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Eating Healthy at Disney: Keeping Your Commitment to Health on Vacation

by Jennifer Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guides

Burgers, fries, 24 oz. Porterhouses, Mickey ice cream bars, Beavertails, Kungalooshes... the list of tempting treats at Walt Disney World goes on and on. Anyone who says diets and Disney don't mix is right. Would you believe Mickey Bars are over 600 calories apiece? Some lucky Disney vacationers set their diets aside and still manage to come home at the same weight or even a few pounds lighter, but that doesn't work for everyone. If you'd rather maintain your full-time commitment to healthy eating, I'm here to tell you it IS possible to keep your promise to yourself on vacation.

I've always preferred healthier foods, but last July I got serious about "eating healthy" on a regular basis. Since then, I've spent more than five weeks at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Through trial and error, I've come up with tips that help me stick to my health goals. It isn't always easy to resist that Mickey Bar (and I did give in once), but it's a lot easier than you might think, too. Here are my top 10 tips and tricks for healthy eating:

1. Be Good Before You Go.
This doesn't mean denying yourself necessary food so you can splurge at Disney, nor does it mean starting your vacation a little early with treats. Instead, stick to your goals and stay on track. Confidence in your ability eat well at home will give you added resolve once you arrive. And if you aren't exercising regularly yet, this is the perfect time to start. Get in shape now and you'll have more stamina once you arrive, plus more lean muscle mass to burn even more calories.

2. Plan Your Meals in Advance.
Decide when and where you'll eat before you arrive at Walt Disney World. If you've never been to Walt Disney World before, pay a visit to Deb's WDWIG Web site and her wonderful collection of menus ( to help you choose eateries. And, since I got serious about healthy eating, I've been making a list of health-friendly eateries at Walt Disney World -- you'll find them all noted in the new 2002 edition of PassPorter. If you have special dietary requirements, call Disney (407-WDW-DINE) before you arrive -- with notice, they can accommodate virtually every request.

3. Pack Healthy Snacks.
This is one of my biggest lifesavers. Before I leave home I pay a visit to my grocery, and health food stores for my favorite snacks -- those that are individually wrapped work best for this purpose. I pack
most of them in a plastic container (to avoid crushing) and throw the rest in my waist pack for the plane. Then every morning before I depart for the parks, I stock my waist pack with treats I'll feel good about eating. (Before you ask, technically Disney requests that guests not bring in food. However, in all the time I've been doing this, I've not had one security guard question my granola bars.) Here are some ideas for healthy snacks you can grab and go: Fibar low-fat granola bars, Odwalla Bars, and Pria bars (made by Powerbar). There may be other brands available in your area, too.

4. Do Breakfast In Your Room.
Pack a box of whole grain cereal, along with a bowl and spoon. Grab some milk and OJ at the food court/store, and you can do breakfast in your room. If your resort has a refrigerator in the room, or offers one for a daily fee, even better -- if not, you can bring individual containers of soymilk that don't require refrigeration. Doing breakfast in your room not only saves time and money, but it's easier to avoid those tempting pastries at the Main Street Bakery when you've got a full tummy. Besides, you'll discover it is quite a challenge to eat healthy at a sit-down restaurant. That doesn't mean you can't do a character breakfast, but you'll want to choose carefully -- some of the buffet-style character meals go very light on things like fresh fruit and cereals. You may walk away feeling grossly overcharged. If you're in a crunch, see if the kitchen can whip up a made-to-order egg-white omelet with lots of veggies

5. Know Where To Eat.
Inevitably, you're going to get hungry at the parks... and you may not want that granola bar. Rather than head for the first ice cream cart, consider other alternatives. Every park has at least one fresh fruit stand -- you'll find it marked on your park's guidemap. Another easy-to-find snack is a small bag of pretzels. Here are other ideas: fruit juice bars, Dole Whips, turkey legs, pickles, a cup of chili, or a turkey sandwich.

6. Make Your Own Meal.
No, I don't mean cook it yourself (though that's always an option at a Home-Away-From-Home resort or a campsite). Instead, feel free to make special requests about the food choices and side dishes at eateries. Order salad dressing on the side, hold the cheese, keep the sauce off, and replace the fries with a veggie. Virtually every table-service restaurant I've eaten at had no problem accommodating these simple requests. Keep in mind that you may have worse luck doing this at counter-service eateries, where many dishes are pre-made and cannot be altered.

7. Don't Dread Dessert.
If you're a dessert connoisseur, or your dining partner(s) are, there are healthy options. Without calling ahead, you can usually request a bowl of fruit or a sugar-free cheesecake. If you're planning a special meal and want a special dessert, you'll do best to call ahead.

8. Drink, Drink, Drink.
Did you know your body really needs about 1/2 oz. of water for every pound you weigh? And when you're walking around in the hot Florida sun all day, you need even more. Water keeps you hydrated and feeling full -- often hunger is really a sign of thirst. I recommend carrying a water bottle with you at all times. You can buy the bottled water at Disney, but at $2.50 a pop it'll add up quick. Instead, get yourself a good water bottle and refill it from the refrigerated water fountains. I use a Brita water bottle for better tasting water -- you can get Brita bottles at grocery stores (look in the bottled water section).

9. Keep Up Your Exercise Program.
I'm not kidding! It's really quite fun to do, and one of the benefits of vacationing. If you walk, almost every resort has a beautiful walking path. I'm particularly fond of the BoardWalk/Yacht & Beach Club/Swan and Dolphin route around Crescent Lake. You won't knew how much fun walking can be until you've done it just as the sun is coming up on Walt Disney World! If you prefer machines, take advantage of your resort's exercise facilities (if they have them) -- they're often very convenient and even likely to make you feel pampered.

10. Be Nice To Yourself.
You're on vacation, after all! You shouldn't be overanxious about your health -- just accept that you're doing your best and enjoy yourself. If you find temptations too great to resist, don't beat yourself up over them. Have the Mickey bar and enjoy it. But don't let it be an excuse to slide into lazy eating. One Mickey bar won't undo all the wonderful things you're doing for yourself. And don't deny yourself things because you're concerned about the temptations. You can do the Hoop-Dee-Doo dinner show and have a healthy meal at the same time -- just let Disney know in advance!

Congratulations on your commitment to health. If you've made it this far in the article, you can make it through a trip to Walt Disney World -- you'll discover plenty of wonderful, healthy foods you've never thought to try at home and have the time of your life! And if you discover new menu items and snacks you think others would like to know about, please e-mail me at and I'll share them here

> Things To Do: Join us in discussing healthy eating at Walt Disney World on our message board. Go to:

> Notes: I'm not a dietitian, doctor, nor a health expert. Always consult your health care professional before starting a new eating/exercise plan, and about maintaining your program while traveling.

Return to | Discuss cruising security on the PassPorter Message Boards

Updated 04/06/07 

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