Tamara Mannelly

Can You Eat Real Food at Disney World? - www.ohlardy.com
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When you hear ‘theme park food', you may think of the image below.  Many theme parks have no (or VERY few) healthy options.

Typical theme park/carnival fare

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!

Pre-vacation Preparations

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:

Snacks:

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.

Meats/Butter/Frozen items:

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.

Carry on cooler with frozen foods and snacks

Grocery Delivery:

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.

My refrigerator stocked with delivered groceries.

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 

Breakfasts:

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 usual breakfasts at Disney

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.

From top left: Mickey meatloaf with carrot puree and zucchini; quesadilla, green beans, rice; salad medley; Tamara with salad; black beans; salad; roast pork with vegetables; a Greek chicken with rice.

Snacks:

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.

Snack stations throughout the parks

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.

Sweet treats! (These were NOT taken on the same day even though it looks like she is wearing the same clothes! lol )

And, of course, alcohol…especially at Epcot!  (The tequila bar in ‘Mexico' is a favorite of ours!)  It is a vacation, after all.  ๐Ÿ˜‰

Jalapeno Margarita from La Cava de Tequila at Epcot

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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Can You Eat Real Food at Disney World? - www.ohlardy.com

 

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48 Comments on “Can You Eat Real Food at Disney World?”

    1. Avatar

      Thank you! Yes, we love the grocery delivery aspect. Perfect when you have no car. Then you aren’t ‘stuck’! Plus the minimal delivery fee is still worth it compared to renting a car even for a short day.

      1. Avatar

        I always thought that you were not able to bring snacks into the park. Does this include drinks as well? Water etc as water is pretty pricey in the park. This will make planning our vacation in August more healthy ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Avatar

          You can absolutely bring snacks into Disney World parks. Other theme parks may have different rules but yes, drinks and snacks are allowed. (can’t bring liquor in though!). Have fun in August!!!

  1. Avatar

    Every (EVERY) Disney restaurant will give you a copy of their recipe if you ask nicely. You may even be able to call and get a copy of that quinoa salad you are trying to replicate. They don’t always turn out exactly the same, but they are pretty darn close to not have the chef’s tweaks and to be scaled down to feed 4-6 instead of 400-600.

    Also, if I remember correctly, one of the quick service places in Epcot, the one in the same building as Soarin, serves food grown on site.

  2. Avatar

    Great post! I went to Disney last year and it was a real job trying to find any good food. Luckily, I rented a car and actually drove to Whole Foods on International drive almost every day! I didn’t have a kitchen in the room I was staying in, only a small fridge, but made it work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Avatar

    We were just there in October, (also on the meal plan), I found that if I mentioned gluten free needs (which they are fabulous about!) I had no problem switching the dessert to some fruit.

  4. Avatar

    We went there about 15 years ago when our kids were little and I remember being blown away that we could actually get relatively healthy, gluten free foods there even back then. My daughter especially loved the baked sweet potatoes, we could get olive oil and vinegar at the salad bars instead of the yucky prepackaged dressings, chili at many of the fast food venues as opposed to only burgers and fries, etc. And don’t get me started on Epcot, many of the restaurants there were phenomenal and accommodated our special dietary needs without batting an eye. We even got traditionally prepared smoked cold water fishes and at the Norwegian pavilion! I’m glad they have gotten even better.

  5. Avatar

    Great article! We do a lot of the same things you mentioned. We’re in So Cal and go to Disneyland frequently. They have made a lot of changes to their menus and now have some really great options. We try to eat healthy when we go and we also have several food allergies that we have to accommodate. Disney has always been top notch in that department. We’ve found that a lot of things are available but not on the menu…you just need to ask. We try to eat at times that aren’t considered the normal meal time rush, and we find the cast members are more willing and able to help us with special requests then.

  6. Avatar

    I was so excited to find out how much Disney World has improved their quick serve options this year. There were actual vegetables available for almost every meal!

    When we go, we’re on a budget and also on vacation, so, for the most part, I don’t restrict my choices beyond “that’s going to make me feel horrible if I eat it” (I’m looking at you, french fries), so I was just thrilled with things like the taco dog at the Lunching Pad in Tomorrowland (hey, lettuce and salsa!), and the roast pork at Gaston’s Tavern.

    Since we drive down, I pack a cooler with raw milk, fermented sauerkraut, yogurt, full fat cheese, and some sort of processed meat (this time it was a cut up pepperoni stick, last time it was cooked bacon) and some sandwich fixings. We generally don’t eat breakfast in the room, but we do eat enough to take our morning pills and get us through until they start serving lunch. The raw milk is what saves me every time.

    We stay at Values or Moderates, and, while the Moderates do have slightly better food courts, Pop Century and Art of Animation have a better selection than the All Stars, especially because you can simply cross the bridge between them.

    They’ve improved SO much in the past year or so.
    WordVixen recently posted…Disney All Star ResortsMy Profile

  7. Avatar

    Thank you so much for posting this! We were lucky enough to stumble upon Garden Grocer a couple years ago when we were researching places to stay on trip advisor. I was so impressed with their selection! We also stay in a one bedroom villa on property (SO NICE to have the bus service!) and we make/eat almost every meal at the hotel. We have young kids so we usually go back for lunch and a nap so it makes it easier. Thanks again for sharing!!!

  8. Avatar

    This was an awesome post! Thanks for sharing, we are leaving in two months, and plan to eat very similarly to your philosophy while at Disney. Even still with all the dining out, we will be really cravings some non-processed real foods after our burger and shake treats. We are staying at a DVC studio, and I was thinking of checking a small soft sided cooler with home-cooked breakfast meals on the plane. My only concern is the size of the studio fridge.

    What do you think about bringing frozen raw milk in a checked bag?

  9. Avatar

    Great post! We must have just missed you at the Beach Club. We were there the first week in March, and I wrote a couple posts about real food in WDW when we got back. The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival included a lot of great food as well for anyone who’s going there between March 6 and May 19. http://realfoodrealdeals.com/2013/03/18/eating-healthy-at-disney-world-the-restaurants/
    Annemarie @ Real Food, Real Deals recently posted…Savory Roasted ChickpeasMy Profile

  10. Avatar

    As a tour director, I stay at Disney World at least four times a year. Unfortunately, large groups almost always stay at the budget resorts, where healthy food is nonexistent, so I’ve gathered quite a few Disney cheats over the years!

    1) Buy filtered water bottles (I like Brita). They eliminate the need to buy water in the parks and also take the nasty taste out of hotel tap water.
    2) The author is right about checking menus beforehand. Columbia Harbor House in MK was already mentioned – I like it for the salmon and steamed broccoli. Sunshine Seasons is the restaurant next to Soarin’ in Epcot – they have an awesome seared tuna salad. Also, not sure if this is the same quinoa salad you’re trying to duplicate, but ABC Commissary in Studios has a quinoa, arugula, couscous, and vinaigrette salad (salmon or chicken optional) that is delicious.
    3) Definitely check the resorts for less crowded mealtimes. Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary is just a walk or monorail ride away from MK, but it has black bean and scrambled egg wraps (breakfast) and blackened mahi mahi sandwiches with sautรฉed almond green beans (lunch/dinner) for decent prices.

  11. Avatar

    Hi Tamara, we are headed to disney Friday the 24th. Which markets deliver food to disney resorts? We are staying at the boardwalk villas.

    Thanks
    Jeff

  12. Avatar

    I believe it’s completely possible too! We’ve planned mainly table restaurants and a delivery from Garden Grocer this time around. Last time we are in the table service restaurants as just adults though, it will be interesting to see what my boys choose!

  13. Avatar

    Just got home from Disney world yesterday. My 3rd time this year. Do I love Disney or what. I am a vegetarian and found the restaurant staff very knowledgeable and helpful at all the restaurants. Loved Yak and Yeti’s Mango pie. It has fruit in it so it must be healthy LOL.

    One of the best parts of the disney experience is the food. I love Boma and Tusker House for the vegie options.

    I have done the meal plan and find it is good sometimes and at others not. We used it last year when we had a large group for our daughters wedding and some were sick during the week. We had so many meals left at the end of the week it was crazy. We used the meal plan for her wedding reception though. Everyone ate at Portabello’s in downtown Disney so that worked great. We also used the grocery ordering service for that trip. Wheelchairs, walkers, and, strollers were rented too. This visit I decided to get a season pass because I plan to go again in March for the flower and garden show. I think my real reson is I want to get away from cold snowy Massachusetts.

  14. Avatar

    If you let the restaurants know you are gluten free they will always let you substitute fruit for the dessert.

  15. Avatar

    Okay, I loved the article. We also go to Disney frequently. You can order groceries from amazon or vitacost too and have those delivered to your hotel a few days ahead of time. The hotel will hold your boxes for you! We gave up on the meal plan and it was THE BEST decision we made. We have three children and even they did not want to eat the crappy food offered for kids. Now we just order them an adult meal to share or an extra one and we all share. It also gives us more options for a table meal. We would much rather order an appetizer to share instead of desserts or even just get a bunch of appetizers and a salad for our meal (especially at places like the Brown Derby and California Grill which are normally two meal plan tickets and even then can be somewhat limited). One of our favorite places to eat is at the Wave inside the Contemporary. BEST coffee and it’s organic! They have other really delicious local, organic options too! I can’t wait to go again!

  16. Avatar

    WOW! It’s like you reached into my brain and wrote exactly what I would have written! We are DVC members too and usually stay at Bay Lake with the mini fridge and stopped doing the meal plan after our 3rd trip years ago. We always order perishables from garden grocer and I always load up one carry on suitcase with breakfast, lunch, and snacks! We also eat breakfast in the room, lunch we pack and bring with us, and dinner is in the park at a sit down, usually quick service because we are on such a budget! Many people don’t realize how easy it is to eat healthy and budget friendly at Disney! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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