Don't let water park and fest fare sideline healthy choices

By Christina Fitzgerald
Posted6/16/2013 5:36 AM
  • Nothing says summer fun like cotton candy, but since it's a big ball of sugar, go easy on this treat. If you are going to indulge, split this up between the family to disperse and lessen the intake.

    Nothing says summer fun like cotton candy, but since it's a big ball of sugar, go easy on this treat. If you are going to indulge, split this up between the family to disperse and lessen the intake.

Hot dogs, and soda, and funnel cakes -- OH MY!

Spending time at the zoo and water parks is top priority with my boys this summer and I can't wait! If you're worried that a fun park adventure may threaten your family's healthy diet, it's true. Amusement parks seem to be synonymous with horribly unhealthy, yet tasty concession stand food.

The great thing is that just like any other adventure with the family, a little planning ahead can pay off in the end. So let's check out some of the most common foods found and pinpoint the worst offenders as well as some of the best options (if you don't want to pack your own lunch that is!)

Foods to avoid

• Cotton candy. I think you can logically decipher that this is just one big ball of sugar that you're feeding the body. But, did you know that this sugar on the stick packs in more sweetness than three scoops of ice cream?! If you are going to indulge, split this up between the family to disperse and lessen the intake.

• Snow cones. While doing some research, this one actually surprised me. You think it would be fairly mild with some flavored syrup poured on ice chips, but the typical snow cone contains around five tablespoons of syrup.

• Funnel cake. This is the best example of what not to eat on a heart healthy diet. Yes, it is loaded with sugar. However, it gets worse than sugar. The fact that it's fried means that more than likely it's fried in hydrogenated oils, or TRANS fat. This is the fat you want to try to completely avoid as it'll wreak havoc on your kids' growing hearts.

• Nachos and cheese. I'm sure you can believe this one: One full serving of nachos with cheese sauce provides almost 1,100 calories! Between the calories and fat coming from the cheese, your kids could consume four hot dogs and still walk away healthier!

Healthier park strategies

While the foods I just mentioned can leave your family with far too much fat, salt and sugar, looking in the right place, you may be able to find some lower fat and more nutritious options. If you plan to eat at the park, your kids won't go hungry if you consider some of the following options and strategies while skipping over the nachos:

• Scout it out. More than likely, the first thing you're doing at the park won't be eating. So scout out your options while having fun. Keep your eyes open for where you might find a grilled chicken sandwich or corn on the cob or even veggie skewers.

• Seek out the help. It can be frustrating and downright impossible to navigate for healthier options when the kids are already hungry and melting down for food. Seek out the park associates and ask them for ideas on where to find fresh fruit or fruit salad, for example.

• Don't cave. While the occasional treat is great, help teach your kids how to seek out healthier options and use the park as a great teaching tool for balancing/moderation.

• Indulge, but just a little. Chat with your kids on the car ride to the park about what food they are most excited about. Take the time to teach them how to plan for this. If they are most excited about cotton candy, for instance, suggest that after they eat a healthy balanced lunch, the entire family can sit down and share a cotton candy together. Or, if they're really excited for hot dogs, ask them what they could eat with the hot dog instead of french fries. This teaches them how to enjoy some more indulgent foods (without feeling guilty) while still balancing it with healthier options.

• And, don't forget you can BYOF. Bring your own food is almost always an option. If you don't want to pack and drag around an entire picnic, try packing a few granola bars or pieces of fresh fruit with water. At least having some fresh and more fulfilling snacks can cut their ravenous appetite come meal time.

It can be done. Your family can enjoy an awesome day at the park while still nourishing their bodies well. Healthy foods equal happier bodies and minds (for parents and kids!) Happy summer everyone!

Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or any others, I would love to hear from you! You can send me an email at with your thoughts.

•Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, She lives with her husband and three young sons in the Northwest suburbs.

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