Summer Time heralds the start of State and County Fairs and Festivals. Typically a highlight or focal point for many communities. Often packed full of exhibitions, attractions, amusements and most of all: FOOD. From farm fresh produce to almost everything imagined (and not even conceived) battered, deep-fried and set on a stick. Amazingly cheesy, greasy, gooey, concoctions that dangerously blow through our sodium counts for the day. A sad affair for those of us that want to enjoy these events and stay on our low sodium journey.
But fear not! I am a firm believer in finding ways for us to still enjoy life. In other posts, I have crafted low sodium restaurant guides that allow us to eat low sodium at many of the top restaurant chains. I hate it when we have to skip a restaurant or event due to there not being food options for us. So here is The Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals.
In Minnesota, we have one of the largest State Fairs in the United States. The Minnesota State Fair is known as “The Great Minnesota Get-Together.” About 1.8 million people visit each year, which in a state of 5.4 million is getting close to half of us attend. The Minnesota State Fair boasts over 500 food choices. It is enough of a food spectacle that it gets National coverage from publications like Bon Appetit Magazine and from Food Celebs like Andrew Zimmern. So I would be in fairly good company to attempt to create the Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals.
Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals
In a place where you can get Big Fat Bacon on a stick, which is 1/4 to 1/3 lb of bacon on a stick, deep fried and glazed in maple syrup (over 1000 mg of sodium), it is a daunting task to find low sodium items. You really need the help of an Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals. When you go to any Fairs and Festivals, the stereotype of the food profile includes: salt, cheese, batters, breading, and highly processed meats. not the most conducive favor profiles to imagine low sodium items. Yes the bad items also seem to dominate the landscape, but just as we have learned from grocery shopping, low sodium items are there if you take the time and look.
While I did use the Minnesota State Fair for my research, the rules and guidelines I will mention below should apply universally to your local festival and fairs as well. Just like we do with restaurants and grocery stores, we need to start with some research. We should check out if there is a map or listing of all the food options. If that is not possible the best advice I can give is that you should do an exploratory lap to check out all of the different options. Besides helping you to hit your number of daily steps, it will help you set up your strategy.
A Low Sodium Strategy For Festivals & Fairs
One great aspect of many festivals and fairs is that they often include local growers that may offer some fresh fruit and vegetables. So we at least have a starting place. Some low sodium detective skills will also help. Many of the same rules and guidelines that I included in my tips for eating low sodium while dining out come into play here in The Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals:
- Many Food Items have Nutritional Information online – Your mobile device is your friend. A quick Google search for nutritional information of food items will help you understand what the sodium numbers look like.
- Choose Smaller Portions – You can mitigate some of the damage by ordering something to share. The simple act of reducing the portion will reduce sodium. Just remember, half of 2000 mg doesn’t make it good for you!
- Look for Fresh Food – This might be hard at a Festival or Fair. So many items will be frozen before even arriving at the location. Fresh fish, poultry, lean cuts of meat, fruits, and vegetables will all have less sodium than their frozen counterparts. Those are typically dipped in saltwater in order to be “flash” frozen.
- There are words on the menu that can help guide choices – Words like: grilled, steamed, baked, broiled, and poached all indicate healthier cooking methods. Cured, smoked, fried, creamed, buttered, and marinaded are cooking methods that involve more sodium.
- Ask for Sauces, Dressings, and Spreads on the Side – These all are typically laden with sodium. When ordered on the side, you can control the amount of sodium being added.
- Bring your own Seasonings – Bring your own low sodium or salt free seasonings, dressings, and sauces.
Sweet Advice for Low Sodium Sweets
Many of the choices at festivals and fairs center around desserts. Sodium tends to hide in creams, and dairy. Options like ice cream and milkshakes can run you 100 mg per scoop or more. Healthier choices would be options like fresh and frozen fruit, sorbets, frozen yogurts, and angel food cake would all be good.
Talk to the Chef
Ok, most of the people working the booths at fairs or festivals, will not be able to help you when you ask about sodium. They won’t know if a dish can be altered or modified. If you approach the booth at a slower time, you might be able to speak to the cooks. If you can explain your needs, they might have ideas to help, or at least can tell you if something cannot be modified to reduce the sodium.
Allow Yourself a Cheat Item
If you are diligent in your low sodium life you should not feel too guilty for allowing yourself a cheat item. You will need to plan the rest of your meals to help counter the sodium you take in. It is better that you enjoy the experience. Just don’t make it a habit. If you have been living a low sodium life for a while, then you probably won’t go too far off the rails. Our taste buds just don’t agree with the taste of sodium, and items will taste inedible with too much salt. Remember, I am not a Doctor, so you need to listen to yours as to why you are on a low sodium diet, and try to stick to your limits to protect your health.
What I found to eat at The Minnesota State Fair
I used the Minnesota State Fair as my research field to create The Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals. So I want to let you know what treats I found. Maybe they have similar options at your festivals or fairs? You can find these food locations on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Interactive Map, and the Food Finder. All of these items fall under 750 mg of sodium:
- Fruit and or Vegetable Smoothies (various flavors) from Caribbean Smoothies
- Chicken and Rice Bowl from Patinella’s Chicken Grill
- Assorted Fresh Fruit from the Produce Exchange (2 locations on the fairgrounds)
- Frozen Grapes from Bayou Bob’s Gator Shack
- A fresh fruit wrap from Fried Fruit & Fried Olives
- A Naked Pickle On a Stick – Preferred Pickles
- Dairy-Free, Gluten Free Frozen Fruit Bar from Key Lime Pie Bar
- Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich (get without the bun) from Smokey’s Charbroiler
- Grilled Shrimp On A Stick from The Shrimp Shack
- Chicken Breast or Pork Chop On A Stick from Pork Chops & Chicken
- Assorted Wraps in various combinations (ask for it in a bowl without the wrap) from That’s a Wrap
- Burnt Butt Ends (avoid the dipping sauce) from RC’s BBQ
- BBQ Shrimp Tacos from Tejas Express
- Spicy Pork Bowl from The Blue Barn
- Cajun Peel & Eat Shrimp from Cafe Caribe
- Shaved Ice from Minnesnowii
- Banana Cinnamon & Cream Dipped in Dark Chocolate from Johnny Pops
- Bang Bang Fresh Chicken Tenders (avoid the dipping sauce) from LuLu’s Public House
- Sheep Dog (a Lamb dog that can be ordered without a bun) from The Lamb Shoppe
I’m sure it is not a comprehensive list. Let me know in the comments what you find that would make this low sodium list. I will always welcome more information to improve this Ultimate Low Sodium Guide to Fairs and Festivals.