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State Fair Food: Best and Worst New Foods of 2016

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State Fair Food: Best and Worst New Foods of 2016

Midwest state fairs are truly a unique experience, including the annual mouthwatering food creations available to fair-goers. With most items heavy with sugar, butter and/or deep-fried, it can be hard to resist trying the new dishes. But, let’s be honest, it’s ok to savor a treat occasionally.

We asked UnityPoint Health dietitians, Tricia Leininger, R.D., L.D., and Lisa Woodruff, R.D., L.D., to review the new food lists for the 2016 Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin State Fairs and give us their suggestions for the healthiest choices for your waistline, as well as their picks for the unhealthy “once a year splurges.”


Illinois State Fair

Tricia’s Healthy Picks:

“Cajun Shrimp" or "Chicken on a Stick" from Black Jack Grill, "Caribbean Chicken Skewer" from Skippers or "White Fish Tacos" from Ron’s Taco Shop.

She explains that the cuts of the meats, as well as how the meats are prepared, make these better choices.

“All of these options include lean meat that is prepared by grilling instead of batter fried,” Leininger says. “If you're in the mood for more Midwestern cuisine, then the "Grilled Tenderloin" from Steve’s Meat Shop can hit the spot.”

Tricia’s Splurge:

Deep Fried Oreos

Lisa’s Healthy Picks:

“Beef, Chicken, or Veggie Taco” from Ron’s Taco Shop or “Sliced Sirloin” from Sirloin Hunt Inc.

Like Tricia, Lisa encourages lean meat options, but she also provides tips on how to make these options even better.

“Try to include veggies and salsa with the taco to increase nutrition value,” Woodruff says. “With the sirloin, portion control is important. Consider sharing with a friend if the serving is larger than six ounces.”

Lisa’s Splurge:

Fried Cookie Dough on a Stick


Iowa State Fair

Tricia’s and Lisa’s Healthy Picks:

“Not Your Mama's Tacos" from the Iowa Turkey Federation or "Hawaiian Pineapple Bowl" with teriyaki chicken from Diamond Jacks.

Both Tricia and Lisa share these picks, saying how the fruit and vegetables help boost the nutritional value.

“Even though the flour tortilla is deep fried, the taco includes mango salsa and a veggie slaw. This also meets the Healthy Choices requirement for less than 600 calories and under 1,000 milligrams of sodium. At price of $14, the Hawaiian Pineapple Bowl is more expensive, but it includes fresh fruit (pineapple is a good source of Vitamin C) and a protein that isn’t battered or fried,” Woodruff says.

Similarly, their splurges also have something in common – high sugar and fat content.

Tricia’s Splurge:

Caramel Cocoa Crispy Crunch

Lisa’s Splurge:

Funnel Bacon on a Stick (also deep-fried)


Wisconsin State Fair

Tricia’s Healthy Picks:

"Bacon Popcorn Ball" from Laura's Gourmet Popcorn, "Blue Moon Marinated Pork Tacos" at Tavern Park or "The "Beer & Pretzel Bites" from Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill.

The whole grain from the popcorn and the roasted meat from the tacos make the first two lighter choices, but while Tricia lists the “Beer & Pretzel Bites” in her healthy picks, she also adds some clarification. As you can see, if not eaten in moderation, the calories from those bite-sized treats can add up quickly.

“The dairy-rich cheese curds do provide calcium; however, the dish is a rich, fried indulgence that is recommended to share with others to moderate amount,” Leininger says.

Tricia’s Splurge:

“Beer & Pretzel Bites” (if you eat the whole serving all by yourself)

Lisa’s Healthy Picks:

“Blue Moon Marinated Pork Tacos” or “Mountain Man Burger.”

A burger might seem an unusual choice as a healthy pick, but Lisa explains is the meat mix that makes it a non-traditional burger.

“Instead of using beef, this burger is a mix of meat from wild game, such as bison, elk, boar, venison and antelope. Wild game is typically lower in saturated fat than ground beef,” Woodruff says.

Her once-a-year splurge shouldn’t surprise though, as this pizza includes a deep-fried crust made of macaroni and cheese, topped with cedar cheese, adding more unhealthy fats.

Lisa’s Splurge:

Chili-Mac Bottom Pizza


With these tips, we hope enjoy some of the new flavors of these Midwest state fairs, while not wrecking your regular health and wellness routine. For more information on how to build a better diet, contact your UnityPoint Health provider.