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Summer in the City: Staying healthy and Jazz Festing

On Sunday afternoon, I set out to find a (relatively) healthy way to enjoy Jazz Fest.

On Sunday afternoon, I set out to find a (relatively) healthy way to enjoy Jazz Fest. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

Festival season is here -- delightful food, reverberating melodies, infectious energy and all.This year, I ventured out to the festival on a mission. I wanted to find out, IS it possible to do Jazz Fest healthy?! (And/or why would you even want to?!)

First of all, let me make myself clear. I am a food lover. I do not believe in depriving oneself of all the good food out there to be had, healthy and unhealthy alike. I believe it’s all about the balance. So after I indulged in all of the crawfish bread and mango freeze I could eat, I set out to find out how to do Jazz Fest healthy on Sunday. With all the storms and muddy mess, I strapped on my rain boots, put on my poncho, and headed out to the fairgrounds. As it turns out, you CAN do Jazz Fest healthfully. And it all starts at home. So if you’re looking for a lighter way to enjoy the festival season, here’s my guide to a healthy Jazz Fest.

Hydrate before the festival to avoid post-fest fatigue. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Hydrate before the festival to avoid post-fest fatigue. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

Hydrate beforehand
Drink plenty of water before you leave the house (you can start the day before if you want to be proactive). You’ll be spending most of the day outside in warm temperatures, walking around for hours, and probably consuming a fair amount of alcohol. Drink plenty of water beforehand, during, and after Jazz Fest to stay hydrated. This will help you prevent the "festing fatigue" you’ll probably endure come Monday morning.

Protect your skin -- rain or shine.

Don’t forget to moisturize your face and whole body.

Apply sunscreen before you leave the house. Even under cloudy and overcast skies, you can get sunburned (as I've learned the hard way before). Take a couple of minutes while you’re getting ready at home to apply sunscreen (at least SPF 50). Once you make it out to the festival, you’ll be so excited by the sights and sounds that it's likely you'll forget to do it or put it off; come time you return home, you'll find yourself looking up into the mirror, realizing you’re as red as a Louisiana strawberry.

Sweet potato salad, asparagus and vegetable bread pudding from the Grand Stand. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Sweet potato salad, asparagus and vegetable bread pudding from the Grand Stand. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

Eat the good stuff

I started out the day in the grand stand, where a friend invited me up to the Shell Lounge. With a vast spread of goodies, it was easy to find healthy options there. To start, I opted for the fruit basket, instead of the Zapps chips. Next, I moved on to appetizers, where I found a delightful, fresh sweet potato salad. Next, I went for a bowl of gumbo, instead of the fried catfish. I consider that the compromise. There was also a vegetable bread pudding which I thought seemed strange, especially given my love for REAL bread pudding. But, it actually turned out to be well-seasoned and pretty tasty.

That was the easy part. I knew the real task would be finding the healthy alternatives down on the Fairgrounds (and resisting the cochon de lait and fried oyster Po’ boys).

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts and the sautéed spinach at Benachin’s Jama Jama booth. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts and the sautéed spinach at Benachin’s Jama Jama booth. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

I started off my hunt for smart, yet tasty food and beverages by heading to Benachin’s Jama Jama booth and tried the skinless, boneless chicken breasts and the sautéed spinach. One of the owners, Miss Nalyse, sent me home with a to go plate. (Thank you! I may or not have taken the fried plantains home with me.)

I stopped at the Mona’s Café booth, where hummus and salad are an easy option. But seeing as how no one’s hummus compares to my mom’s, I kept it moving. Along the way, I also learned that the WWOZ tent serves folks fresh fruit, which is certainly refreshing in New Orleans' late Spring heat.

Mona's hummus and salad is an easy, yet healthy fest food option. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Mona's hummus and salad is an easy, yet healthy fest food option. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

I got a tip that the Vermicelli Bowls near the Blues Tent were also a healthy choice. However, I got drawn into the sounds of the Blues tent and got caught in the live music vortex there, and unfortunately, by the time I was able to pull myself out, the pho booth was closed, and there was no noodles to be had. I guess I’ll have to wait until next time, because I do love a good bowl of pho.

Bartender Miss Traci Boudreaux concocts cocktails that won't break the calorie bank. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Bartender Miss Traci Boudreaux concocts cocktails that won't break the calorie bank. (photo: Summer Suleiman)

Drink smart

Next I sauntered over to the bar to see what types of reasonable beverages I could discover. There, I found Miss Traci Boudreaux. I told her about the mission I was on, and she happily started firing away with suggestions. Finally, we decided, and she fixed me the finest Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen; as she put it, I  "got a salad right there in the drink.”

Her other suggestions included: Vodka Tonic, Screw Driver, Jack Daniels and water.

Miss Traci Boudreaux  "salad in a cup" a.k.a. bloody mary.

Miss Traci Boudreaux "salad in a cup" a.k.a. bloody mary. (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

Refresh at the fest

Take breaks in between drinking and refresh with the hydrating Herbal tea. I usually go straight for the strawberry lemonade right after I devour the crawfish bread at Jazz Fest, but this year a friend suggested the herbal Rosemint Tea. Not only is it delicious, it’s also rehydrating, as opposed to regular iced tea or coffee, which dehydrates the body. The Rosemint tea is made with spring water, rose hips, hibiscus, peppermint and lemon grass, and it's sweetened with fresh, raw Louisiana honey.

JF Herbal tea

Rosemint herbal tea (photo: Traci Boudreaux)

Do what ya wanna or indulge in the experience

You don’t need a plan. Go wherever you want. Do what you want to do. And don’t worry about your schedule. This year I let myself wander and take in all the sights, sounds and tastes of Jazz Fest. I started to get stressed out about staying on a schedule and seeing all of the "must-see" performers, but once I decided to just let it go, I felt free. One of my favorite things about jazz fest (besides the food) is watching people enjoy themselves. So, this time, I allowed myself the time to stand back and take it all in.

There’s something special about the way good music and food brings all types of people together. And no one does that better than New Orleans. As one Jazz fester, Allen Kirkley, told me, “Jazzfest is healthy, because it’s good for your soul,” he said.

Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.