Disney World Tips for Kids: Food and Dining

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Food. It’s a vacation must have but man, it’s going to cost a lot of money. Disney World has a reputation for quality menu items, but  food will take up a large portion of your overall trip budget. When you pay for children’s’ food, prices range from $8 for counter service to almost $40 for character meals. This adds up fast.

We’ve grouped together our best tips for Disney dining for the younger crowd, so get out that pen and take some notes!

Read: Disney World Character Dining Options: A Cheapskate Princess Guide

Mickey Check

Unless you cook your own food on vacation, it’s typically been tough to eat healthy in theme parks, where for years burgers and fries were the norm. Now in an effort to work on balanced nutrition, The Walt Disney Company has devised the Disney Check system. When you see the Mickey head check on a menu, you’ll know that these food and drink items have met Disney Nutrition Guideline Criteria. These are based on science-backed nutrition standards, which are updated frequently to stay current. The Disney Nutrition Guideline Criteria promote nutritious foods like fruits, lean protein, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and whole grains. These items will limit saturated fats, sugar and sodium, so look out for the Mickey Check.

Under Three Eat Free 

Children under the age of three will eat for free at Disney’s buffets and family style table service restaurants as long as they eat off an adult plate. Now, this does not apply if you order a kids’ meal especially for this child. Their food is basically free as long as they’re willing to eat what you eat, and we all know they probably won’t be eating much. If a little under-age-three body is not equaling a little appetite, you’ll need to spend money to buy their own meal.

With one less expense, do you even need another reason to schedule a vacation with a baby? More info: Why Take a Baby to Walt Disney World? Because It’s FREE!

Kids’ Meals sides

Mickey Check Kids’ meals are served with carrots and other vegetables, fruit like grapes and apples, low-fat milk or water, and possibly yogurt. Most menus now read,”Soft drinks and french fries may be substituted upon request.” You can also ask for Minute Maid juice boxes and Nestle Nesquick boxes at certain locations.

Most non-Mickey Check meals come with chips, fruit, low-fat milk or water.

With over 140 (as of 2018) restaurants on Disney property, menu items will vary and change without notice.

If your child wants fries or a soda, simply tell the Cast Member when you place your order.

Read: Walt Disney World Must Eat? Chocolate Covered Caramel Apples

Drink Refills

Children get thirsty, as do adults, and at almost all WDW theme parks, you will pay more for additional drink refills. But FREE refills (leaving more money for other items like toys) are available at certain restaurants:

  • Magic Kingdom: Tortuga Tavern, quick service lunch at Be Our Guest
  • Epcot: Sunshine Seasons, Electric Umbrella
  • Hollywood Studios: Backlot Express
  • Animal Kingdom: Restaurantosaurus
  • Disney Springs: Earl of Sandwich, Cookies of Dublin, and Wolfgang Puck Express

This list appears current for 2018.

ADRs 

It’s hard these days if not impossible to show up at a full-service restaurant without Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs.) This seems especially true when child favorite restaurants, like those pricey but oh so fun character meals, are involved. You can make ADRs 180 days before your trip by calling 407- 939-3463, make reservations online, or let Mike Ellis, our Disney Vacation Planner with Pixie Vacations, do it for you with a vacation package. You can also e-mail Mike at mike@pixievacations.com.

Read: Why Book Advanced Dining Reservations: A Cheapskate Princess Guide

Try Last Minute

For last-minute trip planners that cannot secure a reservation, it never hurts to walk up and ask if a table is available. If you are close by anyway, the best they could do is locate a table. Just don’t tell the kids what you’re up to as you swing by the hostess station. If you do get in, you’ll be the hero of the day!

Recipe Request

If your children really enjoy a specific dish at a table service restaurant or character meal, speak to your server, and they can often provide you with the recipe. It can’t hurt to try. You can also phone Disney Guest Services at 407- 939-6244 to request a recipe, or visit disneyfoodblog.com for recipes.

Eat Now, Not Then

If you order and then proceed to eat at your child’s regular meal times, you will probably be standing in long ordering lines and searching for an open table, because this is generally when most other people eat as well. Try to eat before the rush times – like an early lunch or an early dinner. Lines will be shorter, more tables will be available, and you won’t have to leave the kids seated and reserving your table while you order. Eating after rush times works well too, provided the kids aren’t starving and grumpy by that point. Snacks can be your friends here. 

Read: Cheaper Breakfast Than Chef Mickey’s? This is One of Our Favorites!

Free Water/Ice Cups

You can order and/or just drink water with any meal. Water is FREE! Some people travel to take a vacation from drinking water all the time, but if a no soda option is something you want during a trip, the kids will save calories and you’ll save money.

You don’t have to be eating a meal to order water. Counter service restaurants and snack stands will give you water or cups of ice for free. All you have to do is ask. More info: Want to Save Money on Drinks at Disney World? Order This Drink for Free!

Eat Breakfast in Room

Morning time can be pretty tough on children off a regular schedule, especially if your group stayed out late riding rides the night before. You don’t have to leave your resort to get breakfast, unless you have a meal plan or free dining. We recommend you eat breakfast in your room to save time and money. Dining in may be less stressful on younger children than rushing to get everyone dressed for the food court. The best foods to eat in the room? To Save Money on Disney World Food, Eat Breakfast Here!

Bring Your Own Water

Every time you buy another water bottle on resort property for thirsty children, there goes another $3. If the kids don’t mind the taste of water fountain water, which has a well-earned reputation as tasting kinda gross, you can simply refill the bottles from water fountains. A better option might be to refill your bottles with water left from lunch or with water you got in one of those free cups we mentioned above. Take your own refillable water bottle/container with you into the parks to keep from throwing away so many plastic bottles. More info: To Save Money on Food At Disney, Bring This Bottle With You

Read: Disney Springs Must Do: Chocolate Extinction at T-REX

Bring Water Flavoring 

We just mentioned how some people do not like the taste of water from Disney water fountains, so you may want to bring flavor packets or Mio liquid to mix into your water bottles. There is no shortage of liquids and powders to add for a sweeter taste. More info: Disney World Food Tip: Water Bottles!

Freeze that Water

Freezing water bottles the night before you need them is a great way to fight the heat, and I personally believe it makes the yucky Disney tap water taste a little more palatable. Drink the cold water as it melts. We wrap the bottles in wash cloths to keep our bag dry, which can also be used for other emergencies or just wiping sweat or rain off little foreheads.

Kids can hold those frozen bottles on their wrists, necks, and in the crooks of elbows to cool off tiny bodies in the Florida heat.

Bring Your Own Snacks

Are your kids picky eaters? Well, you might want to bring snacks with you on vacation so they will have their regulars/favorites to snack on. Not only will this save money, but it can keep the picky eaters satisfied and full in-between meals. For the non-picky eaters, bringing your own snacks saves you money on buying snacks, probably with fewer calories as well. More info: Can You Bring Your Own Food into a Disney World Theme Park?

Read: Going to Disney? Got Kids? Here’s Why They Need Disney Gift Cards!

Check the Menus

Speaking of picky kids…It’s a good idea to take a peak at the menus before you show up for an expensive meal. Use this link to see where to view menus online: Before You Make Your Disney World Dining Reservations, You Should Read These…

Character Meal/Table Service Money Saving Tip

If you plan to take the kids to character meals and table service meals at “fancy” restaurants, (My kids use the word “fancy,”) then there are better times than others to dine if you’re interested in saving money. Lunch is a less expensive time to eat than dinner for table service and character meals. Use this guide, because while some lunch meals are identical to others in terms of food choices, other menus are completely different from lunch to dinner. Save Money on Food at Disney World? Make Dining Reservations for This Meal Rather Than That One…

Everybody Counts Toward Tip

When dining at table service meals, and that includes character meals, believe it to not, babies and toddlers count toward your group, so make plans to include little junior in the tip count. More info: Tipping at Disney World Restaurants: A Cheapskate Guide

Watch the Sugar

Too much sugar in little tummies can cause unhappiness in the long run. Disney has amazing sweets, so don’t skip them altogether. Share! You’ll save money and calories while teaching kids that you don’t have to eat the entire dessert to enjoy it. More info: Disney World Food Tip: Avoid Eating Too Much Sugar

We even have tips on the best snacks to share on your trip! The BEST Disney World Snacks to Share!

Read: 10 Tips to Save Money on Food at Walt Disney World

If we forgot YOUR favorite tip you use with your kids, leave it in the comments. Your tips can help other families have a fantastic vacation!

To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.

Amanda, Disney’s Cheapskate Princess

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