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Parenting in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
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Adrienne Krock, editor
Let's face it: Theme Parks require a lot of energy. The excitement of the day and the attack on our senses get the adrenaline pumping. Hiking around from attraction to attraction usually consumes more energy than our average daily activities. If it's a warm day out, our bodies sweat more and require more fluids than usual. With all these added stresses on our bodies, keeping nourished at Theme Parks is important and at times challenging.

I'm of the belief that my family is better served by three small meals and two snacks than a strict three meal schedule. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three small meals and two snacks for children, and as the daughter-in-law and sister of Pediatricians, I tend to agree with AAP, in general. Many parents of toddlers will tell you that the young set has known this for generations. When I give Matthew a choice of healthy foods throughout the day, I find that he not only eats appropriate amounts of food in a balanced diet, but he also is a happier kid to be around.

I have numerous resources on my shelf for traveling to Disney parks, but most of them tell you how to buy food inside the parks. Let's be realistic: Not everyone can afford to buy theme park food all the time and it's not always easy to find the right-sized portions and healthy selections. The first thing I pack are my own water bottles. Water inside Disneyland costs $2.50 for a one-liter bottle! If you want cold water you can freeze your bottles, or ask for a cup of ice from a restaurant. I usually pack a few snack foods for Matthew, such as juice boxes, peanut butter crackers, fruit with a thick rind such as bananas or oranges, and crackers such as goldfish or graham crackers. If you have a soft-sided cooler, you can bring milk and cheese.

For an easy to travel lunch, I've brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Matthew's too young to eat raw carrots, but Kevin and I have been known to munch on bags of carrots. If you want to bring a picnic lunch to Disneyland, there are lockers and a picnic area available out front.

If you're coming to Disneyland from out of town, there are a few stores in the area where you can pick up snacks, including:

- Target, south of Disneyland on Harbor

- Food4Less grocery store, west of Disneyland, on Katella

Walt Disney World (WDW) is a bit more secluded from civilization so the shops in the resorts and the nearest grocery store tend to have tourist-trap prices. However, if you're coming to WDW from Orlando International Airport, there's a Publix grocery store you can stop by for provisions. To get there, take the South Exit (the Central Florida Greeneway, SR 417) from the airport. The Publix is in a Hunter's Creek shopping center off of John Young Parkway.

Be forewarned that outdoor vending carts stocked with tempting "junk foods" are abundant in Disney parks. They include standard theme park fare such as cotton candy and frozen (mostly sugar) lemonade. Personally, I avoid these carts because, like many parents, I try to limit the amount of sweets we eat. There are folks who live for churros at Disneyland. Because of the cost, we don't usually consume many churros and I instead save my calories for other sweets which are unique to Disneyland (see sidebar.)

To Disney's credit, I have noticed healthier snack options popping up lately. There are several fruit carts in their parks. These may offer whole fruit such as bananas, oranges and apples, as well as bags of watermelon slices and grapes. I'm lucky because Matthew loves fruit so to him, it is as much a treat as cookies and ice cream.

One of my favorite snacks is a Mickey shaped pretzel. They are available with or without cheese sauce. Besides selling ice cream, the outdoor vending ice cream carts also offer frozen fruit bars.

Of course Disney restaurants offer children's meals. When I recently compared notes with fellow MousePlanet mom Barbara Bennett, I discovered that Disneyland and WDW kids meals are not quite the same. Recently, Disneyland children's meals have begun to shrink in size, most notably at sit-down restaurants such as the Plaza Inn. Until a few months ago, their children's portions were served in ceramic plates, for example, and this portion was large enough to satisfy an adult at lunchtime. Now, they are served in plastic Mickey-shaped plates and the portions are much smaller.

Besides the typical hamburgers, chicken nuggets (Mickey-shaped of course) and pizza, Disneyland restaurants offer smaller portions of their adult fare. Among these, Matthew's favorite is the pasta at Plaza Inn on Main Street, with the alfredo sauce on the side for dipping. For a complete listing of menus available at Disneyland, with prices included, visit our Disneyland Restaurant Resource (make that a link)

Meanwhile, at WDW, the children's portions seem to be larger than those at Disneyland, often they're large enough for Barbara to split the child's portion with her son, Allan. Barbara let me in on this little tip, "My favorite trick, is that by (sharing the child's meal), we feel free to order dessert too, which lets us try lots of great delectables without stuffing ourselves or overspending our budget!"

Barbara also highlighted some of the WDW children's meals:

Some of the best kids meals to be had at WDW are the spaghetti at Tony's in the Magic Kingdom, and the Grilled Cheese (excellent flavor) at the Plaza Inn also at the Magic Kingdom. The chicken strips kids meal at the Brown Derby at Disney-MGM Studios could be easily sold as an adult menu item. They are wonderfully tasty - and plentiful! In my opinion, there is nothing at Animal Kingdom that deserves special mention, and Epcot is different. There are a lot of good kid's meals there. Each of the countries has a pint-sized entree or two that are authentic to that country's cuisine. Then there are always a few good old-fashioned hamburger-type meals for the discriminating kid's palette.

For a description of the restaurants at Walt Disney World, please visit Walt Disney World Restaurant Resource.

Trying to balance the treats available at theme parks while teaching my child to make healthy choices can be tough. With a little pre-planning, Matthew's needs are met, our budget needs are met and we all have a good time.

Wanted: Your questions and feedback! They will help me plan future columns! Write me at:


Let me take this opportunity to share our favorite indulgences at Disney Parks.

I'll start with Disneyland. In Adventureland, the Bengal Barbeque offers some heavenly food including a guilty pleasure I enjoy: bacon wrapped asparagus served with a wedge of lime, and an order of "leopard tails," which are grilled breadsticks.

Although I am trying to help my family avoid too many sweets, Kevin and I also have two ice cream weaknesses at Disneyland. Mine is Fantasia ice cream. Right now, it's only available from the Gibson Girl on Main Street. [If any CM / Managers are reading this, PLEASE, can't they put this over in the Cone Shop, too?] 

Over at the Cone Shop, Kevin gets his delicacy: A hand scooped ice cream sandwich made with 2 freshly made chocolate-chip cookies. These things put those "Duck Pucks" to shame! [Hey, CM-Management types, if you could extend the Cone Shop operating hours while you're at it, we'd appreciate that, too!] 

Of course, Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom both have Dole Whip, but I have yet to understand the appeal of this particular item...

At Walt Disney World, Epcot seems to offer a variety of must-have treats at its various pavilions. 

Some of these include "Beaver Tails" (churro-like pastries) from Canada , pastries such as napoleons, and eclairs from France, and Kaki Gori (shaved ice with syup, somewhat similar to Italian ices) from Japan.

Barbara shared with me her indulgence at Epcot: "Cherry Trifle at the Rose and Crown in England at Epcot! It's a fabulous dessert billed for two! Most of the time we actually do even share it, although I can't recall any tiny, tiny bits ever being left!"


Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.

Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.

Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.

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