Destination Disney: Making the Most of Your Dining Experience

Katie Leahy
RD, Stronger U Coach

Food

What goes hand in hand with venturing to the happiest place on earth? Magical experiences, including all things food and drinks. While we will likely easily accrue 20k steps after one day of park hopping, we know we cannot out-walk a poor diet. Disney is like literally being in the world’s largest candy/food/bakery/alcohol store all at once. Everywhere you turn, anything and everything is at your fingertips, for a cost, of course.

 As a coach, I hope that the individuals I work with, past or present, will practice what they know in more situations than not, to some degree, even at Disney. Another plus with dining at Disney is having endless options to choose from based on your needs, expectations, preferences, and budget. The downside, everywhere you go within Disney offers convenience, and great eating awaits. A realistic goal to have is keeping food as intentional as possible. I am here to provide some of my own favorite tips and tricks for navigating a Disney vacation when trying to lose weight (or at least maintain)! Now put on your mickey ears, and let’s get to work.

Head to Disney with a Plan in Place

Any Disney travel guide will tell you: a plan is key when heading to the parks. Whether you’re looking to get reservations to popular restaurants, hit all of the best rides, or, yes, purchase extra experiences and souvenirs, preplanning will help you make the most of the Magical Kingdom. For over three decades of Disney, I have continued to echo a lot of the same practices that leave me feeling well-fed & confident: 

Plan Meals in Your Room

My mom used to pack a box of cereal in her suitcase (truth), and we would buy the milk at the hotel. I found out years later that she even packed an entire Easter basket filled and wrapped up when our stay overlapped with the holiday on one trip. While some things have changed since then, I always make sure in advance that there will be a mini-fridge in our room so we can pick up or have basic groceries delivered. 

A personal travel goal is to stay very close to my typical day-to-day food routine to support satiety, digestion, and feeling good overall. Of course, having basic groceries will help with this. Most Disney hotels have groceries available on-premises, but prices are often insanely inflated (hello, $7 tiny water). 

This year at Disney, I kept breakfast simple with protein oatmeal cups & berries paired with a premier protein shake. I topped it off with a coffee I made in the room.

Take Advantage of Your Room Amenities

Keep simple by using the complimentary coffee in your hotel room. It’s free, and you know exactly what goes into it. If you can avoid standing in line and spending M&M’s (macros & money, not the candy) on specialty coffee, you can use that time to gear up for the day ahead. The Disney resorts are stocking Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. in each property guest hotel room. I drank mine leisurely every morning while waiting for the Disney buses to arrive. 

Pack Your Protein (and Carbs, and Fat)

Pack your lunch & snacks. Why? Because you can. At Disney, you can BYOF into the parks, and it’s really appreciated, at least by me. We are a family of five and take full advantage of stuffing our backpacks/stroller with refillable water bottles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, baby carrots, apples, grapes, popcorn, and a few extra bars, as needed. Kids are snacking machines, and I would rather avoid the constant pit stops for $4 popcorn per kid. 

One day I forgot snacks but had sandwich baggies with me, and I splurged for the popcorn and split it three ways. Sharing is caring, and another way to save big at Disney with M&M’s is splitting the splurges with others. 

BYOF offers simplicity, costs a lot less, saves time from waiting in long food lines and makes finding a table/spot to eat a lot easier. Additionally, while Disney is very transparent about food allergies, packing food ahead could make things less complicated and offer that additional peace of mind for individuals and families. Everything is SO much more fun at Disney, isn’t it?? I agree, as I even enjoyed rucking around a backpack filled with some extra food for over 23k steps in a day. Following these first three steps, even by the end of the days, our wallets stayed primarily full, and our bags were finally light. 

Having a game plan for our meals enabled us a little extra spending money on things we/the girls wanted to take home for souvenirs (like those $30 mickey ears that I may be wearing as I type). 

Pick Your Plate Perfectly

Enjoying Disney isn’t just about cutting corners to reduce cost and calories inside the park. But by planning your food and controlling your M&Ms, you will be able to eat at the parks, enjoying only the best food Disney has to offer. So here are my top tips for eating at the parks (and enjoying every bite!).

Be Picky

Enjoy the food and drinks you can only get at Disney. This is a big one for me. For example, I typically associate Magic Kingdom (even in my 30’s) with Mickey Mouse ears on a stick ice cream. However, our grocery stores started carrying them (can you imagine my excitement?!), and they made an occasional appearance in our freezer. So for this trip, in particular, I decided to skip the chocolate ice cream ears and spend that 250 kcal elsewhere. Fried chicken is not something I typically order, but when it’s the chef’s fav thing on the menu, you try it without regrets. See below for my splurges!

Enjoy a Meal Out

Going out to eat? Keep your other meals of the day reasonable, lighter, leaner, and stay hydrated. Enjoy your meal(s) out to the fullest by building up your plate protein first, fitting in the veggies where/when you can, and listening to your fullness cues. Skip the apps and bread on the table. 

Survey the drinks and dessert list to determine if any are a worthy splurge. Consider that all or something compromise versus all or nothing where you fit it all in, the big meal, drinks, and desserts. The day we went to Magic Kingdom, I knew we weren’t going to any of the sit-down restaurants that more recently started to allow some alcohol while dining out only. So that day, I had in mind sharing a dessert with whatever kid would let me. That specialty chocolate-covered Mickey rice Krispy treat was worth the bites I was allowed. 

Preplan Your Park Restaurant Pick

We planned ahead to eat out once per day at a sit-down restaurant. Since reservations are highly recommended these days, it gave us a chance to check out the menu in advance once we had a time reserved. I went in with a focus on ordering protein/veggie-based entrees. Examples of meals I ordered: giant salad with grilled chicken, ancient grain bowl with grilled chicken, ratatouille, egg white veggie omelet, grilled veggie sandwich. While out and about, we can easily get caught up in the excitement but setting up even loose expectations ahead of time isn’t a bad idea. 

 

 

Just another reason to love Disney more…at the end of each holiday season, Disney recycles their life-sized gingerbread house (which can be found at the Grand Floridian Hotel) per people magazine, by feeding them to local bees to help reduce their declining population. Check out the article here. Way to reduce food waste Disney!)

Coach KT’s Top 5 Disney World Food Splurges

Just another reason to love Disney more: at the end of each holiday season, Disney recycles their life-sized gingerbread house (which can be found at the Grand Floridian Hotel) by feeding them to local bees to help reduce their declining population. Check out the article here. Way to minimize food waste, Disney!)

Of course, a trip to Disney isn’t complete without enjoying some of the iconic food that the parks are known for. Because I visit Disney with a plan, I can easily enjoy some of my favorite foods without derailing my goals. Here are a few of my must-enjoy plates from Disney:

  • Chef Mickey’s Character Breakfast @ Contemporary Resort, mickey-shaped waffles/harvest sweet rolls 
  • Indian-Style Bread Service @ Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas Sanaa restaurant 
  • Brownie sundae @ Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shoppe, Disney Springs 
  • Fried Chicken dinner with mac n cheese & coleslaw @ Home Comin Kitchen, Disney Springs
  • Animal Kingdom Villas, Kidani Village, strawberry daiquiri poolside (sipped slowly while two of my kids went down the waterslide consecutively over 100 times)

Disney NON-FOOD PERKS:

  • Transportation options are endless when staying at certain Disney resorts! Buses have always been a staple, but additionally get to theme parks, visit other hotels by monorail, Disney Skyliner aka Aerial Gondola (NEW), and even get to Disney springs by boat (Not open in December at our last visit). 

You might have been expecting a blog telling you what to order at all of the popular Disney restaurants. Since we all have different food preferences, schedules, and budgets, I felt it was more helpful to give you a strategy instead. At any park, restaurant, or hotel, you will not have any trouble getting what you want. In fact, there will be a plethora of high-quality foods plated in extraordinary ways; it’s up to you to choose how you fuel yourself to spend your buck. Food can be fun and still support your short and long-term health, wellness, and play. With food, I encourage you to plan ahead where you can, survey your options, build your meals protein first, fit in veggies, prioritize hydration, and enjoy the magic! 

A very special thanks to Lori & Michael Edelman, our very own fabulous SU/Disney guide!

Shoutouts to the SU community that participated in the 2022 Walt Disney World Marathon/half/10k/5k! Alex C., Lisa D., Rebecca D., Elizabeth D., Amber F., Erin H., Caitlin K., Silvia M., Charlene M., Amber M., Janice R., Marissa S., Elizabeth D., Joanna W., and everyone else representing SU and a Stronger YOU! 

A very special thanks to Lori & Michael Edelman, our very own fabulous SU/Disney guide!

Shout outs to the SU community that participated in the 2022 Walt Disney World Marathon/half/10k/5k! Alex C., Lisa D., Rebecca D., Elizabeth D., Amber F., Erin H., Caitlin K., Silvia M., Charlene M., Amber M., Janice R., Marissa S., Elizabeth D., Joanna W.,
and everyone else representing SU and a Stronger YOU! 

 

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