With a look of bloated exasperation, Elizabeth Sibley realized that even one tray of cheese curds was plenty to share with her posse of four adults and two kids. "One tray is way too much for one person," the New Yorker said.

Amen. In times of tight budgets and healthy portions, it's time to suggest that many fairgoers would prefer a little less food.

Before flogging the guy who wants to flout a great Minnesota tradition, consider this. Smaller, sharable portions are already one of the top trends in the restaurant business, said Sameh Wadi, owner of Saffron in Minneapolis. "It started about 13 years ago," he said, "and now it's trickled down to fast food. Even Dairy Queen has a Mini Blizzard."

But the mega-lite bites trend hasn't reached the fairgrounds, except for a few children's portions that are off limits to grownups. While smaller morsels have been a hit at DQ, Boston Market, Starbucks and even Capital Grille, State Fair rations are staying the same or getting larger, said Dennis Larson, food concessions manager. "We call it a family or a sharable portion."

The problem with larger, family-sized servings is that not every person in the group wants to share. Even couples who share can find fair sizes too much of a good thing. What concessionaires don't seem to get is that the fair is for grazing. "People want a bite of everything," said Wadi. "That's why the dining halls are dying. One large dinner and there goes the appetite."

Robin Rutherford of Shakopee thinks small is beautiful. "All I want at the fair is a little of this and a little of that," she said as she and her gang of five shared a small cup of French fries. Exactly.

No one is getting on an orange crate and shouting, "Eat smaller and healthier!" at the corner of Judson and Nelson. On the contrary, grazers want portions smaller so they can sample even more. It would make a fairgoer proud to say, "I ate a little of everything and it all went in my stomach, not the trash."

Smaller size, smaller profit?

Food vendors should try to find a way to offer single portions and still make a profit. But it won't be easy, said Larson. Some restaurants can make just as much or more profit on half sizes, but that doesn't hold up at the fair, he said. Food costs are only about a third of a vendor's total cost. "The fair takes a 15 percent cut, sales taxes about 7 percent and then labor, insurance and fuel costs." Plus most fair vendors can't eke out more profit on extras such as liquor, appetizers and desserts.

Dave Cavallaro, owner of Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, sees a lot of problems messing with tradition. "It's not economically feasible to sell just five curds," he said. "Adding more sizes also slows down the line."

Maybe this idea is still ahead of its time. Last year, only half a dozen people contacted the fair about food portion sizes and some of them wanted larger family sizes, not smaller ones. Admittedly, not everyone agrees that smaller is better. "The portions need to be bigger," said Josh Wangen and Tyler Enderson of Albert Lea, both 16 years old. Only a bucket of Sweet Martha's cookies tests the limits of their bottomless stomachs. "I can't eat a whole bucket by myself," said Enderson, "but I've tried."

Alex Kermes of White Bear Lake begrudgingly admitted that smaller portions might be an idea to consider. "Four or five cheese curds on a stick instead of 15 might save me some pain," he said, pausing between cheese curds. "I am like a beagle. I'll eat myself to death without knowing when to stop."

I think the cause just found another spokesman.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/dealspotter.