How to eat healthy at Disney World
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When you think of eating at Disney World, you probably think of Mickey-shaped ice cream, decorative cupcakes, Dole Whip, hot dogs, fries and all things sugary and salty, as seen on #DisneyFood on Instagram. You’re not wrong. But eating healthy at Disney World isn’t impossible. And, it’s about to get even easier.
Disney recently announced that Walt Disney World and Disneyland will begin serving hundreds of new plant-based dishes. All items are made with plant-based ingredients and without meat, dairy, eggs or honey. A green leaf icon will denote these items on menus. At Disney World, the new dishes will launch at quick service venues on October 1 and at table service restaurants on October 3. (Disneyland will launch its enhanced plant-based menu in spring 2020.)
But whether you want to go full-on plant-based or simply try and stick to a healthier eating plan while exploring the “most magical place on earth,” here are some tips.
Don’t skip breakfast
With early-morning rope drops (i.e., park openings), it can be tempting to skip a good breakfast, but that’s a big no-no if you want to eat healthy.
Jamie Neal, a registered dietitian in Houston, said breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. She recommended a big, healthy breakfast with lean protein such as an omelet, plus greens, oatmeal and healthy fats like avocado. We found it easy to put together a breakfast like that at Spyglass Grill at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
At Club Level at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, there were hard-boiled eggs, sliced meats and oatmeal with fruit.
If you stay at the Disney Swan and Dolphin, part of the included Marriott Platinum breakfast options are fresh fruit smoothies.
At Sunshine Seasons within Epcot, you can find overnight oats or a breakfast power wrap with wild rice, sweet potatoes, blueberries, avocado and tofu. And when we splurged on a breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, there were plenty of egg-based options, including scrambled eggs with vegetables.
The point is, regardless of where you stay, finding good fuel to start the day is 100% doable at Disney World. (Just maybe skip the candy Mickey waffles.)
Focus on fresh
Neal said to look for a variety of fresh snacks such as fruit, veggies or nuts and steer clear of sugar-laden or processed foods. This was a simple task at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Hollywood Studios is home to Anaheim Produce, fully stocked with ready-to-eat veggie sticks, pineapple, cheese, mandarin oranges, apple slices, whole fruits and more.
Within Epcot, we found snack packages of hummus with veggies, and the snack carts weren’t all ice cream bars and Mickey-shaped pretzels.
Club Level at the new Gran Destino tower at the Coronado Resort (the first moderate Disney property with a club lounge), means you can snack on included fresh fire-roasted veggies in the evenings.
Because Disney lets you bring in outside food into the parks, you can also easily pack healthy snacks for your Disney vacation. Here’s how to get groceries delivered while staying at Disney to make that whole process easier.
Remember to hydrate
An easy way to stay on a healthy eating plan at Disney World is to skip the sugary beverages and stick to water for hydration. Honestly, in the Orlando heat, you may need to drink even more water than the recommended half your body weight in ounces per day.
Disney sells $4 water bottles at every turn, but there are also plenty of water fountains where you can refill bottles, and most quick-service restaurants are more than happy to give you free ice and water cups.
Choose quick-service restaurants wisely
Some Disney World quick-service restaurants and food courts naturally tend toward a healthier menu than others. For example, the Sunshine Seasons food court at Epcot (next to The Land ride, where some of the food is actually grown) is stocked with healthy options.
These healthy options include fresh fruit smoothies, fruit cups, green beans, whole fruit, rotisserie chicken, a salmon children’s meal and a power salad of kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli slaw, chicory with quinoa, dried cherries, goat cheese, almonds and sliced chicken breast. How’s that for theme-park food?
At Sunshine Seasons, the vegan korma with meatless chicken curry, cauliflower, peas, carrots and onion is tasty, with the right amount of kick.
Washing the vegan meal down with a strawberry-banana smoothie rounds out a healthy meal at Disney World.
On the flip side, if you want a quick meal from, say, Casey’s Corner on Main Street USA, your healthy options are much more limited. That particular quick-service restaurant specializes in fries and hot dogs (there’s even one smothered in macaroni and cheese with bacon). If you end up at Casey’s Corner, perhaps the plant-based slaw dog is the way to go.
Other plant-based treats
If you’re trying to eat all plant-based foods, it’s a snap with Disney’s new enhanced options that includes 400 different dishes.
Some of the new menu items include:
- At Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen in the Magic Kingdom: Shiriki Noodle Salad made with noodles, edamame beans, mushrooms, green mango and cucumber, tossed with a sweet chili sauce.
- At Docking Bay 7 Food & Cargo at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Disney’s Hollywood Studios): Felucian Garden Spread made with plant-based “kefta,” herb hummus and tomato-cucumber relish served with pita.
- At Epcot’s Le Cellier: Steamed Asian Dumplings served with bok choy, Chinese long beans, red peppers and radish in broth
- At Satu’li at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Chili-Spiced Crispy Fried Tofu Bowl with a crunchy veggie slow, boba balls and your choice of base and sauce.
Look for the green leaf icon on menus to easily find the plant-based dishes.
At Skipper Canteen in Adventureland, we can vouch for the Perkins Thai Noodles with tofu, vegetables and rice noodles tossed in a spicy soy glaze. The restaurant also serves Falls Family Falafel, complete with toasted pumpkin seeds. Plant-based meatloaf and sloppy Joes at Liberty Square and Cosmic Ray’s are other choices you wouldn’t expect to find in a theme park. (Not all the plant-based choices fit a strictly vegan diet; you could remove the Gorgonzola cheese from the Wedge Salad at The Plaza.)
On a recent visit, we tried the Lighthouse Sandwich at Columbia Harbour House and were pleased. It was served on toasted multigrain bread, included hummus with tomato and broccoli slaw and a side of potato chips.
Not all the items on Disney’s plant-based menu are a resounding success. We weren’t wowed by the Mermaid Donut at Prince Eric’s Village Market. The consistency was … odd. It had a bit of a chewy texture I wasn’t expecting that was different from other gluten-free doughnuts I’ve sampled.
The icing was OK, though a bit sweet. The mermaid tail was just bad (those of us who sampled it took healthy swigs of water afterward). Overall, the taste was completely off — sort of a cross between toothpaste, corn syrup and white chocolate. At a price of almost $6 when you figure in tax, it’s best to let this mermaid swim away and focus your plant-based hunger elsewhere. Of course, this is also a great reminder that plant based doesn’t necessarily mean 100% healthy.
Take a seat
While there are healthy quick-service options at Disney World, the sit-down dining offers a wider variety of healthy food.
Neal recommended that you seek out nutrient-dense entrees with veggies and protein. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side, and consider sharing larger entrees or even ordering off the children’s menu to help with portion control. It helps that Disney kids meals include things like seared wild salmon with steamed green beans and brown basmati ride.
We found many healthy options at Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including the avocado and tomato salad as an appetizer and the pomegranate-lacquered chicken with sweet potato polenta, Brussels sprouts and citrus-fennel salad.
For a fancier healthy meal with a killer view, check out California Grill at the top of Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
This swanky joint with a five-star fireworks view has a variety of healthier food, including the absolutely succulent chef’s garden heirloom-tomato starter. This was so amazing that skipping the dressing didn’t hurt a bit.
On the California Grill menu, you can also find a variety of sushi and sashimi.
Though if sushi, sashimi or other Japanese options are high on your list, check out the newest Disney restaurant, Takumi-Tei, in Epcot. It’s one of the best restaurants in the entire park and goes heavy on the healthy options.
Modify your meal
I’ve eaten at Disney World on a strict diet of no dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, etc. when nursing a baby with an extremely sensitive system. There is no question that the days I was at Disney World were the best of that entire year from a dining perspective since Disney makes meal modifications and avoiding food allergens an absolute dream. You can select your allergens or dining needs when you book your meals online, and a chef will meet with you when you sit down at the restaurant.
During that year of strict eating, I enjoyed a special meal at Disney’s ‘Ohana that met all of the above dining requirements and was still out-of-this-world delicious and healthy. The chef was kind and accommodating, so I didn’t feel shy about speaking up about my dietary needs and restrictions.
Neal recommended healthy eaters ask for at least some basic modifications, such as grilled meats instead of fried, a tomato-based sauce instead of a cream sauce and a side salad or fruit instead of fries.
Treat yourself daily
Even our healthy-eating expert said it’s OK to enjoy one treat a day on vacation. Just try to select a guilt-free option, such as sorbet or yogurt, when you can.
One of the coolest places to get a healthier treat at Disney World is Erin McKenna’s Bakery in Disney Springs. When I was on that dairy-free nursing diet, I sought out this bakery at its New York City location, and even shipped cupcakes and doughnuts to myself in Texas when I was feeling especially desperate. Everything on this menu is vegan, kosher and gluten-free.
This includes agave-sweetened brownie bites, pumpkin cupcakes and oat-raisin cookies. Our official TPG taster tried the Thin Mint shake with rice milk and chocolate cake balls, but gave the biggest thumbs-up to the brownie bites.
There is also a vegan coconut-based soft-serve ice cream and my personal favorite: the cinnamon-sugar cake doughnuts (I’m sure those aren’t healthy, but they are amazing and made on site).
Eating healthy at Disney World isn’t just doable, it’s actually fun and delicious. Also keep in mind that your step count will probably be in the tens of thousands per day at Disney World. We got up to 40,000 steps on a particularly intensive Disney day, so stay hydrated, pack healthy snacks and order wisely to keep yourself feeling great while enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth.
Remember that at Disney World, the easiest way to pay for meals is to tap that Magic Band and charge everything to your Disney Resort room. At checkout, you can then pay for everything at once with a credit card that awards a bonus on travel and hotel charges, like the 3 points per dollar you can earn on travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier℠ Card. If you are at a restaurant, you could also opt to just pay there with a card that shines for dining, such as the 4 points per dollar you could earn on dining with the American Express® Gold Card. The information for the Citi Premier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
While we’re on the topic of food at Disney World, here’s a look at some of our other favorite Disney World restaurants.
Want to read more about Disney parks around the world? Check out our other Disney guides…
- The Best Points Hotels Near Disney World in 2018
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Disney World
- In the Shadow of the Mouse: Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- How to Save Money By Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
- The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- How to Use Points to Buy Disney Tickets
- Disney World Without Kids: 10 Ways to Enjoy an Adult Trip to Disney
- 10 Things Kids Will Love at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii
- How to Ride Every Ride at Disney World
Featured image courtesy of Disney Parks
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