Why Eating Healthy at Disney is an Oxymoron

Last week our family of 7 ventured on a plane for the first time to a magical land called Disney.  The stories I heard from friends and patients left me to believe eating (or I should say overeating) on a meal plan is a struggle.  I was determined to prove them wrong.  But as a dietitian I’m here to tell you THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. In fact I gained 3 pounds despite selecting fruit as my snack on several occasions, declining desserts several times, choosing only water over sugary beverages, and foregoing countless ribs and burger platters for Caesar salad (since this is apparently the official salad of Disney). But alas my efforts fell short despite logging 46+ miles for the week on my phone’s pedometer (and there were many moments I didn’t have my phone on me tracking miles. In fact I lost my phone the first day we were in the Magic Kingdom but that is a story for another time).



First we have to address portion sizes.  The desserts there are a full on meal and I wish I was exaggerating.  The average cookie was the size of my 5-year-old's head and, although Disney does not provide nutrition information for their snacks, my best guess is they average a minimum of 375 calories a piece.  I will give Disney credit for offering apple slices or grapes on the kid’s meal but what about the adults?  And why are Caesar salads the only half decent item on most quick service menus?  Table service I could navigate my way through but quick service was by far the most challenging; especially with the fact that they always included a monster dessert at the end of the meal.  



If we were ever to find ourselves visiting the happiest place on Earth again, I would definitely do things differently. So in order to be helpful to others, I would like to share 5 tips to help fight the unwanted pounds associated with a Disney vacation.


#1) Do your homework – there are literally hundreds of websites dedicated to vacationing at Disney. Download maps of the parks and research the quick service menus.  One particular website I found to be helpful is buildabettermousetrip.com/healthy-food-choices/  I only wish I would have done more research before our trip but lesson learned.


#2) Look for the Mickey check – think of this as the under 500 calorie section on a regular restaurant menu.  Portions are supposed to be more appropriate with limited sugar, sodium and saturated fat.  I wish I could say you will find this at every restaurant but I only saw it once the whole time we were there. 


#3) Have your groceries delivered – a good friend of mine recommended https://www.gardengrocer.com/ and this was wonderful. We used it to purchase cases of water but we should have bought food. FYI they do have a $40 purchase minimum


#4) Make meals out of snacks – by the end of our stay we finally caught on to the craziness of the meal plan with their outrageous portion sizes and dessert infatuation (it took us awhile but remember, we were exhausted running after 5 kids in Disney). We started making meals out of fruit and pretzels with hummus.  My only suggestion to Disney would be to offer side salads as a snack option. Maybe if we all write in, changes will be made.


#5) Don’t be fooled by all the walking you do. Like I said before, we logged the equivalent to over 2 marathons by the end of the week. Surely weight gain would be impossible with all the walking we did. WRONG! It’s just too many calories. And the beverages ... don’t get me started on the endless supply of carbonated sugar sticks. The hotel souvenir cups just encourage people to drink a day’s worth of calories. Please stick to water whatever you do!



Like I said, I would do things a little differently if we ever went back. Being the novices we were, it was easy to see how people can get caught up in the magic of it all and do some damage to their health goals. As with any scenario, creating a plan will help you be successful. I do want to thank Disney for creating amazing memories for my family.  I’ll be spending some extra time running these next few weeks working off those pounds I gained but at least I have wonderful memories to help motivate me to keep going.




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