’t waste your calories on food that you can have any day of the week. It’s ok to splurge on a favorite food or treat, but try to balance it by eating well for the rest of the day or week,” said Warren. “Also, consider sharing your favorite Big E food item with whoever accompanied you to the fair. That way you will decrease your caloric intake.”
The dietitians asked a couple of health-conscious Baystate employees what “they do” when they go to the fair. Several said they “only splurge on one item that they really love.”
Another, who is concerned about high sodium intake because of hypertension, selects tasty fried dough as opposed to a bacon cheeseburger. She also only eats half of what she buys and saves the rest for later.
Know your healthier choices
Both Warren and Edwards say that if you are concerned about foods to stay away from, then avoid the deep fried items and foods prepared with creamy sauces.
Foods to spurge on include lean meats (like the salmon sticks in the Maine Building) or foods that have been roasted or grilled.
Better desserts to try may be frozen yogurt or yummy caramel apples that you’ll find at almost every fair – and at The Big E.
If you are looking for some quick and healthy options for your kids at the fair, then keep your eye out for fresh fruit, raw vegetables, and cheese. Limit the number of treats. For some children under the age of five, who are particularly fussy or on a special diet, it may be beneficial to bring one healthy snack from home to have the best Big E experience, which includes many other wonderful activities.
When it comes to gluten free foods, the dietitians recommend checking with the food vendor before purchase.
Sheila Sullivan, who has walked The Big E many a day reporting for local television on fair food, notes fairgoers will be getting plenty of healthy exercise while walking from one end of the fair to the other.
“Make sure to wear a pair of comfortable shoes or sneakers,” said Sullivan.