Healthy and Fun: Tips for a Healthier Experience at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair

Senior woman visiting the fairground to enjoy the rides. She is enjoying eating cotton candyBy Rachel Vincent, Registered Dietitian

An annual western North Carolina tradition is here: the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. With food trucks and vendors serving fair favorites, like candy apples, homemade ice cream, corn dogs, fried Twinkies and funnel cakes, it can be all too easy to cave in to the temptation. But with a little mindfulness and preparation, you can enjoy the fall follies while still keeping your health top of mind.

Don’t Arrive Hungry

By planning beforehand, you can avoid having to make an entire meal out of fair foods. This might mean eating lunch or dinner a little earlier than usual, or at least packing some healthy snacks to eat on the way. Without a growling stomach reminding you you’re hungry, you will be able to focus on making smarter choices and appreciating other elements of the fair.

Stay Hydrated and Rethink Your Drink

That 32-ounce soda, sweet tea or lemonade could contain anywhere from 350-450 calories. Don’t be misled by beverages with names such as “fruit water” or “all natural fruit punch” – these still contain calories and added sugar. Save yourself some calories and cash by bringing your own water bottle to refill at water fountains or asking vendors for a cup of water.

Walk Around and Explore before You Choose

Tempted to stop at the first indulgence you see or smell? Walk the whole food court and midway first. Not only will you get to fully scope out your options in order to make your most satisfying choice, but you will get a bonus of extra physical activity and movement.

Make Mindful Food Choices

Lighter savory options include corn on the cob or a soft pretzel for 150-350 calories, rather than a foot long chili dog, chili cheese fries or giant turkey leg, which each contain a whopping 560-1,100 calories.

If you want something sweet, instead of a sno-cone, fried snickers bar, deep-fried Oreos or funnel cake, which will set you back 450-750 calories each, consider choosing cotton candy, candy apple or kettle corn for 100-300 calories.

Share a Serving of Higher-calorie Fare

Many fair food portions are large enough for two or more people. Sometimes the first one to three bites of a food are the most enjoyable – any bites beyond that diminish in strength of sensory experience. Draw satisfaction from sampling or tasting something, rather than feeling obligated to eat the whole portion yourself, which may leave you feeling ill or fatigued.

Focus on Non-food Festivities

There is a lot of fun to experience at the fair beyond eating greasy and sugary foods. Plan activities such as listening to music, watching performers and dancers, viewing craft demonstrations, shopping for souvenirs, taking pictures, riding rides and playing carnival games.


Rachel Vincent, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Mission Weight Management, the region’s most comprehensive weight-loss program. Learn more about achieving your weight-loss goals at missionweight.org [1].