When you hear ‘theme park food', you may think of the image below. Many theme parks have no (or VERY few) healthy options.
Disney World is a little different. With a little planning, it is possible to eat healthy food at Disney World!
We just got back from an annual week-long vacation to Orlando. And, guess what! We ate mostly healthy food at Disney World!
Before I get started, I want to give you the lowdown on how we ‘do Disney'. Everyone does it differently, so I hope you can take what we do and use it for some helpful tips.
Our Disney Parameters
We stay on Disney World property.
We are Disney Vacation Club members (yes, we love Disney) and we use our ‘points' to stay in a 1 bedroom villa. There are 7 hotels with villa options at WDW (available to ‘cash' customers as well as DVC members). The 1 BR villa has a full kitchen, which is super helpful for eating healthy! Many of their ‘regular ‘hotel rooms, however, do have a refrigerator and microwave in the room.
We do not rent a car.
We use the Magical Express from Orlando airport and head straight to Disney World to start having fun. Having a car would make it easier to go to the grocery store to get healthy food, but we never leave Disney property so don't need the car.
We have no desire to make this a 100% healthy food vacation.
We are on vacation, having fun and do not expect everything to be healthy. While a week of unhealthy food is not going to hurt us, we do like to try and eat as healthy as possible, for the most part because our bodies feel better and we have less of an adjustment period once we get home.
Real/Healthy food is defined loosely.
When I say we were trying to eat healthy at Disney, I mean eating more whole foods, less heavily processed garbage foods. We were not at all expecting to eat organic, pastured, gmo-free (which is impossible when eating out), local, etc. We were just trying to avoid the major junk!
Disney Meal Plans.
We did and have always done the Disney Meal plan. There are different plans but the one we purchased included 1 snack, 1 quick service and 1 table service meal per day. We have always found this to be a good value for us, but after this trip I am re-thinking that. More on meal plans later!
I find this to be super helpful to eating healthy (and economically) at Disney World. We bring a lot of food with us! For this trip I packed:
dried fruit, nuts, sea salt, Zing bars (my husband's favorite), granola, fruit leather, whole grain crackers, sea palm crunchies and some fruit. I also brought a variety of teas and small tupperwares of chia seeds and kelp granules.
For the first time, I packed a small carry on size cooler with pastured bacon, organic lunch meats, organic butter, raw cheese, beef sticks, and coffee. I used a small piece of dry ice on top of the food items (which might have been unnecessary for such a short trip). I learned that you can take dry ice in your carry on as long as it is under 5.5 lbs of ice. Of course, check with your airline to be sure this is okay.
Because we do not rent a car and had access to a full kitchen, we needed grocery items. Most Disney hotels have a small mini-mart type grocery section but they are mostly filled with crappy processed foods. We have always used this grocer to deliver our groceries to the hotel. It works out great. I place the order at least 48 hours in advance and they deliver the food and the hotel keeps it cold until you arrive. They carry a decent amount of organic items, too (even Ezekial sprouted bread)!
- From the grocery, I ordered: sprouted wheat bread, organic yogurt, peppers, onions, spinach, avocado, carrots, apples, grapes, bananas, organic eggs, peanut butter and bottled water. My only disappointment was they included low fat yogurt instead of the whole milk yogurt I had ordered.
I realize not everyone has a full kitchen in their hotel, but more hotels are offering rooms with kitchenettes. At the least, you can find hotels with mini refrigerators in the rooms. We find this to be immensely helpful no matter where we travel to help us eat healthy and to keep food costs down.
I had such success with bringing the frozen foods on the plane, that it got me thinking I could have brought cooked foods (bacon, casseroles, soups) that were frozen in my carry on cooler which would be helpful if we had not had access to a kitchen but had access to a refrigerator and a microwave.
A note about the dry ice: The TSA agent was unsure about the dry ice but since I had done my research I stood firm and he checked with 2 supervisors and finally got confirmation that I was correct that you can bring 4.8 lbs in your carry on. He had to swab each and every piece of food in the cooler, which was hysterically funny. (I wish my husband at taken a picture!) He laughed and said, “wow, looks like you guys really like your bacon!” LOL!
At Disney World
Because we had brought so much food with us and gotten the groceries we ate breakfast every morning in the room. This helped us at least start off our day on a healthy note!
Our breakfasts consisted of the following:
- Yogurt with granola, fruit and chia seeds
- Eggs scrambled with lots of veggies
- Pastured bacon and sausage
- Peanut butter on sprouted wheat toast (my daughter's standard)
- We ate at one breakfast buffet on our last day (a character experience in our hotel). I was impressed with the spread. In addition to the usual pancakes, pastries, etc. there were fresh salads, fresh fruits and a delightful quinoa salad that I am still trying to recreate!
Lunches and Dinners:
Lunches and dinners were out at the parks or hotels. There were several (new to us) sit down restaurants we wanted to try and we were pleased with all of them!
Ordering off the kids' menus was made even easier as Disney has introduced a ‘Mickey Check‘ program which highlights one or two ‘healthy' meals for kids. These meals include a lean protein or a whole grain, fruit vegetables. (Think grilled chicken, broccoli and sweet potato).
Now real foodists can be nit-picky on the standards used for this program, but given how horrendous the kids' menus were before, I think this is a nice start.
For lunch, we generally tried to scout out a quick service restaurant that served salads and sandwiches.
The new My Disney Experience service (and app) is great for searching for restaurants and food stands and scouting out menus so you can decide where to eat. We would fill the meal in with healthy snacks.
We were also very impressed that in Epcot we were able to get sushi and edamame. Not a bad theme park lunch!
For dinners, we looked forward to trying to some new restaurants and visiting old favorites. Eating dinner at Disney is a highlight of our trip as we enjoy walking around the parks at night, checking out other Disney hotels and most of the table service restaurants are quite good.
My pictures of dinner foods are horrible as I just was using my phone and the restaurants were so dark. Plus, I forgot to take pictures of half the dinners we ate. Oops! Anyway, we always tried to add a salad to our meal to increase our vegetable intake for the day.
We had plenty of snacks in the room to bring to the park, dried fruit, nuts, fruit, veggies and more. You can bring your own food into Disney parks, so I usually tossed a few things in my backpack for the day.
However, because we had the meal plan, we did use that to ‘buy' some snacks at the parks. We usually chose fruit, iced tea or bottled water.
One thing I noticed that was encouraging was that there were more and more healthy snack options at every park we went to. Fresh fruits, edamame, pickles, veggie/hummus trays, Honest Tea, etc. These snack stands were scattered throughout all the parks making finding a healthy snack a pretty easy task!.
Of course, not everything was healthy! We still had our fair share of ‘fun' foods.
And, of course, alcohol…especially at Epcot! (The tequila bar in ‘Mexico' is a favorite of ours!) It is a vacation, after all. 😉
Disney Meal Plans
I am rethinking if we will do the meal plan again. In the past, we have always found it a value. We always did a lot of character meals (sit down meals where various Disney characters come to the table) and since these can be expensive, having them included in the meal plan made sense.
However, my daughter seems to be ‘over' the character meals. We only did one, a breakfast buffet at our hotel, and while she was excited to see Goofy and Donald Duck, it wasn't a huge highlight for her!
Also, this time we made such an effort to bring/order groceries that I don't think we needed to have the meal plan. Since we had so much food in our room, we easily could have packed a healthy and delicious lunch to take into the parks.
We were clearly cooking breakfast and had plenty of snacks. We did go out to dinner each night (and will continue to do so) but that doesn't make the meal plan worth it.
I also have a huge gripe with the meal plan. Each meal (quick service or table service) includes an entree, a dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. Some servers let you swap out the dessert for a snack (a side salad, bag of grapes, edamame, or a bottle of water etc.) but not all.
I get so tired of having desserts pushed on us twice a day. If I want dessert, I will gladly have one. But when it is included in the meal plan and they do not consistently allow substitutions, I feel like I am wasting the money I spent on the plan. If I want dessert, I am going to have an ice cream or something, not some nasty prepackaged cookie.
I wish Disney would change this aspect of the meal plan. (If a Disney exec is reading this, please take note!! Either stop the desserts or give an option of a dessert or a side salad/fruit/snack).
Where We Ate
Disney fans always want to know where people eat on their vacation. So, for those who are interested here is a list of where we ate:
Quick Service Meals:
- Aloha Isle (Magic Kingdom) – pineapple Dole whip (Tamara's FAVORITE!)
- Columbia Harbor House (Magic Kingdom) – good salads and sandwiches
- Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe (Magic Kingdom) – salads, sandwiches, soups, roast chicken
- La Cava de Tequila (Epcot) – margaritas and chips and guacamole!
- Katsura Grill (Epcot) – sushi rolls, edamame, chicken teriyaki
- Starring Rolls Cafe (Hollywood Studios) – sandwiches and fruit
- Sunset Ranch Market (Hollywood Studios) – healthy snacks
- Yak and Yeti Cafe (Animal Kingdom) – asian food
- Leaning Palms (Typhoon Lagoon) – sandwiches, salads, burgers
- Beach Club Marketplace (Beach Club Hotel) – sandwiches, salads, soups
Table Service Meals:
- Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) – delicious food in Beast's castle (brand new restaurant)
- La Hacienda San Angel (Epcot) – Mexican food, more Tex-Mex than the San Angel Inn
- Via Napoli Ristorante and Pizzeria (Epcot) – delicious thin crust wood oven pizza and great salads
- Kouzzina by Cat Cora (Boardwalk) – delicious food with a Greek and Southern influence.
- Cape May Breakfast Buffet (Beach Club Hotel) – character breakfast. Extensive buffet with several healthy options.
- Boma – Flavors of Africa (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – HUGE buffet with a variety of foods, many with an African flair.
- Luau Cove (Polynesian Hotel) – family style dining with a Polynesian show.
Anyway, I hope this helps give you some ideas of what you can do to make your next trip to Disney World a little healthier!
What do you do to try to eat healthier on vacation? I'd love to know! Leave your comments below!
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