Amid the sizzle of the deep-fryer, the sticky, sweet scent of sugar and grease-soaked napkins, it can seem near impossible to find healthy eats.
But never fear, fairgoer! The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair offers a wide variety of food vendors to satisfy virtually any taste bud or diet.
This year’s options go beyond classic carnival chow, from first-time vendor European Foods offering fried green tomatoes and pastrami sandwiches to 16-year stall Bavarian Roasted Nuts providing cinnamon-roasted pecans, almonds, cashews and peanuts.
“In choosing the vendors, the key is to not have a lot of duplication,” said Dan Leaman, the vice president of the fair’s board of directors who is also in charge of all commercial vendors. “We want our vendors to do well, too.”
It may be tempting to stick to the traditional fried foods while roaming the grounds, but look out for several healthful alternatives.
Animal exhibit area
The scattered food stands among the animals and agricultural exhibits can provide healthier alternatives to the Midway and Maple Avenue vendors, serving grilled meats, sandwiches and lemonade among other options.
“A lot of churches and civic groups tend to sell items that are a little healthier than a deep-fried Snickers bar,” said Rebecca Davis, a nutrition and health educator with the Montgomery County University of Maryland Extension Office. “There are choices, you just have to search them out.”
The buffet-style lunch and dinner provided by Golden Bull Restaurant in the Harvest Room of The Heritage building also differs from the other park stalls and booths. For $8.95 at lunch and $13.95 for dinner, adults can choose all-you-can-eat meats, salad, breads, desserts and drinks — “the best deal on the grounds as far as I’m concerned,” Leaman said.
However, be mindful of portion. “Unfortunately, it’s a buffet, but it has salad and vegetables,” Davis said. “It tends to be more real food instead of fair food.”
Good luck finding healthier options when walking through the rides and games; these concession stands are under Powers Great American Midway jurisdiction, unlike the vendors in the agricultural section and down Maple Avenue that the fair crew chooses.
Here’s where fairgoers will see the bulk of their fried fair favorites: stands decorated with dozens of flags sell the typical pizza slices, Italian sausages, nachos, cotton candy, corn dogs and ribbon-cut fries, among others.
Portion-size and sharing is key to healthier eating in the Midway. “A lot of vendors tend to have a lot of these high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar snacks,” Davis said. “Maybe buy a funnel cake and split it with whoever you’re with.”
One healthier concession to look out for on Maple Avenue is the Fresh Roasted Corn stand next to Don Julio’s Kitchen, according to Davis. Roasted on site from nine to 15 minutes, the ears are dipped in butter and sprinkled with seasonings. Patrons can choose how much butter they may want, and the spices range from garlic salt and Old Bay to cinnamon sugar and chili pepper, providing customers the option to add flavor without too many calories.
If sugar content is troublesome, stop by Wensel’s Old-Fashioned Funnel Cakes next to Chan’s Concessions for the “diabetic funnel cake.” The batter is made from scratch, so it can be created using a sugar substitute to provide a less sickly sweet alternative for those craving the popular fried dough treat.
Bring food from home
Fair attendees can also feel free to bring in their own food to enjoy for a nutritious and cheaper alternative.
“We encourage people to bring in their own food,” said Martin Svrcek, executive director of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. “We like to be as family-friendly as possible, and it can be expensive to take the family out to dinner.”
“I’m doing Weight Watchers, so it’s easier to bring my own food,” said Silver Spring resident Jackie Lunford, noting that price was also a factor in the decision to eat a home-prepared meal. “With four kids, we know we’re going to buy them drinks and one treat during the day, so to add lunch on top of that is too much.”
Fairgoers should not worry, however, about giving in and digging into that deep-fried Oreo or those chili cheese fries.
“A lot of people, they wait all year to eat something like a funnel cake,” Davis said. “If it’s just a one-time thing, you shouldn’t worry about it — hopefully the other 364 days a year, they are thinking about what they eat and looking for healthier choices.”
“If you’re health-conscious here,” added attendee Dan Whipp, “you’re at the wrong place.”