Raw oysters from the Grandstand at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
When I use words like “healthy” and “nutritious” when talking about festivals, I prepare myself for the inevitable eye roll.
I love crawfish bread, oyster patties and fried softshell anything. But I also really love shrimp remoulade, crab ravigote and skewered anything, and I’m grateful that these often surprisingly nutritious options are available at many local festivals.
If I ate deep-fried, creamy rich foods throughout the multiday events like the French Quarter Festival and New Orleans Jazz Fest, I would have to play nutritional catch-up for weeks. Also, festivals can be a minefield for folks who have health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.
Instead of throwing out your wellness plan as soon as you hit the grounds, strike a balance between enjoying indulgences and selecting a few healthier options.
It starts with having a strategy.
I start my day with a light breakfast or snack before I leave the house, such as a hardboiled egg and fresh berries or a protein coffee. I like to blend protein powder, unsweetened almond milk and coffee concentrate like Cool Brew for a frozen breakfast on the run.
A refreshing glass of unsweetened rosemint iced tea at New Orleans Jazz Fest. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
Before I head to the festival grounds, I’ll scan the array of what’s available (most festivals provide menus online, so we can decide what looks delicious and nutritious). I look for dishes that are centered on lean grilled proteins with veggies whenever possible, and not stuffed into or piled onto loads of rice, noodles or bread. I’ll pick one or two decadent favorites that are worth the splurge and consider splitting those dishes with a friend.
If you drink alcohol, keep calories in check and stay hydrated by alternating alcoholic beverages with water. French Quarter Fest offers Bubly, a flavored sparkling water, in 16-ounce resealable bottles. Unsweetened iced teas are hydrating and calorie-free.
Tujague’s marinated crab claw remoulade. (Photo by Rebecca Sell | French Quarter Fest Inc.)
The French Quarter Fest presented by Chevron has made it easy for us to determine which options are nutritious by working with the Ochsner Fitness Center nutrition team to add the Eat Fit seal to vendor menu boards.
Eat Fit is a nonprofit initiative of Ochsner Health System that I started in 2013. Our Ochsner Eat Fit team works with local restaurants to develop and identify menu items that meet specific nutritional criteria, including no white carbs, less than a teaspoon of added sugar, low animal-based saturated fats, and reduced sodium. There is no charge for the restaurants to be a part of Eat Fit NOLA; all nutritional analysis is handled for free by the Ochsner Eat Fit nutrition team.
Galatoire’s shrimp remoulade. (Photo by Rebecca Sell | French Quarter Fest Inc.)
Some of my favorite Eat Fit dishes at French Quarter Fest include Galatoire’s Shrimp Remoulade, Jacques-Imo’s Café Crab & Artichoke Citrus Salad, Tujague’s Restaurant Marinated Crab Claw Remoulade and The Rum House’s Jerk Chicken Tacos. The French Quarter Fest also created an Eat Fit cocktail, the Bubly Seabreeze, along with an Eat Fit iced coffee. The full list of vendors, including notations of the Eat Fit options available, is online at www.frenchquarterfest.org, and you can download the Eat Fit smartphone app (it’s free) for full nutrition facts for Eat Fit food and drink at French Quarter Fest.
Skip the plantains and get the jama Jama and chicken at Congo Square Area at the Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell. (David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell doesn’t make it as easy to identify healthful options on the menu boards, but over the past 10 years of covering Jazz Fest for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, I’ve gotten to know the food vendors who offer the healthiest options year after year and offered guidance in my columns about how to order for top nutrition For example, check out the poulet fricassee and jama-jama from Bennachin Restaurant in Congo Square, which is spiced grilled chicken on a stick with a heaping pile of sautéed spinach.
This year, these vendors are making it even easier to eat healthfully with what we’re calling the “Eat Fit Hidden Menu[MK1] .” Here’s how it will work: Ask certain vendors for dishes to be prepared “Eat Fit” style and you should get a plate with no white carbs, centered on lean proteins, vegetables and plant-based fats — essentially the best parts, nutritionally speaking, of that vendor’s Jazz Fest fare.
Bun from Ba Mien Vietnamese. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
For example, at Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine in Heritage Square you can order the shrimp or beef bun to be served “Eat Fit style” and they’ll replace the vermicelli with lettuce, pickled carrots and fresh mint. Palmer’s Jamaican Cuisine will serve their Jamaican Chicken with double vegetables and no rice.
Find the list of vendors with Eat Fit Hidden Menu options at EatFitNOLA.com. Download the free Eat Fit smartphone app for full nutrition facts for each of the Hidden Menu items at Jazz Fest.
With a little bit of planning and the right mindset, it’s possible to savor every bit of festival season without completely derailing your fitness and wellness goals.