Are you worried about dining healthy at Disney? It’s possible! After 7 years, my family of four returned to Disney World for a much anticipated vacation. My kids are now 11 and 14 years old, meaning they are “adults” in the eyes of Disney. We were lucky enough to schedule a vacation during a “free dining plan” promotion. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a blessing or a curse. We were entitled to one counter service meal, one table service meal and one snack per day along with a mug that could be used for free refills at any hotel with fountain drinks. For my family, this was an excessive amount of food. Each meal included an entrée, non-alcoholic beverage and a dessert. Yes, a dessert at each meal on top of a daily snack which usually means an ice cream, frosted rice crispy treat or other sugar laden cookie, cake or pie.
What to do? Survey first and be (a little) creative. There are so many healthy options available for the choosing if you decide to take advantage of them. I’ll share with you some of the strategies I used to find family friendly options that saved many calories along the way.
Strategy #1: Breakfast- find the protein.
Start your busy day with a blood sugar stabilizing breakfast. You can always find egg whites, or make your own omelet options. There is also fruit, oatmeal and an assortment of lower sugar cereals with low fat milk. If you find yourself at a buffet, there is often scrambled and hard cooked eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, turkey sausages to pair with fruit. If not whole grain, choose a carb that’s worth the treat- a Mickey shaped waffle anyone?
Strategy #2: Find the veggies.
Nearly every restaurant we patronized offered a variety of sides with an entrée. In Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom, we enjoyed lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. I chose a grilled chicken sandwich which came with a choice of apple slices, green beans or fries. The topping bar was overflowing with lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, banana peppers, pickles and sautéed mushrooms and onions. Here’s where a little creativity goes a long way. I piled my plate high with these sandwich fixings, added the grilled chicken, ditched the bun and enjoyed a few fries instead. The Sunshine Seasons food court in “The Land“ in Epcot prepared a Power Salad with chicken, shredded cabbage/brussels sprouts, quinoa, goat cheese, almonds and dried cherries. Our food court in Port Orleans-Riverside has a build-your-own salad bar where a happy server will toss all of your favorite veggies, nuts, seeds and chicken. Just make sure to ask for dressing on the side and fork dip to minimize your portions.
Strategy #3: Stick to the 2 Tablespoon or 3 bite rule for desserts and decadent buffet items.
Just because you receive it does not mean you have to eat the whole thing. I’m a sucker for Key Lime Pie, especially when in Florida. The trick is enjoying either a very small portion or going for the whole thing when it’s something you truly love rather than inhaling a giant dessert 3 times per day just because it’s there. Those M & M cookies were the size of my head! Ask for a kid’s size portion of ice cream, or think of dessert alternatives. Often, you could choose a cappuccino, latte or fruit instead.
Strategy #4: Beverages count, choose wisely.
Between the refill cups and a beverage entitlement at each meal, that’s a lot of sugar, or chemicals depending on your choices. My daughter was very enamored with the light lemonade which meant artificial sweeteners. We watered it down ½ and ½ with refills to minimize them. The same holds true to table service, ask for diluted juice, unsweetened iced tea, even unsweetened green tea in Japan in EPCOT.
Strategy #4: Find the whole grains.
Mama Melrose’s restaurant in Hollywood Studios offered Seafood Arrabbiata over whole wheat spaghetti, and the build your own pasta station in our hotel food court gives a choice of whole grain pasta with added veggies, marinara, chicken or shrimp. At Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café in Downtown Disney, I loved their Quinoa and White Bean burger with goat cheese. My trade-off is to avoid the bun for some fries.
Strategy #5: Skip the sugar while snacking.
Disney has really improved their snack options over the last several years. Available at our hotel food court were the following healthy snack items: cut fruit cup, grapes, carrots/celery with dip, apple slices with caramel dip, a trio of clementines, or hummus with pretzels. For a sweet treat, enjoy a frozen banana with chocolate and nuts.
A note about kids meals:
Kudos to Disney for providing apple slices or grapes and carrots, and low fat milk with counter service kids meals. If requested a 100% juice box or 8oz Nesquik chocolate milk can be substituted. A far cry from the fries and soda we used to find in all kids meals. To receive the “Mickey Check”, foods must meet Disney Nutrition Guidelines developed by health experts and align to federal dietary guideline recommendations. See the criteria and learn about Mickey Check meals here.
Disney has also done an excellent job accommodating meatless guests. Check out the Gardein based choices available at the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival. I spied some Tofutti and Rice Dream frozen dessert options as well.
There are SO many restaurants and dining options at Walt Disney World. My advice? Do some exploring before you go. Plan to enjoy yourself (it is vacation), and choose your indulgences wisely.
Please share your favorite Disney food finds! What did you enjoy that’s healthy and what is definitely worth the treat?