Tips for a Healthier Mardi Gras Season

Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by University Medical Center New Orleans.

Carnival season is in full swing in New Orleans! It’s a great time of year to gather with friends and family for picnics on the parade route, throw house parties or dress up and go to your favorite Mardi Gras balls. However, no matter how you celebrate this time of year, you’re likely to encounter traditional Mardi Gras food and drinks such as fried chicken, hot dogs, king cakes, and an abundance of alcohol.

Although tempting, these traditional items are often high in sodium, fat, sugar and, many times … alcohol! It is not uncommon for the emergency room to get bombarded at this time of the year with patients – many of whom have had too much alcohol, salt or sugar. Excess salt and sugar can especially affect those who have congestive heart failure and diabetes.

Healthier On-The-Go Alternatives:

Although you can’t always control what your friends and 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 you can 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 – Try pasta salad made with whole wheat penne pasta and chopped vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and chopped squash. You can then add olive oil and vinegar as the salad dressing. This light, refreshing and healthy carbohydrate-packed snack will give you energy for all of that bead catching and dancing.
  • Grilled Chicken or Vegetarian Wrap – If you are more of a sandwich person, try a wrap made with grilled chicken or a vegetarian option with chopped vegetables of your choice. Including cheese will add protein, and a hummus or avocado spread will make for a deliciously healthier lunch.
  • Bean Chips – Replace your traditional potato or tortilla chips with bean chips. They are higher in fiber, more satisfying and packed with protein.
  • Fresh Fruit – For a refreshing sweet treat, try pineapple, strawberries, or any fresh fruit of your choice. It can be placed in individual cups before the parade and packed in an ice chest. This is a quick energy source and better than a sweet candy snack or cotton candy.
  • Avoid Soft Drinks – Bottled water, sparkling water, fruit juices (small cups) and herbal iced teas are better options than soft drinks. You will have more hydration from these beverages which is certainly needed during a long day of fun.
  • Protein bars – Craving a sweet treat? Try either a high-protein snack bar or nut bar. These bars can be high in good fats and protein to keep you going the whole day.
  • Monitor Alcohol Intake – Carnival season is certainly a time to enjoy a spirit or two, but make your alcohol choices sensibly and drink in moderation.

Extra on-the-go tips:

  • Food safety should be a priority. 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 any period of time.
  • Wash 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.

Healthy At-Home Party Options:

Are you hosting a Mardi Gras party? If you are thinking about serving healthier options for your guests, consider the following tips on popular foods:

  • Red beans and Brown rice – Skip the sausage or consider a healthier chicken sausage without added nitrates. Remember to cut back on salt and add more garlic, onions, peppers and spices to give it a great flavor.
  • Gumbo – A great gumbo combination is chicken, okra and tomato with brown rice. This choice 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 of the fun you’ll be having.

No matter what you decide to do, keep it healthy or live it up (or a combination of the two), it’s good to know you have options. Happy Mardi Gras!

About Rosetta Danigole, RDN, LDN

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 34 years and has worked at UMC New Orleans for the last 20 years.

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