Navigating WDW with a Picky Eater
by Michelle Scribner-MacLean, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the April 17, 2007 Issue #395 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
You've seen them. You'll recognize them right away. They can be short or tall. They might have pigtails and wear dresses, or wear overalls and a baseball cap. I'm describing the Picky Eater (PE). Managing meals for a Picky Eater at home is difficult enough, but the thought of going on a vacation with a Picky Eater can be very daunting, indeed! We have one at our house and his menu consists of the following: peanut butter and jelly, plain pasta, eggs and dairy products, most fruits, and some vegetables. Let me tell you, it is very, very difficult to eat at WDW with such a limited menu and for years, when a trip to WDW was looming, I would get very stressed out about the idea of making sure my Picky Eater had food choices, making sure that he was eating healthy, and also making sure that we didn't have to miss the great restaurants at WDW. With experience and many trips under my belt, I've developed some strategies to help make your visit to WDW manageable with a Picky Eater.
1. Plan Ahead
There are a few ways that you can plan ahead to make your trip more enjoyable for everyone. First, think of the simple things that you can take with you to make your Picky Eater more comfortable. Pack a few staple items (for us, these can consist of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, Smuckers Uncrustables, cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, a box of pasta, some healthy cereals, and some healthy snacks such as high protein bars) -- those will provide quick and easy snacks for your picky eater. In addition, many resorts have mini stores with basic staples that you can buy when you get there, but you will pay more. We buy milk, yogurt, and eggs when we get to our resort. Another option is to make a quick stop at a local supermarket to pick up a few essentials to make your time at the park more comfortable with your Picky Eater.
Another thing that you can do is to view menus ahead of time. I always check out the up-to-date menus on Allears.net to help me find places that have foods that my Picky Eater will eat. By printing out my selections and bringing them with us, it is easy to pinpoint which places will have the right foods. This saves us time -- rather than making our way to a restaurant and finding the menu to see if there is anything he'll eat, we can easily pinpoint places with reasonable menu choices.
When possible, we try to allow our Picky Eater a chance to give some input into where we will eat, but after years of visits, we have found some places that are "sure hits." Breakfast buffets work the best for us, as he will eat pancakes, waffles, eggs, juice, and other breakfast items. We all fill up with yummy breakfast foods and many times can run around the parks for several hours before we need to think about eating again. We like Donald's Breakfastosaurus and the Crystal Palace breakfast buffet. For lunch, our Picky Eater likes the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theatre, but he also likes the '50s Prime Time Cafe -- the last time we were there, the waitresses playfully teased our PE when he wanted to modify his order, but unlike the case when his parents bug him to eat, he actually enjoyed the good-natured teasing.
2. Choose Your Tools
With a Picky Eater, a refrigerator and mini kitchen can save the day. This was one of the reasons we chose to become Disney Vacation Club members -- even the smallest suites come with mini fridges and microwaves. However, many rooms on property have refrigerators available (some for a small fee). If you aren't staying on property, many local rental units have full kitchens -- this makes all the difference in the world with a Picky Eater. This allows you to plan some healthy meals away from the park and affords some chances to pack snacks for your Picky Eater to take to the parks.
3. It Doesn't Hurt to Ask
Another strategy is asking restaurants if they have any other options. When faced with few menu choices, we ask Cast Members if they could, for example, make pasta without sauce or if there are other things that might not be on the menu. Nearly 100 percent of the time, Cast Members will try to accommodate special requests, as long as they are reasonable.
4. Snacks on the Go? Make Them Count!
With our long days in the parks, we worry about our Picky Eater having healthy snack options -- if he's not eating a lot, we want to make sure what he eats counts. He's a kid on vacation, so Mickey Ice Cream Bars and popcorn are certainly going to be on the menu, but whenever possible we try to grab a carton of milk, a smoothie, or a piece of fresh fruit as part of the snack menu.
5. Hey! It's Your Vacation, Too!
Yes, you want to do what you can so that your Picky Eater has a healthy meal, but it's your vacation, too. After several trips to WDW, my husband and I realized that we were denying ourselves visits to some great restaurants to better accommodate our Picky Eater. We decided that we needed to strike a compromise, so here are some of the things we've done:
Sometimes we have our PE have his dinner before we eat. He still enjoys the theming of whatever restaurant we go to and enjoys something small to nibble on while we're there, but we rest easy knowing that he's fed, and we're happy that we get to try some of the many fun restaurants available.
Another thing we've tried is using the Disney Child Care services (we use the Sandcastle Club at Disney's Beach Club), and it was actually our Picky Eater's idea. We did not want to come to WDW and get a babysitter for our kids, but after walking by the Sandcastle Club many times, our kids kept looking in the window and said, "Why don't you go out to dinner and we'll play here!" For a fee, children are fed a kid-friendly dinner, get to play with video games, interact with other kids, and play with well-trained Disney Cast Members. They love it! We often plan for the grownups to go out to a new restaurant once on each trip to WDW. We all look forward to it! And now that our Picky Eater is a bit older -- over the 12-year-old age limit for the Child Care services -- we offer him a choice of coming to the restaurant or spending two hours alone in the room watching a movie. He usually chooses to spend some time alone, enjoying a little quiet before we pick him up to enjoy some Extra Magic Hours or some fireworks.
6. Take Heart!
As we come to the end of the column I must end by saying that, even though managing a Picky Eater can be a lot of work, there is some good news... sometimes the restaurants at WDW offer an opportunity for them to try new foods -- and they do! Over the years, our Picky Eater has tried several new things and liked them (we're not sure if it was the setting or the presentation, but we don't really care why), AND he's brought his new food choices home with him!
We've been navigating with our Picky Eater for 13 years now. He's currently 5' 9", our pediatrician says he's very healthy, and he loves going to WDW... so take heart. You can manage WDW with a Picky Eater and have fun yourself!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Scribner-MacLean is a college professor by day and a Disney fanatic in every other bit of free time. She first visited WDW when she was a teenager and now is a DVC owner who visits Walt Disney World two or three times per year. Michelle lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two boys and loves roller coasters, the fantastic food at Disney, and always cries when she sees IllumiNations. She is also a Disney podcast addict and adores WDW Today.
Read Michelle's previous article for ALL EARS®, Mixing Science and Magic at Walt Disney World, at: http://allears.net/ae/issue390.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.