Dining at Disney with Picky Eaters

   If your toddlers and preschoolers are anything like mine, they're picky eaters.  Most of the time, one is uninterested and the other is crying (pictured left).  As babies, I never left the house without enough snacks to trick their tummies into believing they'd just eaten an entire meal.  Since they were always snacking and we were always accommodating them, they're a tad spoiled.  It's easier to manage when we're home.  All I have to do is shop at three different grocery stores and always be in the vicinity of a Chick-Fil-A.  Ha.  Needless to say, planning a trip to Disney threw a wrench in our normal eating habits.  I viewed this as an opportunity to teach them flexibility and a chance to try as much food in the parks as possible.  (Eating is one of my favorite pastimes.)  I started researching the restaurant menus in each park like a mad woman.  I wanted to have a handful of meal choices on hand so that no matter where we were in the park, everyone would be satisfied.

   In the past year we've visited both Disney parks with our small children:  Disney World when they were 4 and 2 years old, Disneyland when they turned 5 and 3 years old.  The difference in dining at the two parks is vast.  Disney World is wired for family vacations with the Disney Dining Plan, but the resort is its own entity, its own city, and there aren't grocery stores or chain, fast-food restaurants on the premises.  We weren't about to spend three meals a day at sit-down restaurants during our vacation, so we chose the two quick-service and one snack Disney Dining Plan.  It worked great!
   As for Disneyland, the resort is built into Anahiem, CA, and isn't as isolated as Disney World.  Disneyland is surrounded by gas stations, chain restaurants, drug stores, and whatever else you might need.  Unfortunately, you may end up spending more money on dining than you would in Disney World with a dining plan.  (Watch the Special Offers here for fall deals, such as free DDP, released in the spring and winter deals released in the fall.)  Luckily, we stayed at the Ramada Plaza Anaheim which backs up to a strip mall (located at the NE corner of Harbor and Katella) with several places to grab a bite- a 24-hour Subway restaurant, Alerto's Mexican Food, Panda Chinese Kitchen, and our personal favorite, California Pizza Place (that will deliver to your hotel room).  I don't think we would've faired very well without these cheap and easy places to eat on our way to and from the parks in Disneyland!
   You'll soon discover that if you want to get in and out of a restaurant quickly (and avoid hungry children banging the table waiting for food), you need to have a plan for quick service dining in Disney World.  Our strategy was for me to look at the menu on an app (either on the way over or while we waited in line for rides) and know what the girls and I were going to order.  When we would arrive at the restaurant, my husband would take our orders to the counter and I'd take the stroller to find a table.  After he ordered and visited the restroom, I'd take the girls to the ladies' room to wash our hands.  It worked really well.  We didn't have any trouble finding spots or paths for the double stroller in restaurants, but the parks weren't that busy in September because everyone was back in school.

   I packed many snacks in our checked baggage such as their favorite cereal, packets of oatmeal, chips and other dry nibbles.  (Click here for my post about planning and packing for Disney!)  After we ate them on the trip, it would create space in the luggage for souvenirs on the return flight.  I also carried some fresh fruit with me in our carry-on.  It's a pain but I always try and bring fruit on trips like these- that way I could supplement any meal with something healthy and redeeming by pouring out a handful of blueberries or handing them a clementine.  Have y'all ever tried this (pictured right) with one?  It's great for outings because the slices won't fall out of a container and onto the ground when they're still stuck to the peel.



Of course we had to take a picture with Red from Cars!
    We were in Disneyland for three days and loved every meal!  Before I go on, I need to mention one thing that sets the California location apart from Disney World.  Are you ready?  Disneyland...serves...alcohol.  I'm not a big drinker, but it's nice to at least have the option, just in case everything is driving you a little bit crazy, and you won't find any at the parks in Disney World.  Not a drop.  Anyway, our favorite spot in California Adventure Park was Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill!  My husband and I both had the soft tacos and they were amazing!  The girls each ordered Arroz con Pollo and we found a snack size of edamame nearby at Lucky Fortune Cookery.  Pacific Wharf is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat when accommodating a variety of taste buds.  Many different cuisines are within walking distance and all spots have cute outdoor seating and great views of the water!  While you're over there, check out The Bakery Tour!  It is a self-guided walking tour from San Francisco's sourdough experts, Boudin Bakery. We meant to stop by and get our free sample, but we were rushing to a fastpass time slot.

Edamame disassembly line.

Pacific Wharf even offers live music!
Disneyland Park in the spring with blossoming Pau d'Arco trees.

   Unlike Disney World, the Disneyland Park has tons of little fruit carts sprinkled all over the parks so you can grab a healthy snack.  So what do we do instead?  Dole whips, cinnamon twists, mickey beignets, and blueberries we brought, of course.  If you don't know about Dole Whips, learn as soon as possible.  They're a mix between sherbet and ice cream (a pineapple soft-serve) and are the yummiest little snack to cool you down on a hot day.  Do not miss the Tiki Juice Bar right next to the Enchanted Tiki Room near Frontierland.
   We stopped in for lunch at Café Orleans for some good gumbo (I'm not convinced it's better than my recipe from The Gumbo Shop) and ridiculously addicting Pommes Frites (garlic fries with a Cajun spice remoulade).  The girls shared spaghetti with carrots, broccoli, and fresh fruit.  The staff there was incredible and watching the steamboat pass in the river, surrounded by New Orleans Square, really transported us.  But I still saved room for some Mickey-shaped Beignets.  The girls were full and uninterested.  More for me!  Also, right before you cross the bride to get to Paradise Pier, there is a tiny café that offers coffee, muffins, cookies, and cinnamon twists if you feel in the mood for something sweet before the World of Colors begins.  It's not posted on the map and I can't remember the name of it, but it's there!

The hubs and me, sans babies, in 2007.
   Since the girls are too young to be sitting still for long meals, we skipped our favorite dining spot this trip, the Blue Bayou Restaurant.  It's nestled inside the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Honestly, it's a bit too dark and romantic in there to bring our little ones.  Last time we were in Disneyland, he ordered the Surf and Turf and I got the Filet Mignon.  Of course, this was back before children when we splurged on ourselves regularly.  Things have changed.  So we gave it a smile and a wave as we passed it on the ride.
The Blue Bayou Restaurant as seen from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

I'm glad we snuck that date in way back when!
   Another fantastic little spot to enjoy lunch is the Hungry Bear Restaurant, hidden in Critter Country.  I only found it because Baby Girl needed a place to snack on blueberries while Little Girl and her daddy rode Splash Mountain.  Although I was very tempted to get the fried green tomato sandwich, my husband and I both ordered burgers and the girls got chicken nuggets with apples and carrots.  I was so excited sweet potato fries were an option!  The food was great, but that's not why we love Hungry Bear.  The location is a great escape.  We sat upstairs on a covered deck overlooking the river and watched a pirate ship go by a few times, blowing its cannon each time it passed.  The girls were going wild!  I decided I'd bite a bullet and order a cupcake so the girls could stay as long as they wanted.

She stuck her tongue out in half the pictures from this trip.

Blueberries before...

...cupcake after.

   The only character dining we scheduled this trip was the breakfast at Plaza Inn.  (Disneyland: Meet the Characters post coming soon.)  Since there were made-to-order omelets, it was a little difficult trading off and going back and forth to the buffet, but we really enjoyed the meal and all of the characters.  The girls loved their Mickey-shaped waffles, of course!  (And I might have brought a Ziploc bag with their favorite cereal from home, just in case.  I don't want to spend a morning, or even a minute, at the park with hungry kids.)  It was neat because a few forgotten characters showed up and, with all of its Victorian architecture, the Plaza Inn really brought us back to the feeling of the park when it first opened.
Meeting Chip and Dale minus the Campire Singalong debacle.

Click here for my DIY Disney Autograph Book

   As I mentioned earlier, the strip mall next to our hotel was a lifesaver.  With Mexican food, Chinese food, a Subway, and a pizza place, we were covered.  We usually stopped there for dinner after our naps (yes, we left the park each day to take big naps) and on our way back into the parks for night activities.  California Pizza Place was our favorite, but even when it wasn't, they didn't mind letting my oldest bring in a Subway sandwich, which, by the way, she still calls a "Disneyland sandwich".  We'd never taken the girls to Subway before this trip.

Tink and Wendy headed to their last night at Disneyland.

Disney World

   Since we opted for the "2 quick service, 1 snack" DDP option, most of our restaurant choices are quick service.  For the third meal each day, we either bought breakfast at the hotel or had reservations for a character dining
   Most of our days were spent in Magic Kingdom so we have many favorites now!  Following the advice of the best Disney Dining reviewer, I had a few on my list that we wanted to try.  Our first stop was a character dining, breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle!  My youngest is allergic to eggs and my oldest despises them.  They were pretty limited on the breakfast options and we would have to leave too early to grab anything at the hotel first.  (Read more here about why I still think breakfast at the castle is the best time to go!)  So I brought a couple Ziploc bags of their favorite cereals that I had packed in our luggage.  I'm so glad I did! 

Our view.

Inside the castle.

French toast sticks: untouched. Cereal: gone.
   After breakfast was served, we only had a few minutes before the princesses started coming around to the tables.  And immediately after breakfast, we wanted to make a quick exit and ride a few Fantasyland rides before the crowd back at the park entrance caught up with us.  This was our only chance to fill their bellies.  When we ordered, I asked they bring a couple bowls of milk and spoons.  The girls picked at their meals for a minute or two, then demolished their cereal.  Perfect.  My husband had the steak and eggs (his favorite, indulgent breakfast meal) and thought it was great.  I ordered the bread pudding and was pretty disappointed.  It has since been replaced on the menu and rightly so, it was too starchy and yeasty to taste anything like bread pudding.  But it looked good.  The ambience in the castle, the line of princesses willing to spend quality time at the table, and gaining entrance to the park before everyone else (to capture a pic in front of the castle without anyone in the background and to be perched in Fantasyland when the rides open), were well worth the ticket price, despite the food.

My lackluster bread pudding.

   We meant to try the most-recommended quick-service breakfast option in the park, waffles at Sleepy Hollow, but grabbed our first meal at the hotel for the rest of the trip.  Sleepy Hollow is also one of the only places that serves coffee, but my husband said Sunshine Tree's coffee was the best.  Our favorite snack stops were the Dole Whips (an absolute must) at Aloha Isle and the fresh fruit in Liberty Square's little market.  As much as my girls normally love smoothies, we made a special trip over to Auntie Gravity's Galactic Goodies for one and they weren't any good.  We tried all the smoothies in the resort and they were all the same.  It was obvious they aren't made with many fresh ingredients.

  As for lunch or dinner, we found several great spots.  Columbia Harbor House was my favorite because of the cozy, nautical ambience.  We stopped in at the wood-paneled quick-service restaurant, draped with ship wheels and coastal art, right before we rode Pirates of the Caribbean.  My husband is big fried shrimp fan and Columbia Harbor House's did not disappoint.  They were lightly and perfectly breaded.  My tuna sandwich was a little heavy on the mayo, but tasted fresh.  I wanted to come here more often to try the veggie sandwich and the salads, but my husband can only eat so much fried shrimp.  The girls happily shared orders of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli, and French fries.  All four of us sampled one another's desserts but all enjoyed the cobbler and the chocolate cake. We relaxed and enjoyed the peacefulness of the white room (I was too busy relaxing to take photos) but I've also heard the hidden upstairs room is a great retreat from the chaos that can be Disney.  Since I didn't get any pictures, click here for some good ones and a great review.

   We also liked stopping for lunch at Pinnocchio Village Haus for several reasons.  First, the pizza was great.  No, it's not Chicago deep-dish style or NYC status, but the crust was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and it was perfectly cooked.  The Mediterranean salad was delicious and the gelato was decent.  But we really liked the carved wood, stained-glass window, cottage atmosphere.  If you sit by the window, you can wave at everyone entering It's a Small World.  The girls had so much fun eating here!

   Another favorite was Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café.  I was aware that there is a cool performance from some character called Cosmic Ray, but we never saw it.  It was packed when we were there and the only table available was shoved in a back corner.  I was willing to risk it because I had heard so much about the half chicken and ribs combo plate.  When you're on a dining plan, finding the most for your money can be tough, but not here.  I don't remember the ribs, but the rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes were exactly the comfort food I needed.  My youngest had just completed potty-training before the trip and ended up having an accident in the middle of the meal.  It was a stressful experience, but the food was delicious.  Maybe next time we can stay longer and see what all the fuss is about.


  The day we went to Epcot, I was so excited to walk the circle with my husband at my side, the girls tucked nicely and quietly into the stroller, while we sampled food from each country.  I wanted to end up at La Hacienda de San Angel and watch the fireworks over the lagoon as we sipped on margaritas. 

Fit on the floor in the middle of Epcot. 
   Well, that didn't quite work out.  It was stifling hot and muggy on our day at Epcot.  After we were so lucky to basically walk onto The Seas with Nemo & Friends three times in a row, the girls were majorly disappointed with the rest of Epcot.  They whined, pouted, and threw fits.  We ended up at Sunshine Seasons hoping a meal would cheer everyone up.  While the cafeteria-style food-court wasn't my first choice, I wasn't mad at it after my husband and I both ordered the Oak-Grilled Rotisserie Chicken with black beans and yellow rice.  Little Girl had a chicken leg with rice and grapes and Baby Girl had macaroni and cheese with grapes and carrot sticks.  It was all perfectly cooked and delicious.  Sunshine Seasons also offers vegetable soups and vegan meals with jasmine rice.  Maybe next visit they'll appreciate exploring new foods and we can enjoy Epcot's different countries cuisine's.  Or, maybe not.
   Next time at Epcot we'll try the treats at Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie and the skewers at Tangierine Café (quick service) or the pizza, pasta, and salads at Via Napoli (table service).

   On our evening at Hollywood Studios, we ate dinner at Toy Story-style at Pizza Planet Arcade.  The pizza were just as delicious as the ones at Pinocchio Village Haus.  The caesar side salads were great and the cookies were huge.  We left with big smiles on all of our faces!  After stopping in to watch Muppet Vision 3D and riding Toy Story Mania four times, we wheeled over to Beverly Sunset for spooky and sweet villians' treats!  It isn't a well-advertised spot, and the window displays are scary for little kids, but I wanted to see it while we were there.
Spooky Confectionary at Hollywood Studios

The DDP snack was redeemable for only a few select treats.


   During our day at Animal Kingdom, it was very hot outside and after bouncing around, learning about animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari's, and meeting a bunch of the Disney characters in Camp Minnie-Mickey, we needed food.  We couldn't wait for our reservations at Yak and Yeti (ahi tuna salad, dim sum, and apparently huge and yummy portions of lo mein) and decided to stop at Pizzazafari.  My husband wanted to try the hot Italian-style sandwich and loved it!  The girls and I had pizza again (the same yummy pies as served at Pizza Planet with a side caesar salad) and topped it off with one of my favorite desserts at Disney- the cheesecake in a glass.  It doesn't sound like much but the toppings are tangy and sweet, the cheesecake is light and refreshing, and it's the only memorable dessert from the trip, other than the Dole Whip.  We loved the atmosphere too.  The animal murals sparked some educational conversation with our children at Pizzasafari!



    The best was even yet to come at 'Ohana in the Polynesian Resort.  We reserved our spots for the breakfast character dining with Lilo & Stitch and it turned out to be my absolute favorite!  (Read more here about all the fun we had with the characters!)  The breakfast is served family style and comes with mickey-shaped waffles for the kids.  Those waffles were tough to beat until we dug into the Hua Paka, Uala Kahiki and the Pua'a.  In other words, the scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, pork sausage, bacon, and biscuits were amazing!  The meal also includes fresh fruits and sweet breads.  But they didn't stop there!  The lovely staff at 'Ohana helped me put together a birthday cake for my husband with only one day's notice!  With all the trip preparations, and a surprise 40th birthday party planned for after the trip, I had forgotten to do anything special for him on his actual birthday.  They came to my rescue and it turned out perfectly!  I only wish I could've had it sent the rest of the cake back to our hotel.  We were headed to the park that morning and couldn't bring it with us.  Boo.  If we're ever there for dinner (or even after 12 noon) I'll make it a point to order Lapu Lapus from the Tambu Lounge as has been recommended to me several times before.

Family-style breakfast at 'Ohana, complete with passion-orange-guava juice!

My husband's BIG 4-0 kickoff!

     Obviously, the kids ate chicken nuggets, pizza, spaghetti, and sandwiches a majority of the time.  If we would have chosen the table service option, their meals would have consisted of a better variety of foods.  But I still stand by our choice for 2 quick service and 1 snack.  Time is money.  And time in Disney World can get expensive, costing more money than we planned and more of our sanity than we possess.  If you get desperate, you can also order groceries and other items to be delivered to your room through services like goodingsdelivers.com (407) 827-1200.  You might want to keep their number handy, just in case.  If you enjoyed this post, be sure to visit my other posts about Disney by clicking the "Baby on Board" tab located in the top right column.  Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Hey, great work on these posts, I've read a few. Quick question if you get the time...We're going to Disney Land next week with a 19 month old and a soon-to-be five year old. Our five year old is very picky and eats like a bird, here sister is a bottomless pit. My question is, how big are the kids' portions? I'd rather not spend $6/plate for half eaten food. Would they be able to split an entree easily? Thanks!

    1. Thank you Rachel! The kids' portions are definitely big enough to share. I would buy one kids meal and one snack/side if they both turn out to be hungry. I think you'll be fine though. Have a wonderful trip!!

  2. Alcohol is served at all four parks in Disney World. There are threads on Disney forums dedicated to Disney World's alcoholic drinks. Epcot has the food and wine festival in the fall!