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Children’s Health: Keeping Healthy with Fun Park Food

Monday, June 19, 2006 at 1:24 PM

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Every summer, people flock to amusement parks to be slung around, twisted, dunked or otherwise made happily nauseous. Traditionally, it's also an occasion for indulging our culinary senses with corn dogs, funnel cakes and other fun food that is not particularly nutritious. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports, however, that a healthy diet can be maintained these days - if you're so inclined and willing to work at it.

Each morning at Cedar Point, crowds of people flood the front gate turnstiles, anxious for the thrills of towering coasters and gut wrenching drops. There’s always something new to ride and now more new things to eat as well. Food Division Education Manager Gary Jones says Cedar Point attempts to please all types of eaters from dieters to the junk food fanatics.

Gary Jones: With the new menu selections, we try to look at number one, what people are going to enjoy eating, number two, what’s going to sell. But also we do take in consideration certain healthy issues; we try to take into consideration particular allergy issues as well, so guests have a variety of selections.

That’s true if you’ve got a sharp eye. Many of the park’s healthiest foods are found in its sit-down restaurants, where prices are higher and customers typically encounter long lines that snake out the doors.

But this year, he says, the park made a special point of offering healthy food that’s also fast to order. Still, Jones admits, the number of healthy choices at the park is no way equal to the park’s deliciously greasy, and fatty options.

Gary Jones: I would say 85 to 90% of that is going to be that type of food. However, we do offer so many different locations that you are going to find healthy varieties scattered throughout the park.

Burgers, hot dogs, french fries, pizza and cheese on a stick, a Cedar Point specialty, are in abundant supply here. While veggie burgers - which made their debut on the menu this year - are available in only two restaurants and not sold alongside meat burgers.

Food Education Manager Jones stresses Cedar Point is striving to offer healthy options. He says it even revamped an entire food stand.

Gary Jones: It used to be a more German beer and bratwurst type of feel to it. Now it’s tropical, Caribbean type of location.

We visited Hurricane Hanna’s - as it’s called - with Sherry Collier. She’s a community nutritionist at Metro Health. At a table shaded by an orange umbrella, Collier evaluates a grilled chicken wrap with pineapple sauce and an organic side salad. She’s says the chicken wrap is tasty without adding too many calories. But the salad dressings available are regular - not low-fat. Collier says patrons can take matters into their own hands, though, by using only half of the pre-packaged dressing or dipping their salad bites. She says that’s an especially good tactic to employ when kids are in tow.

Sherry Collier: Get them into the idea of dipping, cause they like to dip things, they like the way it looks… Those are habits you have to teach the children.

Also at Hurricane Hanna’s, Collier is pleased to find pre-blended Fruit Smoothies. They have less sugar than a 12-ounce can of soda and are more fun to drink.

Sherry Collier: If it’s made with some type of fruit, you get some nutrients in there too. Pop, of course, doesn’t have any and your other drinks don’t have a whole lot, so it’s a nice option.

As healthy as Hurricane Hanna’s aims to be, Collier approved of only two of the eight menu items here. She says that’s okay because there are always other tricks to make items healthier. She advises soaking up pizza oil with napkins before digging in and watering down fresh made lemonade drinks which are loaded with sugar. Parents can also insist kids split orders of french fries or ice cream. And by all means, Collier says, families should avoid all-you-can-eat buffets, despite the apparent cost savings.

In Cedar Point’s all-you-can-eat restaurant, Collier weaves among people carrying plates piled high with fried chicken, meatballs, mashed potatoes, nachos and pies. The very small salad bar offers only high-calorie creamy dressings and there’s only one vegetable available - overcooked green beans. Collier says anything nutritional here is hard to find.

Sherry Collier: I didn’t see baked chicken out here, so unless they have things back there that we can’t see, in most cases its not the healthiest option, and you have to make really good choices while your in here.

Of course, kids and grown-ups go to amusement parks to cut loose. Scott Press, visiting from Wayne, Michigan, says on special days like these he tries not to be too strict on his teenage daughters.

Scott Press: We try to watch what they eat, but when you’re in an environment like this you kind just let them loose and have fun for a day.

No one wants to be a kill-joy, not even nutritionists. They say “letting go” occasionally can be okay - as long as exercises isn’t far behind. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3 News.

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