A couple weeks ago our family spent a week in Orlando, visiting Disney World. It was great to get away from the freezing Maryland winter and spend some time in the Florida sun, enjoying one of our favorite places. We also got a chance to hang out with our friend Tony from Fitness in an Evolutionary Direction.
Being that this was our second trip to the resort in the past year, I made a conscious effort to track how we ate so that families heading down to the park can see how we managed. Overall, it’s a great place to visit if you’re concerned about diet, although you’ll have to actively avoid sugar, since it’s just about everywhere there! Alright, let’s get down to business.
There are basically three ways to get by at Disney World:
1) Disney Dining Plan. Disney offers different levels of meal plans, from the most basic which includes 2 “quick service” meals (where you go up and order food, cafeteria-style) and 1 snack a day, or other options that also include “table service” meals (sit-down, order-from-a-menu meals). This offers the maximum convenience, especially if you are staying at a resort hotel, since you don’t have to worry about taking food around all day. But it also leaves you with the least options since you’re at the mercy of whatever is available. All meal plan meals come with a drink and a dessert in addition to the meal – often the desserts should be skipped entirely, but there is sometimes gelato or fruit, or they’ll let you get veggies instead of dessert. More info on the dining plans are here.
2) DIY. If you have a rental car or another form of transportation, there are several grocery stores nearby, including a Whole Foods, so you can stock up on supplies and bring your meals into the park. You’re allowed to bring whatever food you want into the park, although they don’t want people bringing glass containers in. With access to a grocery store, you’ll be able to stock up on perishables, including probiotic foods. On one trip we bought kefir and some fermented veggies, to maintain strong guts in case we inadvertently ate something that wasn’t good for our bellies.
3) A mix of the two. You can get a meal plan and supplement with your own foods to maximize nutrition. This is what we’ve done the past two times we’ve gone down there. We just stick with the cheapest meal plan (quick service plan) and it’s more than enough for us. If you’re willing to spend more money, the table services almost always have a fish or salad option, which makes it easy to find something decent. Personally, we found that table service meals just take too long in general compared to quick service meals, and we’d rather be out having fun in the parks – so supplementing the inferior quick service meals with nutritious foods of our own definitely helped. We just packed the food into our luggage, which conveniently left room in our bags for souvenirs on the return trip.
For breakfasts, we mostly ate in our hotel room before setting off for the day. We packed a bag of organic green apples, sunflower/almond butter, a bunch of bananas, smoked fish, dried fruit, and beef jerky for our breakfasts. My breakfasts were often like what you see above – beef jerky, figs, prunes, and a banana – with hot tea and water on the side. If you have access to Whole Foods, they sell hardboiled eggs, so you can get those and stock up for breakfasts.
Each resort hotel also offers breakfast (quick service), which we got from time to time – this “deluxe” breakfast you see above is supposed to come with a biscuit and waffle, but we were able to get extra potatoes and eggs instead, and it also comes with bacon and sausage. One big breakfast was enough food for two or three people.
Lunch and Dinner
Lunch and dinner were mostly with quick service meals, and there are a lot of options. Each park has a roast chicken and ribs plate available somewhere, you just have to look for it on the park map. As you can see above, some places slather BBQ sauce on the ribs (probably full of sugar), but some don’t, and you can ask for them to not put the sauce on the ribs, too.
Word to the wise – if you have a child on a meal plan, they can get an adult’s meal. Some cashiers will try and force you to get a kid’s meal, but other cashiers have told us that in the system, a meal is a meal. Often the child options are terrible (chicken nuggets, etc), so the adult meals are just a better choice for the most part.
Every meal on the plan comes with a drink, so we usually got a bottle of water, or unsweetened iced tea. Most of the meals are very heavy and calorie-dense; we often found that after lunch we weren’t in the mood for another big meal, so we’d get a chicken caesar salad (no croutons and dressing on the side) to complement the heavy regular meals.
Some places are much better than others. In the New Fantasyland area (North side of Magic Kingdom, where Toon Town used to be) there’s a new restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, which offers roasted pork shanks. They are very tasty. The shanks cost less than $10 each and count as a quick service meal (comes with a drink)
Turkey legs are also a good option, and available at every park. Also under $10, and count as a quick service meal (with drink).
Another new favorite is in New Fantasyland, the Be Our Guest Restaurant. Inspired by Beauty and the Beast, it has three different dining areas and themes. It’s pretty cool.
The food at Be Our Guest is excellent, and lunch is a quick service meal – the wife and I got braised short ribs, and our son got a turkey meatloaf. They even have a gluten-free cream puff there, as you can see above. The wait times are pretty long to get in right now (which will probably die down in time), but we we got in line at 10am and were eating by 11am. Dinner is a table service, and requires a reservation well ahead of time.
If you’re traveling to Epcot, there are plenty of food options at the World Showcase. We especially liked the sausage and sauerkraut in Germany.
Disney is extremely accommodating if you tell them that you’d like a gluten-free meal. If you get a table service meal plan you can tell them that you’d like Gluten Free options ahead of time, so they can anticipate your need. One negative thing is that most of the gluten-free options aren’t necessarily nutritious – it’s often processed stuff like GF pizza or hamburger buns. Another downside is that getting a gluten-free option can take a long time, since the chef has to come out and talk to you, you have to figure out what they have to eat and choose, and then they have to go and cook it in a separate area to avoid cross-contamination. For example, one restaurant offered to make us GF fried chicken, but it would take an additional 45 minutes for them to make it. If you have kids who are anxious to get going on rides, it can be problematic.
If you get a meal plan, you’ll get one snack a day, which gives you plenty of options. You can get fresh fruit, nuts, drinks, or treats like chocolate-covered frozen bananas. We brought a bunch of Larabars for quick snacks, and had fresh fruit and beef jerky on hand that we packed ourselves. For the most part the meal plans are very filling, so it was rare that we were even hungry enough to want snacks. We usually end up using our snacks up on the last day of our trip to buy souvenirs.
Of course, we were on vacation, so we had a few treats. We let our son have some cotton candy on our last day in the park, and we had some popcorn. Overall, I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to eat fairly clean at Disney World. If you’ve ever been stuck at a shopping mall during meal times, you know how rough it can be to find food that isn’t breaded or full of MSG sometimes – you’ll be fine here.
Update: I finally got around to editing and uploading a video from our most recent trip, which was shot almost entirely on my wife’s iPhone: