Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: If you’re dieting or just trying to eat healthy in general, just say no to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, and you will not be satisfied with your stowed-away bag of celery sticks when you see someone shoving a lobster roll into their face. Trust me. I’ve tried it, and failed miserably. Multiple times. Even the vegan booth will not save you. I tell you this as a friend.
The good news is that Disney isn’t really known as much for their food the rest of the year as they are their entertainment. That isn’t to say they don’t have some great food – there are plenty of splurges worth making, which I will discuss in great gluttonous detail at the end of this post – but for the most part, you can get by and still stay on track with just a few tips and tricks:
1. Pack snacks.
When I’m trying to eat healthier, I bring a small backpack and toss in some snacks like pretzels, carrot sticks, grapes, almonds, etc. to keep me sane between meals. Warning: This does not fly at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. I tried to bring in snacks once and got berated because apparently my $60 ticket price was not enough to justify me forgoing their sub-par food (Dippin’ Dots are an exception to this rule, because those are the shiz). I argued and lost. Next time, I’ll just tell them I have diabetes.
2. Stay hydrated.
I know this isn’t rocket science, but truly, drinking a ton of water will keep you full for longer and help prevent you from passing out from the crazy hot sun. Bonus: If tourists in line are pissing you off, you can always throw it on them and just blame Florida’s unpredictable weather.
3. Remember: You’re walking. A lot. And sweating, if it’s anywhere from March through November.
Translation: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Have the treat you really want, because you’ll be walking miles and miles that day. Wear a pedometer and see what I mean.
4. Pack a lunch.
This is actually one of my best tips because as far as I know, there’s nothing you can get for lunch that you can’t get for a snack or dinner, and it saves a ton of money. I usually eat breakfast before I go, pack a cooler with lunch and eat in the air-conditioned car before park hopping after we do the first park of the day. It works out nicely, and gives you more room to splurge on snacks and dinner.
5. Do your research.
There are tons of websites that list Disney menus, including allears.net and even just the straight-up WDW website. Wherever you make your reservation(s), Google the menus and pick what you want ahead of time. This will save time when you’re at the restaurant, and keep you from getting too tempted by what everyone else is ordering, since you’ll already know what you’re up against.
6. Take advantage of those fruit stands.
I give Disney Parks a lot of credit – they really are jumping on the health wagon, and I appreciate it. There are tons of stands that offer fresh fruit, water, etc. At most quick-service restaurants, too, I notice you can get fruit or veggies as a side instead of French fries or whatever. Very helpful.
Next page: Splurge on the things that are worth it!
7. Splurge on the things that are worth it.
I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Churros are not worth it. I’ve had them and they’re OK, but I mean
they’re nothing special. To me, anyway. Your splurge items might be completely different. But here are just a few things I think are especially worth the calories:
Mickey Ice Cream Bar (all parks)
Mickey ice cream bar: Take me or leave me.
If you like vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate, put this in your mouth. And if you don’t like those things, see a doctor for a mental-health evaluation because that just does not compute. These treats are perfect on a hot day, aka 99 percent of days in Orlando. And the dark chocolate gives you just enough sweetness without drop-kicking you right in your molars, which is what I think a milk-chocolate shell would do. Yum, fewer cavities. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
Huge-Ass Turkey Leg (all parks)
Fun fact: My friend Abby’s dad, David Jarrett, first introduced the turkey leg to Walt Disney World in 1989, when he was a Disney food & beverage manager. I fangirled unnecessarily when I found this out, and Abby is still my friend, so she’s obviously a keeper.
There is nothing negative to be said about these beacons of delicious meat. They can easily feed three normal people/one and a half people like me for lunch, and they are so popular that people fantasize about Yankee Candles manufacturing products based on their scent. I would totally buy one of those around Thanksgiving, by the way. Or anytime. Ever. There is even a turkey-leg air freshener you can get at Magic Kingdom that will transform your car into a medieval renaissance fair, sans swords and cleavage. Or not – I’m not here to judge your weaponry and wardrobe choices.
Dole Whip (Adventureland, Magic Kingdom)
Image courtesy of Disneyfoodblog.com
This magic blend of pineapple and vanilla froyo is a gift from the heavens. They offer a version with orange, but who has the luxury of assuming a perfect food item can get any better?
La Cava del Tequila (Mexico Pavilion, Epcot)
There’s usually a line for this place, but it’s worth it. I mean, you’re waiting in line for attractions all day anyway – why not get a margarita at the end instead of a boat ride? It makes sense. I recommend the Avocado margarita. And they actually have a skinny margarita on their menu, too!
Cheddar Cheese Soup (Le Cellier Steakhouse, Canada Pavilion, Epcot)
Bless Le Cellier for putting a tiny sample of this delicious nectar at their Food & Wine Fest booth, but if you want to get a real-sized portion, make a reservation at Le Cellier. Honestly, I wasn’t super impressed with the steak there, but the trip is worth it for this appetizer alone.
Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken ('50s Prime Time Café, Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
This restaurant actually wins all the Jen awards for most fun. If you haven’t been, do yourself a favor and go immediately. Your waitress is your “mom” and she makes you eat all your veggies and gives you homework. It’s hilarious. And the restaurant is set up to look like a kitchen/dining room from the 1950s, complete with a 50s-style living room waiting area. And there’s a full bar.
It was my birthday and this may have been our third drink before noon. Oops. But hey, Disney alcohol is weaker! Or something.
The fried chicken is my favorite meal. It meets my southern-upbringing expectations about how fried chicken should be and then some: perfectly crispy, and with the most delicious sides. I had no idea how I felt about collard greens before my first experience at the ‘50s Prime Time Café, but I can now safely say I feel extremely favorably about them.
Bongo’s (West Side, Downtown Disney)
this whole restaurant. The quick-service is OK, but make a reservation and be prepared to stuff yourself with Cuban food until you’re sick.
Ger’s Bread & Butter Pudding (Raglan Road, Pleasure Island, Downtown Disney)
Just bask in the glory of those sauces.
My fiancé Josh and I have had many bread puddings in our day, but we agree that Raglan Road’s version is the best. Amazing texture and flavor, and just enough to share after a nice Irish meal.
Beverly Soda (Club Cool, Future World, Epcot)
Just try it. You’ll love it
I realize this started as a diet blog and ended with gratuitous food-and-drink pimping, and for that I am sorry. But that pretty much sums up my life, and I’m not ashamed.
What foods/drinks are worth the splurge to you? Do you have any tips for keeping healthy at Walt Disney World?