I love Disney World. No really, I *LOVE* Disney World. From the moment I enter the “happiest place on Earth” to the moment my vacation ends with the “saddest drive on Earth,” I feel nothing but magic and peace… except, of course, at meal times. The “happiest place on Earth” has traditionally also been home to the unhealthiest food on Earth – greasy hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, turkey legs, fried chicken fingers. Not exactly the kind of faire I’d like to be consuming for six days straight.
Before heading to Disney World this past trip a couple weeks ago, I ran across this article at CalorieLab discussing the difficulties the author’s family experienced finding healthy food at Disney World. The author makes some good points – in general, fruits and vegetables aren’t as available as hamburgers and Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches, and while meal choices have become more nutritionally desirable, snack choices are still generally abysmal. But is the author’s basic premise, that healthy choices are “hard to find,” really accurate? I decided to pay attention on this trip and find out. I’ll cover each park in detail, pointing out where healthy choices can be found, over the next few articles. To start with, however, here’s some healthy-eating tips that apply to all the parks.
Nutritional information is generally not available.
Disney World maintains four e-mail addresses (one for each park) for nutrition information requests. I wrote to each address, explaining I have to strictly monitor my daily caloric intake and asking for nutrition information for their in-park restaurants. I imagine the employees receiving my query wondered why the **** I am visiting Disney World if I’m worried about what foods I’m eating, but they politely responded with “our foods change so frequently it is impossible to maintain that kind of information.” I received the same response at counter-service and seated restaurants. If you have particular dietary needs like food allergies, you can submit a form before visiting the parks and it appears restaurants will bend over backwards to meet your needs. There’s also a highly-recommended book, [amazonify]158771048X::text::::Passporter’s Open Mouse by Deb Wills and Debra Koma[/amazonify], that covers how best to handle many “special needs” issues, including diet, when visiting Disney World. For poor schlubs like me that just want to count their calories, it looks like we have to rely on educated guesses.
All turkey legs are created equal.
One item of interest I received from the Disney nutrition e-mail contacts was a list of portion sizes and general ingredients for several common snack and counter-service items. I compiled a couple of those documents to create the table below. It’s worth doing a little research into the caloric content in these foods – for example, one turkey leg contains approximately 2 calories per gram, or over 1400 calories. Articles like this one from the Orange County Register are rare, but seem to support general guesses, which is all I can make until Disney starts publishing nutrition information.
|Hot Dog (all beef)||4 oz||All beef contains mustard seed|
|Hot Dog Bun||2.75 oz||Contains wheat, soy, whey, and corn|
|Hamburger (all beef)||4 oz|
|Hamburger Bun||2 oz||Contains wheat, soy, whey, and corn|
|Boca Burger||3.5 oz|
|Grilled Chicken Sandwich||5 oz||Cooked in canola oil with Italian spices|
|Chicken Strips (breaded/fried)||8 oz||Breaded – contains flour, egg, soy, whey, and corn|
|Chicken Nuggets (breaded/fried)||3 oz||Breaded – contains flour, egg, soy, and whey|
|Fish Filet (breaded/fried)||7 oz|
|French Fries||4 oz||Potatoes, corn and high oleic canola oil|
|McDonald’s Fry Cart||Gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and beef|
|Fryer Oil||N/A||High oleic canola oil|
|Turkey Legs||25 oz||Cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, sodium, erythobate and sodium nitrate|
|Macaroni & Cheese||6 oz||Amy’s® brand: gluten, soy, corn free. Contains milk (advance notice required)|
|Side Salad||6 oz|
|Entrée Salad||9 oz|
|Salad Toppings – Meat||5 oz|
|Salad Toppings – Dressing||2 oz||Ken’s Steakhouse brand|
|Individual Pizza||11.8 oz|
|Popcorn||2.5-3.5 oz||Orville Redenbacher’s; Popcorn Oil contains coconut, corn, and canola blend (produced in a plant that produces peanut oil)|
|Soft Pretzels||3 oz||Processed in a plant that contains peanuts and tree nuts|
|Tapioca Dinner Rolls EnerG® brand||Does not contain dairy, wheat, corn (advanced notice required)|
|Chocolate Chip Cookies||Processed in a plant that contains peanuts and tree nuts|
Bring your own snacks and bottled water.
One thing the Disney respondents shared was this tidbit:
The Guests are allowed to bring food items, such as snacks or foods that do not require heating, into any WALT DISNEY WORLD® Theme Park. Just inform a Security Cast Member checking the bags that you have food allergies and they will gladly allow you to bring in these items.
I always bring a few [amazonify]B000GFG5XK::text::::Odwalla Bars[/amazonify] with me, which serve as my snacks throughout the day. I typically visit a grocery store like the one at Crossroads on my first day, buy a week’s worth of bars and a few bottled waters, and freeze the water overnight so it melts throughout the day and stays cool. This way, I steer clear of high-calorie snacks like ice cream and pretzels, save money I would otherwise spend on expensive snacks and bottled water, and save the 30 minutes it would normally take to stand in line and eat so I can …. well, stand in a different line.
Search for the fruit.
If you’re going to spend the cash for snacks at Disney World, you still have healthy alternative options, most notably fresh fruit. According to Disney, there are some permanent sources for purchasing fresh fruit in the parks. On entering the park, take a look at the map to locate the fruit vendors and plan to pass by those areas at “snack times.” Disney’s recommended fruit vendors include:
- Magic Kindgom: Liberty Square Market (seasonal), Mickey’s Toontown Farmers Market, Main Street Bakery
- Epcot: “Most quick service locations” [From previous experience, the Land pavillion consistently sells fruit, but I don't recall a comparable vendor in World Showcase]
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Sunset Ranch Market, ABC Commissary
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Harambe Fruit Market, Drinkwallah
Do you have healthy eating tips you’d like to share, or favorite places to buy healthy snacks? I’d love to hear them – please share in the comments below. Next stop – healthy(ier) eating at the Magic Kindgom!