Summer just isn't quite summer without a trip to the amusement park. But between the cotton candy, chili cheese fries and nachos, you may think your family is destined for a day of high-calorie, nutritionally empty meals and snacks. "Eating right at an amusement park can seem like an impossible feat, but it doesn't have to be," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Jim White, RDN, ACSM-HFS. "Now that people are more health conscious than ever, there are a surprising number of healthy options. You just need to know where to look for them." Here’s how!
Scout It Out
While you're walking through the park keep your eyes open for healthy options. You'll be surprised what you can find. Skip the hot dogs and hamburgers, and go for a grilled chicken breast sandwich with a side salad or corn on the cob instead of fries. Or, squeeze in a serving or two of veggies with a veggie burger or grilled vegetable skewers.
Just because you'll be at the park from dawn until dusk doesn't mean you have to eat every meal there. Before you leave, serve up a healthy breakfast at home. That way you'll know your family started the day fueled up and ready to go. At the park, fill in with nutritious snacks from home. A few well-planned snacks can cut down on the number of meals you'll have to buy and the amount of time you spend waiting in line for food. "A small bag of granola or nuts or a piece of fresh fruit can help hold kids over between meals and is a lot healthier than an ice cream sandwich," says White. If the park you're visiting doesn't allow you to bring in food from outside you can still snack right. Many amusement parks now stock healthy nibbles like fresh fruit cups, yogurt, and even carrot and celery sticks.
Super-sized sugar-filled drinks can bring lots of hidden, empty calories to the table. While fat-free or low-fat milk or chocolate milk are great choices, so is water. "If it's hot and everyone's sweating, replenishing fluids is key for preventing dehydration," says White. Bring your own refillable bottle from home, if allowed. Or encourage kids to hang on to their empty water bottles and refill them throughout the day rather than tossing them in the trash.
Nothing's more frustrating than listening to your kids nag you for kettle corn, giant pretzels and funnel cake. While there's certainly room for the occasional treat, don't feel that you have to say yes to everything. A 2012 Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study found that parents who were most permissive when it came to kids' eating were the most likely to have children whose diets had the fewest nutrients.
But You Can Indulge a Little
That warning about being overly permissive aside, if most of the day's meals and snacks are healthy, it's completely OK for kids to have a small treat. But rather than snacking while walking through the park, encourage your children to sit down and savor their food; they'll actually enjoy it more. If you are going to have a treat, try to save it for later in the day, says White. That way you won't feel like your kids stuffed themselves with not-so-nutritious food the minute you got to the park and you can focus on what really matters: the fun.