Healthy eating at Walt Disney World is quite possible, contrary to popular opinion. I recently enjoyed a week-long vacation at Disney World with my husband, our 9-year-old son, and our 7-year-old daughter. We found many healthy food options during our visit, and I’m happy to share my restaurant suggestions with you. If you missed my recent post about guidelines for healthy eating at Disney World, you may want to start there.
The best place for great food at Disney World is Epcot. There are wonderful options in Future World and the World Showcase. Where else can you find restaurants focusing on food from 11 different countries all in one place? Each restaurant in the World Showcase is staffed by native speakers of that pavilion’s country, which makes the experience feel even more immersive. During our vacation, we got to enjoy special tasting menus throughout the World Showcase as part of the annual Flower and Garden Festival. If you’re visiting between March 6 and May 19, 2013, don’t miss out on these specialties. We also found great food in other parks and hotels at Walt Disney World. If you’re planning a trip in the near future, it’s important to make reservations ahead of time. Some restaurants require a credit card to hold the reservation and they charge a fee if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. Many of these restaurants book up months in advance, so don’t wait until the last minute to figure out where you’ll be eating.
Epcot’s Future World
Garden Grill: If you’re planning a vacation to Disney World, you’ve probably discovered by now that you can’t do it all. You will have to skip certain rides or parks in order to maintain your sanity. One thing you do not want to skip is a ride in Epcot called, “Living with the Land.” This boat ride takes you on a multimedia tour of diverse ecosystems including rain forests and farmsteads, and you’ll see real food being grown by Disney’s horticulturalists. After you’ve experienced this ride, go upstairs to the Garden Grill Restaurant. This character dinner with Chip, Dale, Pluto, and Mickey includes food that’s grown right there at “Living with the Land.” They offer family-style dining, so platters of food are brought to your table that everyone can eat. At our dinner, the vegetables in the salad and the squash on the main platter were all grown on site. The delicious tilapia was sustainably raised right there as well. I loved sharing this meal with my family. Not only was it delicious, but it connected well with the values I’m teaching my children at home.
Epcot’s World Showcase
Biergarten: After a long day of travel from Massachusetts to Florida, we arrived famished at Biergarten, a German restaurant in Epcot. I don’t love German food, but my husband lived in Germany as a child and he has fond memories of those days. I vaguely recall eating at this restaurant in my childhood and walking away unhappy, but I thought it would be a fun place for my husband to start the vacation. They must have changed things quite a bit in the last 30 years, because I love this restaurant now. They have carving stations with several types of meat, Brussels sprouts with bacon (one of my favorites!), green beans, beets, warm German potato salad, sauerkraut, wurst, spaztle, dumplings, and apple strudel for dessert. I’m missing about a dozen other items from this buffet. As the waiter told us in his charming German accent, “There’s a lot to try.” An oompah band performed on stage while we dined, and the décor made us feel like we were dining outside in an old German town. This was the perfect place to arrive with a big appetite, and our kids loved the meal as much as we did.
Teppan Edo: Another great restaurant in Epcot’s World Showcase is Teppan Edo at the Japan pavilion. This restaurant offers hibachi dining, where there’s a grill at your table and the chef cooks the food right there in front of you. This was a wonderful real food meal where we could see everything we were about to eat being prepared, and the chef explained what ingredients he was using. He put raw veggies, meat, and noodles on the grill. We all got a kick out of the onion volcano he built. The sauce was served on the side, which is always a nice touch when you want to control what you’re eating. My son loved the rice, which unfortunately was white rice. It was good news though, because he typically doesn’t like rice and I can work toward making a brown rice version of Japanese sticky rice. This meal was a highlight for our family as well.
Epcot Garden Marketplaces: On the last night of our visit, we had several snack credits left on our dining plan. Fortunately, the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival was going on, and this event included special kiosks in each country with tasting menus. Many of the items qualified as snacks for the dining plan, so we spent our last evening circling the World Showcase and sampling food from all different parts of the world. The menu items were connected to agriculture in some way, so this was a great way to cap off our vacation. We tried potato pancakes with homemade applesauce in Germany, spring pancakes with chicken and green apples in China, and fruit sushi (“fruishi”) in Japan. The fruishi was my daughter’s favorite. We capped off the evening at the pineapple cart with Dole Whips, an iconic Disney treat. This was one of our non-real food splurges. I appreciate that a Dole Whip is dairy-free, but it has a lengthy ingredient list including artificial food coloring. As a nice consolation, though, they were handing out packets of basil seeds to everyone who bought a Dole Whip. I’ll be planting them soon and remembering our great vacation as I make pesto during the summer.
Be Our Guest: A highlight of the Magic Kingdom’s new Fantasyland expansion is Be Our Guest, a restaurant modeled after Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast. This restaurant is booked solid for the next 6 months, and with good reason. I think this was the best dining experience of our vacation. Each of us loved our meal, and I was very happy to see whole grain pasta with sauce on the children’s menu. My son ordered this and he really enjoyed it. I had the salmon, but I wasn’t sure if the dairy in the leek fondue would bother me so I substituted roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables for my side. My meal was perfect. This was a rare occasion where I ordered a drink other than water, and I enjoyed the organic lemonade with berry foam. The best part of the meal was the amazing dessert cart, full of gorgeous cupcakes and puff pastries. If you’re going to fall off the real food wagon, this is the place to do it. We ordered four different desserts: the strawberry cream cheese cupcake, the lemon cupcake, the chocolate cupcake, and the chocolate mousse pastry. We all sampled each other’s desserts, and everyone was convinced that their dessert tasted the best.
Hollywood Brown Derby: On the last day of our vacation, I was very happy to have this restaurant on our agenda for lunch. They’re known for their Cobb salad, and I was ready for a big salad at this point. The Cobb salad was invented at the original Brown Derby restaurant in California many years ago, and they still use the same recipe here at Hollywood Studios’ Brown Derby. This is a fancy restaurant that requires 2 table service credits if you’re on the dining plan, but if you’re just getting the salad it’s a good place to pay out of pocket. I told my husband ahead of time that I made reservations at this restaurant with the Cobb salad in mind because everything else on the menu was very expensive. The poor guy agreed to a salad for lunch, but he did enjoy it. The salad was delicious, although it was a bit parsley-heavy for my tastes. I’ll ask for it without parsley next time.
The Wave. . .of American Flavors: This wonderful restaurant is located at the Contemporary Resort. They focus on fresh, local ingredients and their offerings are healthier than most. The dinner menu includes whole grain pasta, sustainable fish, and fresh salads. The children’s menu has many good options, including baked chicken strips, grilled fish, grilled pork tenderloin, and whole grain pasta. Unless your hotel is on the monorail, the location isn’t ideal. We weren’t able to fit this restaurant into our agenda on our recent vacation, but it was a highlight of our previous trip two years ago.
Ohana: We stayed at the Polynesian two years ago, and ever since we left I’ve been thinking about the breakfast at Ohana. It was the last meal we had on a trip that was too short, and that meal stayed with me for two years. Imagine coming down the stairs in the morning and finding a giant skillet on your kitchen table filled with delicious scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, home fries, and biscuits. This is how breakfast is served at Ohana, and I love that big skillet of food. They even have a special tropical juice made just for the Polynesian. I don’t typically like restaurant home fries, but Ohana is an exception. I’m not sure what seasonings they use, but I could eat the whole batch of them myself. Lilo and Stitch join Mickey Mouse and Goofy at this character breakfast. I think I’ll be dreaming about it again for another two years.
Am I missing any restaurants that you love at Walt Disney World? Please tell me so I can start planning my next vacation!