Photo: Randy Mayor

Take a hard pass on that giant turkey leg. 

August 16, 2017

When I was 17 years old, I asked my parents if they would take me to Disney World. I was graduating high school, and I somehow came up with the idea that year would be my very last age appropriate time to visit. This of course was a totally false thought, because Disney is awesome whatever age you are. Nonetheless, my dad agreed to go on an exciting theme park adventure with me before sending me off into the wild of college. 

Now, I've always been a little food obsessed. So of course the first thing I did was research every single restaurant at Disney World, plan a thoughtful ride route to get where we needed to be for meals, and make dinner reservations for every night. Our itinerary was planned down to the minute.

Unfortunately, not every theme park has such extraordinary dining options, especially if you're looking for healthier choices. Even though it appears there aren't many healthy, quality food options at amusement parks, you'd be surprised what's actually hidden on the menus. Here are our picks for the best food at theme parks, because navigating fried everything can seem daunting. 

5 Dishes to Skip

Classic American Foods

Many theme parks have American cuisine dining locations, which typically include classic dishes like burgers, fries, hot dogs, chicken tenders, and BBQ plates. Most of these dishes are super high in fat and calories, tossed into the deep fryer, stuffed into heavy rolls, and smothered in sugary sauces or piled high with toppings. You can do way better. 

Sugar Overloads

Everywhere you turn at a theme park there seems to be an abundance of sugar. Ice cream sundaes are piled high with crumbled candies and whipped cream, fried desserts like funnel cake are smothered in chocolate syrup and powdered sugar, and oversized cups of soda scream liquid sugar. Even places you'd least expect a sugar bomb, like a snow cone, are best avoided. These options are far from healthy, and you'd much rather use your calories on something that can keep you full beyond the hour. 

Deep Fried Dishes

Fancy onion blossoms, chicken tenders in fun shapes, or loaded fries might seem social media ready, but they aren't worth the calories. These choices are breaded, salted, and fried in more oil than you ever needed in one day. Meals that hit the deep fryer will dehydrate you after a long day in the sun, and can easily drain your much needed energy. 

Smothered Plates

Anything with a big scoop of neon cheese is definitely a pass. Skip nachos covered in heavy toppings, chili cheese fries oozing with grease, and burritos covered with cheese and sour cream. If you're going to order one of these dishes, try and ask for toppings on the side. You'll be way more conservative with your nacho cheese intake if you're dipping chips into a small container instead of gorging on a puddle of cheese covered chips. 

Jumbo Sized Orders

Beware the word jumbo or giant on anything you order, because that's usually code for too much for one person. Large reusable cups seems like a steal but are a disaster for overdoing sugary beverages, and giant turkey legs may seem like a healthier choice, but pack on way too much salt and fat. Be aware of serving sizes when ordering large, and know that one pizza is not for one person and you can easily split a giant pretzel with a friend. 

5 Dishes to Order 

Grilled Meats

Most menus offer some kind of grilled chicken sandwich or Kebab, which is a way better choice over something fried or a cheeseburger. Grilling meats keeps the calorie count down, and they typically aren't smothered in heavy topping either. Be sure to choose a lighter side to go with your meal like a salad or veggies, and keep condiments and toppings to a minimum. 

A Real Meal

Grabbing a bag of fries and running to the next roller coaster is not only a recipe for disaster, but also super unhealthy. Take some time out of your busy day to sit down and actually enjoy your food. By sitting down, you're able to listen to your body's needs, like how thirsty you probably are and how your food choices are actually making you feel. You can still grab something at the counter, but foods on the go typically lead to poor choices and over eating. 

Vegetarian Options 

Nowadays, it's super common for theme parks to offer vegetarian menu options that go beyond a sad Caesar salad. These meals tend to be on the healthier side, often replacing fried meats with grilled veggies or lighter meat substitutes. Try for a vegetable wrap, veggie burger, or vegetarian sandwich for a filling, but calorie-saving lunch. Still keep other health considerations in mind, so avoid fried items like mozzarella sticks or ordering an entire cheese pizza for one. While the vegetarian label is not always synonymous with healthy, it can sometimes lead to healthier choices. 

World Cuisine 

With so many options to choose from, world cuisine restaurants offer healthy picks all over the menu. Check out the Asian food stand for veggie packed stir fries or even simple chicken dishes that aren't deep fried. Italian restaurants can offer vegetable-piled pizza and pasta dishes, and even the occasional salad. Try the Mexican eatery for corn tacos, burrito bowls, and chips and salsa. Just be sure to pass on heavy sour cream and cheesy toppings. 

Smart Sweets

If you've ever been to a theme park all day you know that it can be exhausting. By the evening, you're craving something sweet for that last bit of push to get you through. Choose lower calorie sweets like frozen yogurt, fresh fruit, or even a caramel apple for a bit of fiber to keep you full the rest of the day.