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Walt Disney World Healthy Eating: Sticking to Your Resolutions

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Soooo, the new year is upon us, with the new year comes New Year’s resolutions, and one of the most common resolutions is to lose weight or eat healthier. The problem, however, is that you have a trip planned to food-and-beverage-Mecca Walt Disney World, where around every corner you’ll be tempted with decadent treats.  

How do you enjoy your trip without completely derailing your weight loss efforts?  I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to drop a significant amount of weight over the last several months, and I’ve done it while continuing to visit both Walt Disney World and Disneyland on the regular. Read on to find out how you can have a great time, eat well, and still lose weight (or at least minimize the damage) on your trip!

What is “Healthy” Eating?

Is this healthy? It depends… Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

First of all, we need to define what constitutes “healthy” eating for the purposes of this article, because it is a topic on which there is significant disagreement within the health and fitness community. Depending upon who you’re talking to, healthy eating could mean avoiding carbohydrates, avoiding fat, avoiding meat, avoiding certain very specific foods while eating others, or just limiting caloric intake. Some dietary plans will have you eating things that other plans consider verboten. It presents a bit of a quagmire when offering weight loss advice for the masses, because I am certain that those of you reading this have different eating plans.

The good news is that there are probably several things that we can universally agree are not going to help your weight loss efforts. I’m not aware of any diet that allows you to eat unlimited amounts of candy and junk food, so we’re going to steer clear of that. Moreover, food that is breaded and deep fried is rarely going to be your best option (although I have to confess that I love a good corn dog), so we’re going to avoid that across the board as well.  Enormous plates of pasta with cream sauce?  Unlikely to work out as well. Ultimately, though, you know what you shouldn’t be eating, and the purpose of this article is not to make those decisions for you, it is to help develop strategies that will help you stay on track at Walt Disney World.

The least controversial weight loss regimen is simply ingesting fewer calories than you burn, so I’m going to focus upon ways to eat foods that are good caloric values — that is to say, that they are filling and tasty without adding a ton of calories to your daily intake — and that have some nutritional value. They may not always be the lowest-calorie item available to you, but I am striving to identify restaurants that have foods that give you the most bang for your buck in terms of keeping you satisfied.  

Disney Dining Hacks

The same tips and tricks that can help you navigate eating out at home will also work at Disney World, but here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  • Ask For What You Want, Even If It’s Not On The Menu

The chefs at Disney’s restaurants — particularly at the Table Service restaurants — are both very knowledgeable about the menu items and willing to try to work around your diet and provide you with something that you can eat. This typically comes up in the context of food allergies, but there’s no reason you can’t take advantage of this same flexibility in an effort to eat food that is consistent with what you are trying to do. Just tell your server what it is you’re wanting, and in most circumstances, either the server or the chef will be able to come up with some ideas that will fit your diet. It might be something as simple as substituting steamed veggies for fries as your side dish or as complicated as creating something that isn’t on the menu at all, but Disney is very accommodating and helpful when it comes to working around your food needs.

  • Avoid the Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan and buffets provide ample opportunity to stray from your plan
The Disney Dining Plan and buffets provide ample opportunity to stray from your plan

While there are occasionally sharply diverging opinions on whether or not the dining plan is a good deal from a financial standpoint, there is little disagreement on the idea that it delivers a spectacular amount of food. In addition to your entrees, the Standard Dining Plan has you eating one dessert and two snacks per day, and if you’re trying to limit your intake of sweets, that’s not a great combination. Yes, there are some healthy snacks available, but you’re still setting yourself up for serious temptation by having these snack credits available to you that you need to use for something. Either you don’t use them and jettison any prayer of “getting your money’s worth,” or you do use them and risk completely derailing your plan.  

The other aspect of the dining plan that is problematic is that it forces, or at least strongly suggests, that you eat a particular way. As explained in more detail below, some of the best strategies for eating healthy have you eating in non-traditional ways, like having appetizers (which are not covered by the dining plan) or splitting meals (which doesn’t make efficient use of your credits).

Bonus tip: on a related note, all-you-can-eat buffets (which, incidentally, are some of the best ways to make the Dining Plan make sense financially) should be avoided to the extent possible as well. This same problem manifests itself at any all-you-can-eat place, not just as Disney, but between being on vacation and legitimately tempting options, these buffets at Disney can be particular minefields.   

  • Non-Traditional Meals

Don’t feel constrained by the way that Disney has structured its menu. While Quick Service places in particular tend to offer their meals with a side included, like french fries, you can also get most things without that side. It removes that temptation from your plate, and it also happens to save you money.

Moreover, Disney portions are in general quite large. Especially when you’re trying to limit your calories, splitting a meal with someone will typically provide more than enough food for both of you to be satisfied. Similarly, some of the more interesting menu items tend to be appetizers, and you can often cobble together a meal that is plenty satisfying by having your party split a few appetizers. Don’t feel like just because you’re at a restaurant, you’re required to eat a particular way — use the menu to put together something that works for you.

  • BYOF

If you really want to stay on point, there’s no substitute for bringing your own food into the parks, and Disney does let you do just that. Many people bring food into the park to save money, but you can also bring food into the park to maintain complete control over what you’re putting into your body. I don’t personally go this far, but what I do tend to do is carry a healthy snack with me into the parks so if I’m feeling hungry between meals, I have something on hand that isn’t packed with calories and I’m not tempted to have a caramel apple packing a jaw-dropping 927 calories. A piece of fruit or a protein bar is a much better option than that chocolate-dipped rice krispie treat calling your name.

  • Cocktails

Do you enjoy an adult beverage while you’re on vacation at Disney? Yeah, me too. Disney has several specialty cocktails that are available more or less across the resort, and most of them have a TON of added sugar.  I can’t identify a single one that I could recommend as “health conscious” with a straight face, so if you’re wanting to get your drink on while at Disney but you don’t want to add a bunch of empty liquid calories, skip these across the board. Instead, opt for wine or cocktails without sugary mixers.

Disney has also dramatically broadened its craft beer selection over the past couple of years. I LOVE craft beer — in fact, you can probably draw a straight line between the craft beer explosion and my need to lose weight in the first place — but these can have as many calories as some of the sugary cocktails. The point is, if you’re a beer fan, light beer should be where you look. I know, I know, I don’t like it, either, but it is what it is.

  • Select Your Restaurant by Menu Item

Did you know that TouringPlans gives you the ability to search ALL Walt Disney World menus simultaneously by menu item?  With that being the case, why not use this handy tool to use the foods you want to eat select where you eat, rather than picking a restaurant and trying to wedge its menu into your eating plan?

Let’s say you’re at Epcot and you want to eat something quick, so you’re thinking of going to a Counter Service place. Grilled options are going to tend to be healthier than things that are fried, and you can identify the restaurants that provide grilled chicken, for example, by doing the following:

Open the Lines App, and scroll down to “Search Menus for Items” under the “WDW Planning Tools” heading:


Click on “Modify Advanced Search Filters” and select “Epcot” and “Counter Service” in the appropriate spots:



Search for “grilled chicken” (note the use of quotes for the phrase “grilled chicken” — without the quotation marks, you will return search results for grilled OR chicken:


Review your options, pick a restaurant, and head there to eat!

  • Look for Menu Buzzwords

Because you don’t know exactly what Disney is putting into any given dish, there is necessarily some guesswork in figuring out which dishes are “healthy” when looking at a menu. With that said, certain buzzwords will give you a decent idea of what you’re in for — for example, the same piece of chicken can be grilled or battered and fried, and the former is going to be a much better option regardless of what sort of diet you’re trying to follow.  

Look for Avoid
Baked Battered
Boiled Covered
Broiled Creamed
Grilled Crispy (code for fried)
Poached Fried
Roasted Glazed (code for sugar)
Steamed Pan-fried (read: cooked in fat)
Vinaigrette Sauteed  (read: cooked in fat)
Whole wheat/whole grain Smothered

Obviously, including a good word isn’t a guarantee that the dish will be a healthy option — even a whole grain bun can be loaded with calories —  and the presence of a “bad” word doesn’t mean that the dish will necessarily be a gut bomb, so you still need to look at it as a whole and make an educated decision. For example, while vinaigrettes are likely to be the best salad dressing option, they can also be loaded with added sugar, so you’re not doing yourself any favors if you douse your salad in something like that. With that said, looking out for these and similar buzz words should help direct you in the right direction.

  • Treat Yo’ Self

Just because you’re committed to healthy eating while you’re on your trip, it doesn’t mean you have to completely deprive yourself. If forgoing treats entirely for the duration of your vacation is doable for you, you know, mazel tov, but for the rest of us that think the food at Disney is part of the draw, rest easy knowing that you don’t have to completely pretend that those treats don’t exist (which is an exercise in futility, anyway).

Successful long term weight loss is not about depriving yourself, it is about learning moderation. It’s going to be tough to work the Kitchen Sink at Beaches ‘n’ Cream into a healthy dining strategy, but if you want to treat yourself to a Dole Whip (which, incidentally, only has 80 calories per half cup!) or something along the way, do it — just account for it and plan it into your day so you’re not “cheating.” As long as the rest of your day is on point and your eating on the whole is reasonable, consciously allowing yourself an indulgence here and there isn’t going to kill you.

Where to Eat?

Most restaurants at Walt Disney World have something that will enable you to formulate a reasonably healthy meal, but some places are definitely better than others. Here are a few recommendations for places that have several options that are already pretty healthy, or that can be tweaked without radically alterations.

Magic Kingdom

  • Liberty Square Market (for healthy snacks)
  • Plaza Restaurant
  • Skipper Canteen

Animal Kingdom

  • Harambe Market 
  • Yak & Yeti (both the QS and TS places)


  • Coral Reef
  • Restaurant Marrakesh
  • Sunshine Seasons
  • Tangerine Cafe
  • Teppan Edo
  • Tokyo Dining

Hollywood Studios

  • ABC Commissary
  • Anaheim Produce (for healthy snacks)
  • Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Starring Rolls Cafe

Activity Level

Crescent Lake provides several jogging trails

Here’s a bit of good news: your efforts are going to be made easier by virtue of the fact that you’re probably going to be walking MUCH more than usual, and those extra calories burned will help offset some of the food you take in.  That doesn’t mean you’re free to go hog wild, it just means that you’ll have a bit more of a caloric cushion than you would if you were at home sitting behind a desk or something.

What if you’re already active at home?  Does your weight loss regimen include regular visits to the gym, running, or some other activity?  My recommendation is that you stick with your program even though you’re on vacation, and Disney makes this easy by having workout facilities and/or running trails at most of the resorts. My personal favorite is jogging around the Crescent Lake area — it’s a gorgeous area, and there are designated trails ranging from .8 miles (around the lake itself) to a full 5K course (which has you jogging up to Hollywood Studios and back) or more, so there are options regardless of your fitness level.

There are two reasons for not taking a break during your trip: the first is that your body doesn’t know you’re on vacation, it just knows you’re no longer doing the good stuff for it you were doing, so stopping while you’re on vacation has the potential to stall your progress from a fitness standpoint. Yes, you’re walking a lot, but it doesn’t get your heart rate up like cardio exercise or give you the extra benefits of lifting weights.

The second reason is probably more important, however: at least for me, part of a successful weight loss effort has been making it part of my routine, part of my day-to day existence. Breaking from that routine, even for vacation, means that you have to get BACK into that routine when you return from vacation. That can be tough to do, and the worst thing you can do is having your week-long breather become the reason you allowed yourself to slide back into your old habits when you returned from your trip. Accordingly, even if I don’t do exactly what I would be doing if I were at home, I always try to do SOMETHING on the same schedule as I would be on if I were home just to keep myself mentally in the groove.  


Glenn “Alan” Mize, Jr., 1982-2016

In closing, one of the people I met over the course of my own weight loss journey was Alan Mize, a beloved member of the Disney fan community that I knew best as @NORMNB8S on Twitter and one of the co-hosts of the Enchanted Tiki Talk Podcast.  Alan lost a significant amount of weight, and after being introduced to him a few months ago, he and I swapped food and exercise encouragement from time to time; I found his success to be an inspiration, and it was something that helped keep me honest in my own efforts.

As many of you may already know, Alan unfortunately passed away Christmas Eve leaving behind his wife and 3 month old daughter, and I’d like to dedicate this post to him. If you’d like to help, an account has been set up to assist with his daughter Grace’s education, and you can contribute here.  Please donate if you can, every little bit helps. Thank you!

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So, let’s hear from you!  What tips and tricks to you use to stay healthy while at Disney?  What restaurants do you visit?  Let us know in the comments!

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Jamie Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable child, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

7 thoughts on “Walt Disney World Healthy Eating: Sticking to Your Resolutions

  • Thank you for this post. It’s always good to be mindful of what you are eating but I did not realize that the app did this! It is also helpful for my picky eater son! I even checked the Disneyland app & it does the same thing. We are headed there this spring! Thanks!
    The tribute to Alan is a nice touch. Such a loss and very sad to hear. He touched many more that he’ll never know about.

  • Great tips, James. And the bonus is that eating healthier at WDW also often means spending less, especially if you’re sharing meals. We’ve often found that we can get by splitting meals, which CMs have always been fine with doing for us at table service restaurants. Also, thanks for the tribute to Alan Mize. What a horrible loss for his family.

    • Yeah, and that further underscores that the dining plan should be avoided, I think. To get your money’s worth, you really have to eat the most decadent things on the menu, and a lot of it. You can save a lot of money AND stay on track with your eating plan by just getting what you want and paying out of pocket.

  • Interesting post, thanks!! One thing I’m surprised you didn’t discuss: soft drinks. To me, sodas are one of those things that any diet would have you avoid, yet like snacks and buffets, you really need to consume them in order to make those meal plans financially viable. Pretty much any doctor or dietician will almost always tell you to drink more water, and all that walking in the California or Florida sunshine will demand it. Plus, it’s free! Carry a reusable bottle that you can fill at water fountains or restaurants when you inevitably need to wet your whistle, and avoid spending $5 per person each time for a huge dose of diet-killing sugar.

    • Absolutely! I’ve honestly been off soda for so long that it wasn’t really on my radar, but that is a great point! We always have a bottle of water with us in the parks so we can refill it as needed, and it helps resist the urge to buy something sweet and sugary. Good tip!

    • One thing that helps is that at quick serve restaurants, if you are on the meal plan, you can usually substitute the soda with a bottle of water. Obviously doesn’t work with table service but isn’t a complete waste with the counter service. Still overall better to skip the meal plan if you don’t drink sodas or are trying to eat in moderation.


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