Here's How To Add Healthy Food To Your Kids' Carnival (Part 2)
(Missed Part 1? Check out it out here!)
Overwhelmed by planning the food options for your next carnival or festival event? Does your community care about healthful food and nutrition? (Hint: You probably live in a health-conscious community if there are shops advertising "black-bean brownies" or restaurants offering foods such as "quinoa berry power bowls.") P.S.: We at Carnival Savers make no claims as to the health or tastefulness of foods such as these; please leave this to your local registered dietitian-nutritionist and doctor.
If you do live in a nutrition-focused community, good news: we have you covered with some simple ideas to incorporate healthier food into your next carnival menu. We recommend having both healthy and traditional carnival food choices so that all flavors of families will be overjoyed with your carnival food options.
Read below for some healthier carnival food ideas, since you already are familiar with the traditional corn-dogs, cotton candy, popcorn and funnel cakes!
Trade Out Candy By Season
One simple trick to make your carnival food more nutritious is to trade out candy for other, healthier sweet options. It is fairly common knowledge that eating buckets of sugar is not healthy, but it's much better to eat fruit (with vitamins, fiber, and minerals) than candy that simply contains sugar and no beneficial ingredients.
Here's an idea for your springtime festivities: for a spring or Easter celebration, you could serve cute carrot cupcakes as a dessert option. This is one way to sneak veggies into a dessert. To level up the cupcake cuteness be sure to doodle mini carrots onto the tops with frosting, as shown above. Remember, the frosted carrots do not have to be Pinterest-perfect or social-media snapshot worthy, since carnivals are about having fun - not about being perfect!
If you are hosting an Easter egg hunt, be sure to replace the traditional candy and chocolate options with... you guessed it, packaged fruit snacks and crackers! Most kiddos enjoy fruit snacks anyways, and they will be a little more nutritious than typical Easter egg candy. After the Easter egg hunt, provide fresh fruit parfaits as a refreshing, light springtime snack for tired kids and adults. Fruit parfaits are only fruit and yogurt in a plastic cup, so they are simple with just a few ingredients. Just be sure to strictly follow food safety guidelines, regulations and local laws when dealing with serving refrigerated and perishable food to guests at your event.
For your summer carnival, be sure to pack in tons of brightly-colored fruit as a sweet treat! Most people associate summer with sunshine, picnics, and juicy fruit such as watermelon, strawberries and pineapples. Popsicles & ice-pops with real fruit or 100% real fruit juice work as a summer dessert as well. You can serve these in plastic cups to have less of a sticky mess to clean up once your carnival has ended.
For a Halloween or fall event, take a few minutes to craft these creative Banana Ghosts and Orange Pumpkins as shown above (while following local ordinances and food safety guidelines.) You'll just need a few mini chocolate chips for the bananas and any long, thin green veggies for the pumpkin stems. We all know that kids love "playing with their food" and this is one fun way to encourage some creativity!
Instead of boring old candy, why not choose cute and classic caramel apples? Apples are packed with beneficial fiber and vitamins, and even drizzling caramel over apples will offer a more nutritious option than just candy. Don't want to deal with caramel apples this autumn? Then purchase fall-themed individual-serve snack bags as another candy alternative. For healthier alternatives, choose baked crackers over fried chips, whole-grain cookies over traditional cookies, and natural fruit snacks over gummy candy.
For your next winter or Christmas-themed event, consider making homemade hot chocolate. Substitute the traditional ingredients with low-fat milk and one-third less sugar than what a typical hot cocoa recipe calls for. Don't forget to top with fluffy whipped cream and a peppermint stick to garnish. Adults and kids will love this toasty warm treat and they are getting all the nutrients milk has to offer, with less sugar than just plain candy!
Another great idea is to create "Reindeer Food" & "Food For Santa." Both are very easy to make and some of our favorite wintertime snacks!
To make "Reindeer Food," mix toasted oat cereal, nuts, craisins, and chocolate together. Put the mix in fun, holiday-themed plastic bags & serve.
"Food For Santa" is exactly as it sounds: serve plates with Christmas cookies. Be sure to include a glass of low-fat milk, and a few apple & carrot slices on the side for Santa's reindeer.
Providing Healthier Meals And Sides
Now that you have some ideas of foods to use in place of candy, it's time to make the main dishes and sides a little healthier. Sure, you can still serve traditional carnival food, of course! But you can also add healthy options, or even switch out a few ingredients in your carnival food classics to make them healthier. (See step #3 below for more information.)
We prefer these 3 healthy entrees to serve: sandwiches, soups, and salads. Your first response may be "Yuck!" or "Boring, right?" Fortunately, it won't be this way with a little extra creativity. Yes, even sandwiches, soups, and salads can be fun carnival treats. As shown below, you can fit salad and low-fat dressing into a plastic cup with a lid and fork - it works well in lessening the impending mess. They're actually pretty to look at: packed with color, they may just tempt usual veggie-haters into sneaking a taste!
If you're wanting to supplement your entrees, one fast tip is to simply add fruits or vegetables to the entrees you're serving. For example, if you're offering pizza, make it a veggie pizza by adding peppers, olives & tomatoes. If you're offering hamburgers, serve a salad or veggies on the side. Another health tip is to make your serving sizes a bit smaller than the traditional restaurant meal and decrease the cost of the food for your guests.
Well, how can you actually do this?
Think about the size of a plate of food at a restaurant and simply halve it (note: these can contain 1,000 - 2,000 calories in a single meal!), or buy slightly smaller plates and serve food with these instead. Finally, be sure to provide a few healthier snack options too. Trail mix, cheese with crackers, fruit & yogurt, or a veggie tray with veggie dips are some ideas.
Be sure to keep your audience of carnival-goers in mind, however. If many are health-conscious, it makes sense to serve lots of fruits and veggies on the side. If your community is not as health-conscious, it may be best to stick with traditional carnival foods and have a few healthier options instead.
Quick Tips To Make Any Carnival Food Healthier
If you want to make foods healthier that we haven't covered yet, here's how you can do so...
In general, choose low-fat milk, dairy, and meat products over high-fat options. Choose fresh fruit and vegetables over canned or cooked options. Choose whole grains (usually brown) over highly-processed grains (typically white). When choosing snacks, look for products that have the "Heart Healthy" label. (Please look up further nutrition information at these sources: eatright.org, fda.gov, heart.org, and nutrition.gov, as nutrition is complicated and anything but the very basics are beyond the scope of our Carnival Savers blog.)
How do you apply these short, simple guidelines?
One suggestion is to offer a taco salad option (with a baked shell, as shown above) instead of just tacos. The taco salad has all the nutrients of the fresh lettuce with the flavors of your favorite tacos! Another idea is to ditch the classic fried corn-dog for new take on a hot dog, made a bit healthier! Following the tips above, you'll start with a whole grain bun and low-fat hot dogs (perhaps made of turkey.) You could offer ketchup, mustard, and relish as sides. Then, you can provide a fresh salad or fruit cups to go along with this carnival classic! The possibilities are endless, and the resources linked above are a great starting point to learn more about nutrition - a few also offer healthy recipes!
Keep this in Mind...
Your food must look pretty and presentable! Bright, colorful, fresh food may not look as sweet as pretty pieces of candy, but the fact that it looks so colorful and just pretty will make adults and kids alike want to gobble up your carnival food! You know this is true, because people enjoy looking at colorful food (and posting colorful food on social media) much more than bland, dry, beige or dull-colored food. Plus, kiddos love eating fun, animal-shaped or themed food more than simple bagged food!
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