Couple sharing cotton candy at fairSpring might have been slow to warm up, but summer is just around the corner, and summertime in Indiana means fairs, festivals, and food trucks. This can be the season for  deep-fried, sugar-laden, high-calorie foods and beverages. If you attend one or even two of these events over the summer, you shouldn’t worry too much about wrecking your diet by indulging in some of your favorite things. However, if you’re like many 4-H families who will be spending much of your time at these events, you might want to take note of some ideas that will help you stick to your healthy living plan.​

When planning an outing to a fair or festival, plan to eat before you go. ​

Eating a nutritious meal before you arrive to all the delicious aromas and temptations will make you less likely to head straight toward the food vendors. Another good idea is to bring your own healthy snacks. Choose snacks that contain protein and healthy carbohydrates such as nuts, fruit, cheese sticks, and whole-grain crackers. Eating before you arrive and bringing your own snacks not only saves you calories; it also saves you money!

candy applesStay hydrated.​

Staying hydrated is important. Sometimes thirst mimics hunger, leading us to eat when we’re really just thirsty. Bring along a water bottle, and be sure to drink enough water to maintain hydration.​

What if you arrive to a fair or festival empty-handed and hungry​?

Healthier choices are offered at nearly every fair, festival, and food truck. You just need to know what to look for. When choosing protein or vegetable-based foods, look for grilled or roasted options. Choose ​sweet treats that contain fruit, or share your favorite with several friends.

Consider these tips.

  • Choose roasted corn on the cob instead of deep-fried veggies or onion blossoms. The roasted corn is only 50 calories and 1 gram of fat without butter or 200 calories with butter. The onion blossom is 1175 calories and 75 grams of fat!
  • For a sweet treat, choose a caramel apple or kettle corn over an elephant ear or funnel cake. The caramel apple contains 334 calories and 6 grams of fat, compared to the funnel cake’s 760 calories and 44 grams of fat. The kettle corn is sweetened but is  mostly popcorn, a whole grain that contains dietary fiber and B vitamins. Other sweet treats that won’t entirely wreck your nutrition plan include salt water taffy and cotton candy. Although these choices are mostly sugar, they are low in fat and calories but sure to cure your sweet tooth cravings. A fried candy bar contains 450 calories and 30 grams of fat versus three pieces of salt water taffy for 180 calories and 2.5 gram of fat. You’d have to walk for more than two hours to burn off the candy bar or three-and-a-half hours to burn off the funnel cake, but only 50 minutes to burn off the taffy.
  • Instead of a donut burger or corn dog, choose chicken or steak kebabs, grilled steak or pork sandwich, a grilled hamburger, or a grilled turkey leg. Remove the skin from the turkey leg before eating it, and consider sharing; turkey legs are generally large enough for at least two people.​

funnel cakeSome other Food for Thought: ​

Browse all the food choices before deciding what you’ll eat. Sit down to eat what you’ve chosen, and share treats and less healthy choices with others. By browsing all the food choices first, you’ll be less likely to make impulsive decisions. Sitting down to enjoy your choices helps you focus on what you’re eating and helps avoid the mindless munching that can lead to overindulgence. By sharing less healthy treats. you can have your funnel cake and eat it too! A few bites of a treat you truly love is more satisfying than an entire serving of something you consider just so-so.

How can you enjoy all the fairs, festivals, and food truck events this summer without totally wrecking your healthy living plan? ​

Eat before you go, pack your own snacks, browse all the options before making your selections, sit down to enjoy those selections, and share less healthy options with friends or family.

If you are in an Indiana 4-H club or are a 4-H club leader in Indiana, share this information with club members and families, or create a map that highlights healthy food choices you can find at your fair. If you host a food booth, consider offering at least one healthy choice.

If you are interested in more information about healthy food choices, contact Angie Frost at for more information. You can also visit The 4th H podcast website for more helpful healthy tips. Visit our Indiana 4-H Facebook page (@Indiana4H) and tell us how you plan to enjoy summer fairs, festivals, and food trucks while sticking to your healthy living plan!

Don’t forget to “Pledge your health to better living” by planning ahead, bringing your own snacks, choosing wisely, and sharing treats. Remember, life is meant to be enjoyed. One day at the fair won’t make or break a healthy diet, so enjoy your favorite treats in moderation.

Angie Frost is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension and registered dietitian. She leads a team of county Purdue Extension staff, and collaborates with campus specialists and faculty to provide opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about healthy living.

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming by creating technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities. She collaborates with Purdue Extension staff and faculty to develop new ideas for learning in 4-H for youth and adults.​