How to Eat Healthy at Disney World

One mom learned that the park makes it pretty easy to not go off the (food) rails on vacation.
Disney restaurant

My husband and I recently took our daughters, ages 4 and 7, to Disney World. In fact it was so recently that I'm sitting here thinking wistfully, "This time three weeks ago we were on the safari at Animal Kingdom... " I can sum up our trip by simply saying that I soooo get the magic of Disney now. I can't wait to go back, which we plan to do when my youngest is 7.

Of the many things that pleasantly surprised me about Disney World, one was how healthfully my children ate. I had expected our options to consist mostly of fried food and various junk, and to be honest, I might have been okay with that, knowing it was a rare exception to their diet. But we arrived in Orlando after five days without any power in our house, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, so our eating habits were already completely out of whack. I was hoping to avoid another five in free-for-all mode, and Disney made that easy.

We ate most of our breakfasts and dinners at our resort, Art of Animation (which I couldn't possibly recommend more--family suites with three separate sleeping areas and two nice-sized bathrooms start at $252/night). I loved how when we ordered breakfast that included bacon, it was turkey bacon. Omelettes can be made with egg whites. The waffles are buckwheat. The milk contains 1% milk fat. And I really loved how every kids' meal came with a choice of two "sides" including small bags of grapes, baby carrots, and apple slices (the latter stayed crisp even after several hours in a backpack).

If my girls' palates were just a smidge more adventurous (and I use that term very loosely), they could've had a chicken "burger," or a salad with grilled shrimp or chicken, or fish with multigrain rice. One night they were too tired to even think of what they wanted to eat, so I grabbed two "protein packs" from the fridge section of the restaurant. It was a snack-lover's jackpot--a bunch of grapes, a container of lowfat yogurt, a bag of Goldfish, a lowfat cheese stick, and two chocolate-covered marshmallows--all for around $5 each.

Even the character meals we went to served healthy fare. Breakfast at Cinderella's Castle offers a "Healthy Choice" meal of scrambled egg whites, hot 10-grain cereal, yogurt with granola, no sugar added walnut-sunflower bread, and fresh fruit. (I won't lie--I went with the cream-cheese stuffed French toast and loved it.) At Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary, in addition to everything you'd expect (pizza, mac & cheese, and so on), there was grilled chicken, cooked carrots, and tons of fresh fruit.

I must give a huge shout-out to Tutto Italia, the finer-dining restaurant in Italy at Epcot. While we didn't exactly go healthy here, our lunch was outstanding and so filling, we were barely hungry come dinnertime. (This is noteworthy. We're not a family who skips meals.)

If I have one regret about our trip, it was that we didn't get to experience much of the new Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom, which has its grand opening on December 6, 2012. We'd timed our vacation to align with the annual teacher's convention in New Jersey, so that the girls wouldn't miss as much school. This is such a common practice in my state, parents refer to this period as "Jersey week" at Disney. (Alas, the convention was cancelled due to Sandy, so school was in session for three days that week after all.) What's awesome about Jersey week is that there are no crowds, relatively speaking, and hotel rates are generally much lower than the rest of the year. But this year it fell about 10 days shy of the previews for new Fantasyland, which looks downright incredible, especially to this mom of princess-focused girls.

Having said that, we got lucky enough--still not sure how--to score a trip on the "Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid" ride. What my girls will hopefully never know is that we missed out on seeing Ariel herself in Ariel's Grotto. To be clear, we did meet the princess during breakfast at Cinderella's castle, but she was in her "human form," my 7-year-old pointed out: "It's interesting"--code for a massive bummer--"that Ariel wasn't in her mermaid form." Let's keep it between us that from now on, the mermaid herself will be perched on a rock at the end of the ride, waiting to sign autographs.

The other thing we missed by a minute was getting to eat at Be Our Guest Restaurant, located right below Beast castle. Unlike other restaurants, it'll have quick-service food during the day and offer table-service dining at night. But like the rest of the Disney eateries, there's considerable effort made to offer food that's good for you. The folks at Disney gave me the recipe of a dish they're particularly excited about: Turkey Meatloaf with Carrot Ketchup. (I'd never even heard of carrot ketchup!) Click through to see the recipe.

 
Disney World: Explore Fantasyland
Disney World: Explore Fantasyland

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