Festival Food


Enjoy the season without sacrificing good nutrition.

FestFoodEDITBrace yourself! We’re heading full-speed into festival season — and along with your sunblock and folding chairs, you’re going to need to pack some iron willpower.

New Orleans festivals this month include Freret Street Festival, French Quarter Festival and, of course, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Fried food and sugary drinks will abound, tempting you away from healthy eating habits. Use these tips from registered dietitian Julie Fortenberry to stay mindful of your nutrition goals!

Do your research. Jazz Fest publishes its menu a few weeks before the festival each year, allowing health-conscious music lovers to pinpoint smart food options inside the Fair Grounds. “You can do research ahead of time, and you can have your meals planned,” Fortenberry says. “If you know you’re going to be at one stage close to lunchtime, you may pass the stand that has peanuts, and you can get those [instead of an unhealthy snack]. If you’re cornered, and you don’t have an option, I would certainly try to choose more lean meat — for instance, get grilled chicken kabobs over a fried catfish plate.”

Remember that you need to work with what’s available. “Don’t try to special-order,” Fortenberry says. “It’s not a restaurant. People set themselves up for failure by thinking they can special-order.”

Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. We often forget to hydrate when we’re outdoors at a festival. “You’re definitely going to eat more when you’re dehydrated and you’ve been drinking,” Fortenberry says.

Some festivals allow small ice chests or unopened bottles of water. Take advantage of these policies! “That way, you stay hydrated and prevent the pitfall of overeating — and that nasty hangover,” Fortenberry says.

Pick your “cheat” days and stick to them. Taking a break from your healthy-eating plan doesn’t have to throw you off-course permanently — unless you keep taking breaks. “Since festival season tends to be a few weekends in a row, if you were off-plan every weekend, that would be two months of bad eating,” Fortenberry says.

Share with a friend. Eating carefully doesn’t mean you can’t taste the dishes you want to try. “Festivals have small portions, compared to a restaurant,” Fortenberry points out. “A realistic approach to wanting to sample something is to share with a friend, or not eat the whole thing.”

Keep snacks in the car to replenish your family after the fest. Parents of young children will find this tip especially helpful. Heat-safe snacks, like beef jerky; nuts; apples with peanut butter; or high-protein, low-sugar granola bars, are the best options here. “The key there would be something that helps stabilize kids’ blood sugar,” Fortenberry says. “They will crash and burn after they’ve had their ice cream or snowball. That results in a cranky kid.”

You’ll find excess sugar in tons of festival dishes and drinks. “Daiquiris are a sugar-based drink,” Fortenberry says. “Usually, because it’s hot, we’re drinking more of them. Even mixers, like juices and sodas, are high in sugar.” But if you sip and snack solely on sugar, you’ll set yourself up for defeat. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you had a funnel cake here and there, randomly, but they’re just not filling,” she explains. “You end up crashing later in the day, and you end up getting more food and snacks.”