Carnival season is here, and we hope that everyone is having a good time. Many families get together during this time of the year and gather for picnics on the parade route, while others have a get together in their homes that are on the parade route. Whichever is your situation during this time of the year we are all familiar with the traditional Mardi Gras foods such as fried chicken, hot dogs, king cakes, and an abundance of alcohol.
Families include kids, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. Many of those folks can be older and have health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Traditional Mardi Gras food items are high in sodium, fat and sugar, and alcohol. It is not uncommon for the emergency room to get bombarded at this time of the year with patients. A lot of these patients having had too much alcohol, salt/sugar, etc. leading to an emergency (especially if they have congestive heart failure and diabetes).
Although you can’t control what your family members eat during the festivities you can promote a healthy picnic basket and choices for those who especially need it. So here are some tips of what you can provide for your family in a picnic basket:
- Oven “fried” chicken strips. This is a simple item to make the day before the festivities that can be individually wrapped and packed in a picnic basket. Make sure you don’t season with too much salt and flavor it with either a spicy pepper flavor or herb seasoning. This is a high protein item which will keep you satisfied and help you stay away from tempting sweet snacks.
- Pasta salad made with whole wheat penne pasta and chopped vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and chopped squash. You can add olive oil and vinegar as the salad dressing and you have a light refreshing healthy carbohydrate packed snack that will give you energy for all of that “bead catching”.
- If you are more of a sandwich person, you may try a wrap made with grilled chicken or a vegetarian option with chopped vegetables of your choice. Including cheese will add protein and spread with either hummus or avocado for a healthier spread.
- If you feel like crunching, try bean chips instead of traditional chips. They are higher in fiber and more satisfying and protein packed.
- Pineapple, strawberries, or any fresh fruit of your choice is perfect for a refreshing sweet treat. It can be packed in individual cups before the parade and packed in an ice chest. Fruit is a quick energy source and better than candy, cotton candy, or any other sweets.
- Bottled water, sparkling water, fruit juices (small cups), and herbal iced teas are better options than soft drinks. You will have more hydration from those beverages which is needed during a long day of fun.
- High protein snack bars or nut bars are perfect for when you are craving a sweet treat. High in protein and good fats snacks will keep you going the whole day.
- Remember to keep your alcohol consumption to a healthy minimum. It is carnival season and a time to enjoy a spirit or two, but sensibly make those choices.
Make sure you have everything in an ice chest with adequate cooling throughout the day. Keep everything cold and covered and never leave food out for a long period of time. Wash your hands with hand wipes frequently to prevent spreading germs and to keep yourself healthy throughout the season.
Don’t forget plates, utensils, bottle openers, cups, napkins, hand wipes, paper towels, trash bags, and blankets. Be mindful of your neighbors and community and remember to clean up after every parade.
Mardi Gras Parties
If you are thinking about serving healthier options for your guests and family during your Mardi Gras party, consider the following tips on popular foods:
- Red Beans and Brown Rice – Leave out the sausage or consider a healthier chicken sausage without added nitrates. Consider cutting back on salt and add more garlic, onions, peppers and spices to make it taste yummy.
- Gumbo – A great gumbo choice is chicken/okra and tomato with brown rice which is high in antioxidants, protein and fiber. This will keep your guests full throughout the day.
- Potato Salad – Consider keeping the skin on the potatoes for more fiber and using olive oil mayonnaise for omega 3 fatty acids which may help keep the inflammation down from all the fun during the day.
No matter what you decide to do, either keep it healthy or live it up, it’s good to know you have options. Enjoy the carnival season and Happy Mardi Gras everyone. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
As the lead dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans, Rosetta Danigole manages clinical dietetic operations. She is a member of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition and belongs to the clinical dietitian practice group. She has been a dietitian for 35 years.