The Go-To Guide to Theme Park Food



It’s safe to say that the dog days of summer are the most popular time to visit theme parks, water parks, and state fairs.  Many people travel hundreds of miles to visit these parks for a day of thrilling fun and a lifetime of memories.  This year that statistic happened to include my family.  My parents’ surprised my brother and me with a trip to Orlando, Florida, the theme park mecca of America and perhaps the world.  Since our agenda included hitting all four Disney Parks, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Blizzard Beach Water Park, I thought it would be a great opportunity to analyze the variety of healthy food options available to theme park visitors. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the results I found.

On average, Magic Kingdom has 17 million visitors annually.  This means 17 million mouths to feed three times a day not including snacks and treats.  The park offers standard fare such as corndogs but also special-to-Disney items such as giant smoked turkey legs and Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwiches.  Luckily, Disney has gone above and beyond to increase its park goers’ overall health.  Every Disney Park offers free standing fruit stands with a variety of fresh and seasonal produce.  I decided to try the Anaheim Produce stand in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for an afternoon snack during our visit.  There was a huge selection of items including apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, and even large deli pickles!  When it comes to meals, there are also a large variety of options.  Even the “quick service” restaurants in the park offer at least one healthy option to tourists.  Obviously you have a greater selection of figure friendly foods at table service restaurants but, for a quick bite, a grilled chicken salad or turkey sandwich fills in in a pinch.

In addition to changing food options available for adults, in 2006 Disney also overhauled their standards for the kids’ meals in all resorts and parks.  All meals are now automatically served with a fruit or vegetable side and low-fat milk or juice.  This simple change has proved effective; follow-up studies by Disney show that 6 out of 10 times the parents stuck with the healthier option.  Next on Disney’s agenda is to reduce the sodium content of their food.  The company has already eliminated trans fats in all it’s restaurants.

Robert AIger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, recently stated in an interview this summer, “We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the last six years.  We’ve taken steps across our company to support better choices for families.” He goes on to say, “The emotional connection kids have to our characters and stories gives us a unique opportunity to continue to inspire and encourage them to lead healthier lives.”

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was quite as impressed with Universal Studios dining selection, but there were healthy alternatives, nonetheless.  My family chose a dining option called Mythos that specializes in cultural cuisine from around the world and is a great alternative for those seeking gluten free or vegan meals.  Universal also supports the use of fruits stands.  I noticed one in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that served fresh slices of watermelon and other fruits along with their world famous butter beer.

Theme parks aren’t the only ones cleaning up their acts.  State fairs across the nation are striving to offer new alternatives.  Take the Iowa State Fair for instance.  One of the most popular new selections is not a deep fried Oreo but rather “salad on a stick”, which includes iceberg lettuce and various veggies skewered together with dressing served on the side.

“It’s a growing trend that as consumers are looking for and demanding more options that are lower in calories and fat, smaller portions, more healthful, the vendors are responding,” said Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Nutrition Specialist.

I must admit- I did cheat on my largely whole foods diet while on vacation.  What’s the fun of relaxation without splurging?  I am glad to say I did so without guilt either.   The average person easily walks over 10 miles each day at a theme park.  That’s about 1000 calories burned not including any additional workouts.  It goes to show just because you’re going on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t adhere to a well-rounded diet.


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