4 Tips for Eating Well at Pow Wows

4 Tips for Eating Well at Pow Wows

Posted By Ruth Swaney September 6th, 2012 Last Updated on: September 6th, 2012

As a mom of two and a grandmother of four, it’s an eternal challenge to eat reasonably at powwows!

Especially when you’re not camping with a full kitchen for all the cooking.  First there’s the nutritional and healthy challenge.  Next there’s the financial challenge.  And then there’s the time and convenience challenge.  Plus there’s the challenge of offering something appealing to the kids.  Lastly, it has to work for my slowing middle-aged metabolism, the physical demands of one daughter’s fancy shawl and the other daughter’s jingle, and four growing kids.

How can we put it all together with some measure of success?

Most powwows offer the standard fare of burgers, Indian tacos, stew, chili, and the inevitable frybread.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff too.  But high-calorie, high-fat, and low-fiber just aren’t the best things for an entire weekend several times a month or several months a year.  You don’t have to be an expert to know that obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are becoming serious issues in Indian country.  It’s ironic that powwow participants, especially dancers, should have to worry because dancing is great exercise and can be enjoyed by all ages and physical ability levels.  But several hours of dancing can be rapidly undone by an Indian taco, several sugary drinks, and various snacks.  And that’s just one session of a weekend event.

If you’re remembering how you noshed at the last powwow, you’re thinking, “uh oh, here comes the lecture!”  Fear not.  I understand that eating habits are difficult to change.  So I’m offering suggestions for making small changes.

Just try one.  Later, try another.  It adds up.

Here are my 4 tips for eating well at Pow Wows!

1.  Substitute water for soda and juice.  I know, I know, pop tastes good and it’s really cheap especially when you buy the jumbo sizes.  But water can’t be beat for being the best for  hydration.  To wean yourself from pop if that’s your vice, try individual packets of ice tea (I like Crystal Light) and other flavorings to mix in.  Best of all, water can be stored in any kind and size of container.  Be eco-friendly and use thermos jugs or stainless steel containers and they will take up no more room than a case or two of bottled water.  Even better try a hydration backpack like the Camelbak Hydration Pack.  Carry your water for the day with you all the time!

2. Think “finger food” that you can eat without bowls, plates, or utensils.  Get your sweet fix with fruit.  Freeze your fruit before the trip. Frozen grapes are like candy and can help keep your cooler chilled.  I make my own by buying fresh strawberries, blueberries, etc., and freeze them in quart-size bags.  Soothe your craving for crunch with some fresh veggies like baby carrots, celery sticks, and snap peas.  We’ve been trying all different kinds of hummus for dipping the veggies.

3.  When it’s available, pack along dry meat or smoked or dried salmon.  Beef jerky, nuts (pinon and pistachio are the best), and low-fat string cheese are also good protein sources.

4.  Try different kinds of tortillas (wheat, herb, and corn) for making wraps with slices of turkey or ham, lettuce and tomatoes.

If you eat sensibly on Friday and Saturday, on Sunday you can treat yourself to a burger or Indian taco, because the occasional splurge is okay.  Happy eating!

How do you eat well at Pow Wows?  Send us your best tips!

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While I agree with the idea of making healthier food choices at Pow-Wows, the food vendors make their living, or at least supplement their income, by attendees buying food there.
Some of the vendors at the Shinnecock Pow-Wow have grilled protein choices (salmon, or other Eastern fish), mussels, vegetarian soups. These dishes are usually made with squashes, if not in the soups, its a side dish for the plates.
I do enjoy the fry bread, Indian Tacos, and things like that, but I look for grilled foods where possible, and get the fry bread from those who are using thawed frozen fruits as opposed to those who have preserves. Sassafras tea (unsweetened) with ice is very refreshing while enjoying the sights on a hot summer day.
The gatherings I have attended have a vendor that sells bottled water, non-Native snacks, etc…
Yes, I usually bring some water, fruits that I don’t normally find at the gathering, just for snacking purposes, but do purchase a meal from one of the vendors…#support #deliciousFood


I too bring water along with Dr. Pepper and other carbonated drinks; mainly to cut costs because buying a drink at a pow wow is an arm and a leg. So my cooler is packed. I try to eat somewhat healthy and make a pasta sald with chicken, broccoli, cherry tomatos and garbonzo beans. Also to snack on during the long eventful evening I pack and cut my own vegatables i.e carrots,celery and cucumbers usually. Althoug it is usually my daughter and I who eat the pasta salad and veggies I hope that in the future my hubby will follow suit. 🙂


As far as the pasta salad I use Suddenly Salad- in which most times it is about 1.98-2.15 a box


@Sandra, sorry but my ancestors didn’t eat lard or butter.
We usually Walmart. And get. Lot of water,almonds,bananas,apples,peanutbutter, and we bring our own bffalo jerky.
Caffine. In soda will dehydrate you,so stay with water,bananas have potassium to help with cramping from dancing.
This is a good thing for people to read,tired of seeing our ppl obese.

Sandra Brigham

Ancestors as in 200-500 yrs ago. There were no Walmarts then :-). In other words, evolutionarily speaking, eat what we were designed to eat. Meat and fat were abundant. Vegetables were mostly root, shoots and tubers. Fruit was mostly berries and a few other wild fruits. Apart from berries, fruit was rare. Fruit is high in sugar and loaded with fructose (except berries). Most people aiming to lose weight do well avoiding carbohydrates (starches, grains, sugars).


@Ndn … Aho! My husband and I take almost the same items to PowWows. So Totally agree with you.

Sandra Brigham

Ok, so I’ve never done a pow wow but I’m from northern Maine (in MA now) and just might have Maliseet ancestors. There are new studies coming out that show it’s the Standard American Diet of low-fat, low-protein and high carb that is making us fat. Ditch ALL grains, seed oils, legumes, and dairy but increase the saturated fat and protein and lose: the weight, high blood pressure, diabetes, and all other diseases of civilization. Google Paleo Diet or Robb Wolff or Mark Sisson. No this is not an ad! or a fad. It’s based on what neolithic peoples ate before the Europeans made contact and introduced flour, sugar, legumes, etc. There’s a whole movement of people losing 20-200 lbs by eating pastured meat, fish, eggs, berries, lard, pastured butter…sound familiar? What your/our Indian ancestors ate just 500 yrs ago and they were healthy! I’m happy to share more if anyone is interested. Best…


More great options, granola bars, dried beef jerky, dried fruits. Using a cooler mozzarella sticks, healthy low sodium sandwich meat. A jar of Peanut butter presliced apples works well. Oranges and pears. Dried nuts….that’s how I like to eat healthy.

Dee Huffman

We love bison so we try to get burgers with lettuce and tomatoes and onions. We have to eat something green during the long weekend and it’s usually a salad. We bring frozen water because we don’t drink soda. Great advice. Attended the Shinnecock PowWow last weekend, on the reservation where my great grandparents lived. It was awesome and I will keep your great tips in mind when we go to the last two of the season. Dee

jeff jeannotte

Watermelon keeps very well as do bags of apple and oranges.

Paul G

Great idea!

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