How to Eat Healthy at DLR (Part 1)

I'm not sure about you, but my metabolism seems to get slower every year. Meaning: I can't eat all those yummy goodies at Disneyland and California Adventure. They sure taste better at the parks, right?

And I have many well-meaning friends who say things like: "But we're at Disneyland! It's ok for you to have things like that once in awhile." Since I go to the Parks so often, it's not a good idea for me to eat everything yummy that I see ...I don't want to buy a new wardrobe and I really want to stay healthy. (Or maybe--like me--you've repeatedly tried to convince yourself that calories don't count at Disneyland because you'll be walking all day. Sad truth: yes, calories still count at DLR.)

This post includes some basic information about how to eat healthier at Disneyland Resort.  I'll give specific suggestions of where to get healthy foods in another post.

This looks really bad, right? I didn't eat both of them. Really!

This looks really bad, right? I didn't eat both of them. Really!

Here's another tragic truth: calories count even with FREE food (sad emoticon would go here). Speaking of free food, here's the story about the photo above:  I ordered the Ocean Beach Sea Salt Caramel Sundae (on the left) at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain (see their menu here) in DCA as my birthday treat to myself. A Cast Member accidentally gave away my sundae to someone who had ordered a chocolate chip shake.  The Cast Member felt so bad that she gave me the shake along with my sundae,  especially since I was celebrating my birthday (see the button I'm wearing in the picture?). I was so overwhelmed!  I had a few sips of the shake (and dumped the rest), but ate most of my super-yummy sundae. I highly recommend this sundae as your decadent treat!

Ok, back to the healthy part of this post.

Eating healthy-ish at Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney is possible, with a little research before you go to the parks. Yes, you can consider this post as research.  I'll discuss how I do this below: basic theories, and breakfast. Snacks, lunch & dinner will be in the next post.


Keep in mind that you will be walking miles during your visit to the parks.  Extra credit if you walk from the parking structure instead of riding the tram (or if you walk from your hotel that's not on DLR property).  However, you could easily eat back the calories you've burned off walking those miles if you enjoy every decadent treat DLR has to offer. Sooooo...this is what I do:

  • For each day I am at the park, I choose one or two yummy food items (usually high in calories, sugar or fat--or all) that I REALLY enjoy, or that I REALLY REALLY want to try, whether it's new or just "I've never had this before."  During the rest of my visit, I make the healthiest choices I can. For me, this translates to staying with my usual food eating style (except for those decadent treats I mentioned earlier, and maybe a glass of wine with dinner). 
  • Carefully read the menus and select food based upon healthy choices available. Disney even signifies healthy choices on some menus (see this page for more information about Disney Nutrition Guidelines). Usually these are kids menu items, and have the Mickey Check icon (see it below) on the menu.

These are my basic rules for healthy eating at DLR: 

  1. Avoid anything on the menu that includes the following words in the description:  cream (or butter) sauce; sauteed in butter; cheese; cream cheese;  crema; fried; deep-fried; au gratin; battered and fried; and large serving.
  2. Ask for substitutions and other changes. My favorite requests are: no butter or margarine; no cheese (or "light cheese"); no mayonnaise of any kind--aioli doesn't make it healthier; ask for salad dressing and/or sauce on the side (most counter service salads come with the dressing on the side).
  3. If in doubt, ask your server how the menu item is cooked.  For example, if the menu says the vegetable is grilled or steamed, never assume that it has no butter or other oil on it. At table service restaurants, the Disney Chefs WILL do what they can to meet your dietary restrictions; including cooking vegetables, fish and other items for you with no butter or oil. "Gluten-free," no wheat, and "no soy" are also common requests they can accommodate. If you are making a reservation at a Table Service restaurant, let them know if you have any dietary restrictions.
  4. Drink water, iced tea or iced coffee, not sodas, milkshakes or juices. Exceptions: The light Minute Maid Pomegranate-Lemonade sold at many restaurants is very low calorie (5 calories per 8 ounces) ... and has a good flavor, too. 
  5. Bring a refillable water bottle (fill it before you leave home or before leaving your hotel). At table-service restaurants, you can ask your server to refill your water bottle (or you can fill it from your water glass--if you can do it without creating the Finding Nemo lagoon on your table).  UPDATE: Disney restaurants with self-service soda machines allow guests to refill their own water bottles, as long as you do not let the top of your water bottle touch the fill nozzle of the dispenser. Some places will give out a small cup for water, especially if you are not dining at the restaurant.   


Whether I'm coming directly from home or from a DLR-area hotel, I almost always bring my breakfast from home.  My breakfast every day is Baked (High Protein) Oatmeal, a recipe that I modified from other websites (thanks especially to Chocolate Covered Katie) to fit my eating plan (I don't call it a diet).  The high protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates combine to make a balanced meal that will keep you full for hours.  I always prepare enough for 3-4 days, eat one serving on the day I bake it and refrigerate the rest. 

Here is a link to the recipe: Baked High Protein Oatmeal


For whatever reason, if you don't want to bake (or bring something else healthy for breakfast), Downtown Disney has some good options. Of course, you'll want to get a quick breakfast since you want to maximize your time in the Parks (especially in the morning).

The coolest quick breakfast idea that I've heard about lately is the "Order Ahead at Starbucks" option.

  1. As you ride the tram from the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure to Downtown Disney, use the Starbucks App on your phone to order your favorite beverage and breakfast food from the Starbucks of your choice in Downtown Disney. (see UPDATE below)
  2. Pay for your order in the Starbucks app.
  3. When you disembark from the tram in Downtown Disney, head straight to the Starbucks. You'll get to skip the LOOOOONNNNG line of people waiting to order, and head straight to the pick-up area to claim your order.
  4. From there, you can carry your beverage and breakfast to the Disneyland or California Adventure turnstile entrance and enjoy it while you wait for the park to open. 
Starbucks West  is on the left (near the Disney Vacation Club offices & the AMC Theater and across from the DD Monorail Station. The other Starbucks (called  Starbucks Downtown Disney  in the Starbucks app) is across from the World of Disney, and the Mickey & Friends tram unloads at the top right of this picture, Disneyland & California Adventure entrances are to the right.

Starbucks West is on the left (near the Disney Vacation Club offices & the AMC Theater and across from the DD Monorail Station. The other Starbucks (called Starbucks Downtown Disney in the Starbucks app) is across from the World of Disney, and the Mickey & Friends tram unloads at the top right of this picture, Disneyland & California Adventure entrances are to the right.

UPDATE 1/2/2017: A second Starbucks has been opened in Downtown Disney. Make sure you know which Starbucks you are ordering from: Downtown Disney Store is the one across from the World of Disney store; Starbucks West is between the Lego Store and the Disney Vacation Club, across from the DD Monorail Station (see map above).

Requirements for this option: A smartphone with the Starbucks app loaded and a Starbucks account with enough money loaded on it to pay for your purchase (try it at a local Starbucks before arriving at DLR). 

Added bonus of the Starbucks app: In the "Browse Our Menu" section (from the Order menu), you can check out the calorie counts for most of the beverage and food items available. (Most Starbucks stores sell some other products that aren't on the app menu. Obviously, you'll stay away from those because ordering any of them would require you to get in the ordering line, behind everyone else.)  You can see from the screen shots below that the Light beverages (Frappuccino drinks, for example) have substantially fewer calories than the regular (not Light) beverages, so I always order one of those. (see the Grande Caramel Light Frappuccino in the picture on the left?)

Enjoy... and watch for the next post!