Disneyland does have healthy snack carts scattered throughout the park
Is it possible to eat healthy in the Happiest Place on Earth? Well, after spending 6 days at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA, I am happy to report that yes, it can mostly be done as long as you have a good strategy in place. Did we eat as healthy as we do at home? Well, no, not quite. However, we ate well enough while enjoying all that Disney has to offer. And, we didn’t get sick from the food which was a major bonus! Here are 4 ideas that worked well for our family.
Idea #1: The best place to start your journey is by calling Disney Dining (714.781.3463) which is open 7am to 9pm, 7 days/week. You can also email the chefs at Disney and ask questions; they will get back to you within 2 business days. The Disney representatives will patiently answer all your food allergy questions. Conveniently, dining reservations can be made 60 days in advance. I spoke to 3 different people at Disney Dining, and they all were super helpful. They pointed me in the direction of which restaurants would be the best for our family and they said helpful things like “don’t bother with the breakfast with the princesses, you will be paying a lot of money and not get much food in return”. I appreciated their candor. I also emailed a chef, and a chef got back to me within 2 days. Very promising!! Everyone reassured me that they deal with our food allergies all the time. I wish I could report on the dining experience at the nicer/pricier restaurants, but I didn’t end up eating at any. Unfortunately, I messed up one night….we were having too much fun and we didn’t make it to our dinner reservation at Storytellers Cafe in the Grand Californian (my bad). The other reservation we made was for lunch with the princesses at Ariel’s Grotto. We actually did arrive (and arrived on time with kids fully dressed as princesses, go me!!), but when we got there the restaurant had some sort of problem and was closed. Luckily, the Disney princess characters were still there and we got to spend some time with them and take some great photos. Then, we went back to the hotel for lunch. Interestingly, the families immediately ahead of us and behind us in line both complained about how terrible the food is at Ariel’s Grotto, so they were thrilled that lunch was cancelled and we all got to meet the princesses for free!
Idea #2: Choose accommodations that have a kitchen. We chose the Residence Inn (Anaheim Maingate), which is a pleasant 10 minute walk to the park entrance (Disney Dining recommended us to look into the Residence Inn). The rooms have full kitchens…and get this…FREE GROCERY SHOPPING SERVICE!!! If you give them a grocery list by 9am, the food will be in your room by 1pm. This worked great. They also serve a complimentary breakfast but there was absolutely nothing there for us to eat…nothing offered was healthy or allergy friendly. That was OK, because they made up for it with the amazing grocery shopping service! We ate most of our meals in the room which saved a ton of money too. By the way, NONE of the Disney properties offer a room with a kitchen or kitchenette. Grrrrrrr!
Idea #3: Get a locker inside the park! Right when you enter Disneyland or California Adventure, there is a room full of lockers. We rented a small locker every day ($7/day payable by credit card) and stored a backpack full of waters and snacks. That was well worth the $7 for us (a snack in Disneyland can be $7!). You are allowed to bring in bottled water and food, which is a great service for those of us with food allergies. There are no restrictions on what foods you can bring in the park, but they do search your bags as a security precaution.
Idea #4: Before you leave your house, decide which Disney restaurants you will visit on an as needed basis (ie: the many restaurants that do not require reservations). Realize that no matter how hard you plan, you will still end up with starving family members while in the middle of some grand adventure in the parks. What to do? Don’t lose hope, I found a few great options. First, there are healthier food carts (pictured above) throughout the park. They had fruit, hummus, and some gluten free potato chips (daddy loves the pineapple spears!). Next, there are 2 restaurants that worked for us in Disneyland: Rancho del Zocalo and the Bengal Barbeque, both in Frontierland. Rancho del Zocalo serves a wide variety of Mexican food. The Bengal Barbecue serves kebabs (meat and veggie).
We really enjoyed the outside dining on the patio here. It was beautiful and relaxing too.
Veggie, chicken and beef kebabs at the bengal barbecue.
Here is what Disney dining told us to do every time we wanted to order food at a park restaurant…and guess what, it worked!! Tell the Disney cast member that we have food allergies and we would like to talk to the chef before ordering any food. The restaurant workers gladly obliged and the chef was always very accommodating and knowledgeable about food allergies. We enjoyed 2 meals at Rancho del Zocalo and 2 meals at the Bengal Barbecue. We asked for the chef when it was our turn in line, told them our allergies, and they not only recommended choices for us off the menu but the chef made custom meals for us based on their menus. Very accommodating! Is it health food? No, not really…but it was pretty tasty and all my starving Mouseketeers were satisfied.
Even though we had good success at Disneyland, I really think Disney could do a lot better. They need to have one healthy food restaurant. They could easily put it in Tomorrowland and chalk it up to cuisine of the future. The restaurant could focus on gluten free, vegan, nutritarian cuisine. I am confident that they have many chefs that would jump at this opportunity. I have had multiple friends return from Disneyland and complain loudly about how horrid the food is…and they aren’t even the nutritarian types! People come back complaining about the high fat content, too much butter, and how the food was so gross and so overpriced. Even people who eat unhealthy on a regular basis find the food at Disneyland unhealthy and untasty!! So what do they have to lose by trying out one healthy restaurant?
Sadly, as it stands right now, overall, the food at both parks was expensive and unhealthy. It is a food desert. Its better to book some time at the Residence Inn and make use of the kitchen there until Disney augments its food service. With that said….with a little planning, it is easy to eat well while enjoying the Happiest Place On Earth!
(PS: One last tip! Take your own food into the park and enjoy a picnic lunch on Tom Sawyer’s Island! There are a few picnic tables and the views are amazing!)