Walt Disney World has some incredible, totally unhealthy foods. There are also plenty of ways to eat healthy at Disney restaurants without consuming nothing but boring and bland salads. This post covers my recent quest to eat good food, while sticking to a somewhat healthy diet while visiting Walt Disney World.
I know, this is heresy. “Calories don’t count on vacation” is a popular mantra, but in fact-checking it, I’ve discovered it might not be true. To my surprise, it’s also not true that healthy food at Walt Disney World is boring, bland, or borderline inedible. Before we dig into that, I should probably offer an explanation as to why I’m writing about healthy living.
If you did a double-take when you saw this post title, assuming it was clickbait or perhaps a late April Fool’s entry, I don’t blame you. This blog has long celebrated all things gluttonous, and has been a leading advocate in the crusade to eat cupcakes for breakfast and ice cream multiple times per day at Walt Disney World. Seeing this post on this blog might feel like a *record scratch* *freeze frame* kinda deal. Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I found myself eating healthy at Walt Disney World…
Unfortunately, during a visit to the doctor earlier this year, I was questioned about my normal dietary intake. It was an offhand query, but when I answered honestly, my doctor had a horrified look and drew my labs. Turns out, I have high cholesterol. I was just as shocked as you are–who could’ve possibly known that a steady diet of theme park food, ramen, In-N-Out burgers, and soft serve was unhealthy?! (The moral of this story: always lie to your doctor.)
In any case, I was advised that I needed to change my diet. Over the last few months, I’ve done exactly that, although probably not to an excessive degree. When we’re home, my diet is mostly “plant-forward.” When we’re traveling, it’s about 50/50 in terms of healthiness, but I don’t hesitate to eat things that are ridiculous. From my perspective, good food is essential to a good life. I’m perfectly willing to cut some jun, but not all of the fattening masterpieces that put a smile on my face.
To that end, on our recent Walt Disney World trip, I made a concerted effort to eat healthier with that 50/50 approach. This proved to be a herculean task, because I was tempted by so many delicious-looking foods. Once I powered through the temptation, I was surprised that the healthier options I ordered were much better than expected. Here’s some of what I had, followed by overall thoughts on eating healthy at Walt Disney World…
The first step to eating healthier didn’t require sacrificing much of anything. We ate large breakfasts, with plenty of fruit and vegetables. As fruit at the in-park stands is expensive (and portions are ridiculously small), we opted to order groceries. This is fairly par for the course for us.
In our Getting Groceries at Walt Disney World post (and elsewhere) I’ve covered how we normally do breakfast in our hotel room to save money. Walt Disney World breakfast is typically bad, so I have zero regrets about doing this over buying items at the food court or in the parks. It saves money, calories, and time. There’s almost no downside.
We followed our same breakfast strategy as normal, but also ordered additional fruits and carrots this time and ate larger breakfasts in our room. I also tried to carry an apple and protein bars with me into the parks everyday, which replaced my normal pre-lunch cupcake snack. (I didn’t have a single cupcake on this trip, which was a huge victory as compared to the norm.)
Although it’s not a new approach for us, we also carried coffee sticks in lieu of ordering Coke for caffeination purposes. We each use about 3 of these per day rather than ordering large Cokes, which is a decent amount of empty calories.
While I absolutely love Coca-Cola, those are “unnecessary” calories and an unnecessary expense that we cut from our trip budgets a couple years ago.
One of the things I was dreading the most was ordering salads at counter service restaurants instead of my normal entree choices. I know from Sarah’s experiences that salads have improved dramatically in the last few years, and are no longer just iceberg lettuce with a small ration of vegetables tossed in for color, but I still wasn’t looking forward to this.
Nonetheless, I was surprised at just how good some of these salads tasted. Although quinoa is my long-time nemesis, the Vegetable Quinoa Salad at Electric Umbrella was especially tasty, and arguably one of thestandout items on the menu. (It took every fiber of my being not to order the Brisket Sandwich.)
Also in Epcot, I ordered the Vegan Korma with Gardein Meatless Chik’n at Sunshine Seasons. I was incredibly skeptical of this, but it was good. The spicy curry masked the flavor of the “Chik’n” and that helped fake the flavor of meat. The end result was much better than I expected.
With that said, I was selective about where I ordered salads. Since I am not “all in” on this whole healthy eating thing, I did choose unhealthy meals about half of the time. Basically, whenever the salad or vegetarian options sounded suspect, I just fell back to my tried and true favorites.
The Vegan Korma with Gardein Meatless Chik’n at Sunshine Seasons is what I’d view as an “extreme” meal. I wanted to order the salmon, which I love and is sufficiently healthy, but that ordering bay was inexplicably closed during our visit. In retrospect, I’m glad I tried the Vegan Korma to “expand my horizons,” but I’d opt for the salmon going forward.
In general, ordering salmon is a good tip for eating healthier at Walt Disney World. There’s understandable apprehension about ordering counter service salmon, but our experience with it has been pretty good at Sunshine Seasons, Columbia Harbour House, and ABC Commissary.
Another solid choice for ‘do it yourself’ healthy meals is Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn. Several menu items are particularly healthy, and there are several items on the toppings bar that further increase the healthiness of these entrees.
Ordering one of the rice bowls and then loading with toppings is an inexpensive, filling, and healthy choice in Magic Kingdom.
Sarah advised me that my customization choices in ordering the Slow-Roasted Sliced Grilled Beef Bowl at Satu’li Canteen made it “not healthy.”
I feel like I deserve the win here. Compared to what I wanted to eat (St. Louis Rib Dinner at Flame Tree BBQ), this dish was healthy. From my perspective, making healthier choices deserves some points. It’s all relative, right?
Saying I always ate healthy during our stay at Port Orleans French Quarter would be disingenuous. While I did have the above salad one day, I also had Beignet Ice Cream Sundae. Remember, this is the 50/50 approach, not extreme dieting.
When I didn’t order salads, I tried to order my food as an “entree-only” or with a side of fruit. The entree-only move is a tip we’ve shared in other posts, but it doesn’t work everywhere.
You also might recall from our Woody’s Lunch Box Review that even though we were able to get those decidedly unhealthy sandwiches without sides, I ended up eating pretty much everything because Sarah ate at Ample Hills on our walk to DHS. (In my overzealous effort to be healthy, I didn’t eat any Ample Hills this trip, and I regret it on a daily basis.)
In the past, I’ve been averse to ordering fruit at Walt Disney World, as you receive a pathetic amount as compared to fries. That’s still my opinion (and I further believe that if Disney were doing more than paying lip service to their healthy living initiative, they’d make the fruit sides more appealing), but I did it anyway in a couple of situations when no-side was not an option.
Normally, if I wanted to eat healthy at Walt Disney World, avoiding buffets would be my course of action. They’re too conducive to excessive consumption, as I always want to get the most ‘bang for my buck.’ Nevertheless, we did 1900 Park Fare this trip.
My strategy here was starting with a large plate of fruits, followed by some items I seldom pick at buffets because I consider them filler that gets in the way of the meats. (Seriously, look at any of our past reviews from buffets–it’s very easy to see which photos are of my plate and which are Sarah’s!)
In fairness, I still ate a bunch of junk at the 1900 Park Fare buffet, but part of that is “necessary” to providing thorough and useful reviews.
Reviewing a buffet based upon the fruits and vegetables would be about as useless as a vegetarian reviewing a steakhouse. In the end, I’m betting I consumed about half as many calories at 1900 Park Fare as I would’ve on a normal trip. Thus, another victory even if I did eat a bowl of strawberry soup that probably had like 2,483 calories in it.
I was pleasantly surprised with my experience eating healthier at Walt Disney World. Obviously, I didn’t go all out, but I feel my balanced approach suited me well, and allowed me to still have a lot of ‘fun with food.’ On our next visit, this probably won’t be quite as easy, since the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be underway and there are a ton of the Halloween snacks that I “have” to eat. I’m still going to make an effort to balance that out with lighter and healthy dishes.
Moreover, and as much as I hate to admit it, I felt better after several of the meals on this trip. Quite often, I eat too much (another shock, I know!). This makes me feel lethargic, and I just want to ride the PeopleMover or sit in air-conditioned stage shows afterwards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach, but there’s definitely something to be said for having extra pep in your step while at Walt Disney World. Had I actually done a hardcore vegetarian diet, perhaps my body would’ve felt even better.
On the other hand, I doubt my mind would’ve been happier. I definitely had fewer memorable dining experiences on this Walt Disney World trip. The best salad cannot hold a candle to even the worst burger. (I feel like that’s a line from the Gospel According to Ron Swanson.) I have vegetarian friends who claim “you can’t taste a difference” in whatever meatless stuff they’re eating, but that’s patently false. Once you become habituated to salads and vegan dishes, you think they taste delicious. Then BAM, one tender porterhouse and it’s like upgrading from a 1960s RCA black & white television console to a Samsung 88″ 8K UltraHD model.
Ultimately, this is why I was satisfied with my 50/50 healthy approach. I ate healthy enough so that I felt better, but unhealthy enough so I also felt happier. Even after I “cure” my high cholesterol, I’ll probably stick with such an approach. Unfortunately, I’m not getting any younger. It seems like the good ole days of a cupcake for breakfast followed by an ice cream cookie sandwich for brunch followed by a burger for lunch followed by poutine fries for an afternoon snack and so on without any negative consequences are probably behind me. If I manage to keep this 50/50 approach up, I’ll do updates with healthy options I try (and enjoy) on future trips to Walt Disney World.
Do you eat healthy at Walt Disney World? What are some of your favorite healthier options at WDW restaurants? Any other tips for those who want to trim some calories from their Disney diets? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!