Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

We Took Our Own Food to Disney

We took Our Own Food to Disney

Visiting a Disney park may be the “happiest place on earth,” but feeding a family while you’re there can bring you down in a hurry.

For frugal, real food mamas, being stuck in a theme park with access only to processed foods at uber premium prices is like an alternate reality. When you’re used to making everything from scratch, shopping sales and buying in bulk, packing your kids’ lunches,  making camping meal plans, and even taking your own food to the zoo, paying $5 for a bottle of water and upward of $10/meal/person is a bad dream you can’t wait to wake up from, and you start to wonder if you will get to join your family enjoying that happy place.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

OUR experience at Disney a year ago?

We spent only about $40 on food for the entire very long day, for a family of 5 big eaters. And that included the requisite ice cream snack while watching the afternoon parade in 95-degree heat!

eating expensive ice cream at Disney World during a parade in 90 degree heat

When we entered the park at 8 in the morning, the wand-wielders checked our bags for metal things and contraband and said things like, “Oh, my goodness, come back here for lunch so I can have some!” and, “That looks amazing, I’m jealous of your lunch!”

Clearly, taking your own food to Disney World is not a problem in the least.

But how to make it happen when you’ve flown on an airplane and don’t have access to your normal kitchen supplies and food?

We were staying at a timeshare with a full kitchen BUT you could pull this off in a hotel with a mini-fridge and a little planning ahead from home, without adding more than a few ounces to your suitcase.

Traveling as a family with real food in real life is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. Learn from my experience packing a family of 6 up in a van for a two-month road trip. See what we brought with us, what we left home, how we ate healthy for cheap while we were away from home, and most impressively how we fit everything we needed for two months in the van with all 6 of us!

Print the Road Trip Packing List: Your Guide to Stress-Free Packing

Field-Tested Plan to Bring Food to Disney Parks

reusable bag stuffed with lunch for Disney World

We don’t seek perfection for food when we’re on vacation, but we do like to have some real food, save money, AND the bonus benefit of taking your own food is NO LINES.

Not only do you not have to find the “right” food shop or restaurant, but you don’t have to wait in one more line, and you can even nibble when you’re in some of the outdoor lines for attractions. It’s a win-win-win-win-win, believe me.

You’ll need to bring a few things from home and do some sourcing once you’re at your destination, but it’s not too bad (and if you have a way to store or prepare some food in your hotel/condo, you need to grocery shop anyway). Here are your checklists:

Bring from Home

Necessary supplies:

  • Plastic zippered bags in gallon, quart, and sandwich sizes. Bring a few more than you think you’ll need and slip them into a suitcase pocket. They take almost no space. Related: Reusable Snack and Sandwich Bags Review.
  • Reusable water bottles for each individual – preferably with a carry case that goes over your shoulder.
  • Real Salt pocket shakers
  • A backpack
  • Hand sanitizer and/or baby wipes
  • Fold-up reusable bag like this one, shown ready to go full of lunch in the photo above (but pack it empty for the plane obviously!):
reusable foldup bag so nice for vacation

I’ve had mine for years but similar styles are prolific nowadays. I did some shopping for you to compare to mine, which is very large and made of 100% polyester (that might be nylon, technically?). It’s 16″ tall and nearly 20″ wide with a 10″ handle that can fit over my shoulder but not as well on my husband’s. He carried it in his hand without problem. It folds to a roll about 4 inches long and 2 inches deep like this:

rolled up Envirosax reusable bag to take your lunch in at a theme park

Here’s what I found on Amazon:

Mine is made by Envirosax and it looks like you can get 5-packs, singles, or slightly smaller versions with an inch shorter handle like this one in a Sesame Street pattern here. They’re more pricey than some of the other brands I found, but this has lasted years for me, and when I use it, I fill it. We also like it on vacation for carrying towels and sunscreen to the pool, especially because it can double as a wet bag once everything is out of it – it dries in minutes.

  • from EcoJeannie, ripstop nylon, this one is HUGE and sounds like it would be really durable, good reviews.
  • from Easy Fold Bag, ripstop nylon, slightly smaller but wider than mine, straps would not  go over shoulders but great reviews.
  • from Etude House, nylon, smaller than mine but very cute.
  • from Delicol, polyester, folds into a strawberry. Slightly small than mine and reviews say they need to off gas when they arrive, but quite inexpensive.
  • from HOP, nylon zippered closure with pockets, likely similar in size to mine but doesn’t fold as small.

Optional supplies:

You might be able to source these at your destination; see next section to determine. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to bring your own from home so you don’t have to buy more than you’ll need.

  • Paper plates
  • Plastic utensils
  • Plastic grocery bags if you won’t be shopping (they tuck into tiny places)
  • Snacks you’ve bought in bulk or made homemade like bars, nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, homemade or healthy crackers, or whatever you normally would pack that is shelf stable (I have recipes for great bars and kid-friendly chewable beef jerky in my Healthy Snacks to Go eBook,.

Here are some items we purchase when we can’t make homemade:

Purchased convenience real food snacks

If you’re an ALDI shopper, you’ll recognize a few of those brands! One more reason we {heart} ALDI!

Shopping List before you hit the Theme Parks

Adapt this list based on family likes/dislikes and number of people, but these are suggestions for easy-to-travel-with food that doesn’t take prep.

  • String cheese or pre-sliced cheese (not processed American cheese slices though, ick)
  • Single serve applesauce or fruit cups
  • Yogurt – large tub or individual cups (see more below for why)
  • Fresh fruit that doesn’t need cutting: bananas, apples, grapes, berries
  • Baby carrots
  • Other pre-cut veggies if available (or veggies to cut if you have a kitchen)
  • Hard-boiled and peeled eggs (or just eggs if you have a kitchen available)

If you didn’t pack snacks already:

  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Bars with decent ingredients (Larabars, KIND bars are some examples)
  • Crackers with decent ingredients (we like Nut Thins which are ok, and gluten-free)

Paleovalley Meat Sticks

It can be hard to find healthy snacks that you can take with you on the go. When I want the convenience of a jerky stick, but want a healthy, protein packed snack option, I grab Paleovalley meat sticks. Paleovalley ingredients have these high standards that you can feel good about:

100% grass fed beef sticks, pasture raised beef sticks
  • 100% Grass Fed Beef & 100% Pasture Raised Turkey
  • Never given antibiotics or hormones
  • Gluten free, soy free, dairy free
  • 0 grams of sugar*
  • Contains no artificial nitrates or nitrites
  • Non-GMO
  • Naturally fermented and contain gut-friendly probiotics!

*With the exception of Teriyaki, which contains 2 grams of sugar from Organic Honey.

These beef sticks and turkey sticks taste delicious! My favorite is the Jalapeño but my kids love Summer Sausage.

Use this link to get 15% off your order at Paleovalley. Read my Paleovalley Review to learn more!

Tip: Plan to hit a fast food restaurant or deli, somewhere you’d normally need to eat anyway, that has little condiment packets and disposable utensils, before you go to Disney. Get some mustard packets, napkins, pre-wrapped utensils and salt/pepper if you need them.

Grab at your hotel/condo

  • ice
  • possibly napkins
  • possibly utensils (we use real ones because we know we’re responsible!)

Pack for Lunch for in the ParkJohn and Donald and Mommy

Water: Bring your own water bottles, refill as necessary at fountains or bathrooms. We love single-bottle carriers with shoulder straps like this, this for smaller bottles or this one that my daughter has and is very comfortable. (Shop all water bottle carriers on Amazon here.) That way each person can carry their own for frequent drinking if it’s hot, or sometimes we’ll also carry them in one backpack on Dad’s back (after making CERTAIN that they’re closed tightly…which we always seem to miss once and have a leak, but I’d still rather bring my own).

If you have children carrying their own bottles (or even adults), use a cross-shoulder carry like I’m doing with my purse in the photo on the right, so that it just becomes part of them, and they shouldn’t take them off on rides unless they go into an adult’s bag.

Lunch:

in the fold-up bag I described above

Hard boiled eggs or egg salad (in throwaway container, like yogurt tub; make egg salad with mustard packets and a bit of plain yogurt)

Hard boiled eggs for lunch at Disney World in a throwaway container

Tiny Real Salt for eggs

Hard boiled eggs for lunch at Disney World with a pocket shaker of Real Salt

Crackers

Blue Diamond Nut Thins for lunch

Baby carrots or other cut veggies

Veggies in Reusable Bag for Lunch

Cheese

Slicing cheese at home

We slice our own cheese at home, and it’s more expensive to buy pre-wrapped or pre-sliced, but it pales in comparison to Disney food costs.

Single yogurt cups (or a big tub if you have something to spoon it out into, maybe the plastic water cups from your hotel room)

big yogurt tub for Disney lunch

Apples, some cut for easy quick snacks (or bananas or oranges – whatever whole fruits fit your budget and are available!)

We Took Our Own Food to Disney World

Ice in bags (they’ll leak, so it’s great that the thin carrying bag dries while you eat if you just lay it out on a chair or bush):

Ice in bags for Disney lunch

Bonus: When your eggs, cheese and yogurt are gone, dump the remaining ice water into your bottles! Zip the bag and save it in case you need it for something.

Proper utensils – put in zippered bag to take back with you once dirty (or disposable, see above)

Take your own silverware to Disney World for lunch too

Napkins, in a plastic bag so they don’t get wet

Napkins for Disney lunch

Something to serve the food on – you might bring paper plates from home or use something you’ve sourced in your stay already. We used Styrofoam trays from produce we had purchased that week that had to be pitched anyway, empty yogurt tubs or takeout containers are also great. Just throw them away when you’re done and BOOM. Easy peasy.

examples of disposable items you might have from your travels to use to pack a theme park lunch

The most important part: Don’t overpack perishables. Try to pack exactly what you’ll need as far as things that require ice, and pack a bit extra of the things that don’t, like trail mix and whole fruits. You might need a late night snack before you get back home, but you want to be able to get rid of the ice by midday.

Pack Snacks

In a backpack for easy access

  • Nuts and raisins
  • Bars
  • Squeezy pouches of applesauce (not something we use often, but nice for a quick on-the-go pick-me-up for little ones!)
  • Grapes
  • Whole Apples (wash in advance or use the rub-on-pants method, which I actually found to be very effective when I tested produce washes!). We also cut some up for quick and easy snacks without the commitment of the whole thing for little kids, but we had access to a kitchen.
  • Beef jerky if you brought some
  • Etc. – you know what your family likes

Part of having a fun day at a theme park like Disney or other large excursions is feeling well. You’re going to be asking a lot of your kids already, so it’s nice to be able to feed them often, keep them hydrated, and have it all close at hand so you don’t have to find someone selling something every time someone needs a little energy boost.

Do take time to stop and sit down to eat as well as on-the-go snacking…perhaps as you stake out a place to watch a parade! Winking smile But find some shade too if it’s a sweltering day.

Purchase Dinner at Disney Inexpensively

We decided that packing one meal was plenty to carry around, so that means dinner is at the mercy of Disney. We made it our goal to find somewhere that would meet our needs:

  • some healthier options beyond standard fast food fare
  • a place to sit inside (it was sooooo hot!!)
  • no wait time/table service
  • options to keep it frugal

Impossible, you say? We didn’t spend very much at all for 5 people at Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland, and it wasn’t very busy.

Don't assume you can't take food into Disney theme parks! You can pack a lunch, snacks, water... Grab my step-by-step checklist to make it easy, even when flying by plane.

We bought the big dinner of half a chicken, BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable, supplemented with an order of fries or two and some apples, grapes and veggies from the backpack, and I think my husband might have gotten another sandwich or chicken or something. (Notice that you can do this grain-free if you need to!!)

Although we weren’t stuffed, everyone got enough to eat, and we were on our way again to have fun with trail mix still in the backpack to refuel hungry people in a few hours.

We truly only spent about $40 including ice cream for all of us while waiting for an afternoon parade – ’cause I’m an 80/20 kind of mom who definitely doesn’t require real food all the time, and we love us some ice cream at the Kimball house! Winking smile

Now I’d love to hear from you all with more tips!

Have you taken your own food to Disney or another theme park? What money-saving and real food strategies did you use?

I expect to learn a lot for the next time! And by the way, I also have some meal plans for what we bought/cooked in the timeshare condo so that we only ate out a few times the whole week, but I realized that would only apply to people who have a kitchen on vacation. When you travel, what sort of amenities for food prep do you usually have?

**My friend Stephanie is a GURU world traveler with a family, and she has some amazing tips on getting inexpensive flights for families and how to survive a long road trip with kids at her blog Entrefamily, about entrepreneurial life and family travel. Holy-cow-clearly-we-all-need-that, right?? 😉

Pin This Post!

Can You Bring Your Own Food to Disney
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

25 thoughts on “We Took Our Own Food to Disney”

  1. Yogurt tubs should be RECYCLED not thrown away please! Also I recommend reusable silicon bags (like Stasher) instead of Ziplocs. You are doing wonderful things for your family to eat heathy. It would be awesome if you also do good for the environment!

  2. Pack a small bag of frito chips for each person. Bring sandwich bags with taco salad makings (taco meat, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, chopped lettuce) and a small packets of salsa. Each person adds their toppings to the chip bag and gets taco salad in a bag. Throw the mess away when you are done!

  3. Our family has traveled to Disney World many times and we LOVE to pack our lunch for a day in the park. Two years ago I purchased a Pack-it freezable bag that is made to carry two bottles of wine — we also use it to take wine on cruises :). It is the same as a standard size Pack-it lunch box but taller (just remove the velcro divider). And because you can freeze it—no ice needed!!! I would pack 7 sandwiches, squeeze apple sauces, apple slices or grapes, crackers and cheese slices in the freezer bag. Each person was then responsible for carrying their own water bottle, drink and/or chips (sometimes they doubled up and shared the carrying in one bag). After lunch and then an afternoon snack the freezer lunch sack would be empty and could then be folded down!!!! Saving on snacks and lunches helped us to be able to eat dinners out in the park or in a restaurant off site.

  4. We just went to Disneyworld last month (may 2016) and the water tasted fine. The hotel water smelled like sulphur, but the Disney water (from fountains and restaurants) all tasted fine. We brought our own water bottles, filled with ice in the morning from the hotel, snacks like trail mix and granola bars and fruit, then ate lunch there. The best lunch we had was at Epcot in the dining area where Soaring was. Tons of healthy options.. The worst was Magic Kingdom. The seafood restaurant was disgusting. I did see people with sandwiches and lunches in cooler backpacks..

  5. Evelyn Taylor

    Thanks for sharing these VERY USEFUL tips!

    We are planning to go to Disneyland this year and these tips definitely do help!

    The last theme park we went to was Six Flags and food was WAY overpriced (I even think they give smaller portions)! So not worth it!

    Cheers,
    Evelyn

  6. Hi Katie,

    Thanks for the information. I’m currently planning a vacation this summer for a family of 5 plus my mom, sister and her bf. I have been brainstorming ways to budget so that everyone can really enjoy themselves without spending a fortune. We are from New York and already are spending quite a bit on transportation being that we’re planning to drive with rentals. It’s great that you mentioned Disney allowing food into the parks because I was previously told by a family member who’s visited D.W before that they don’t allow food in the park. Now that it’s been confirmed that they do this is another way our family will be saving money on this summer’s vacation. Thanks again.

  7. We had an annual pass to Disneyland, and always brought sandwiches, fruit and water bottles, crackers, maybe boiled eggs or tupperware each with a cold meal in it. Having said that, the kids were young enough so that we were DONE by dinner time, and we could have a nice hot meal waiting for us at the motel when we got back (only possible if you have driven to Anaheim, not flown). The cheap motels nearby don’t seem to have kitchenettes 🙁 We were back again last year, and it was still an agonisingly long process to ask at the food places for allergy information. Yes, the chef would come out; yes they would root around out back and bring a container to show you the ingredients…. but SHEESH, couldn’t they just have it all under the counter to show you? We would do things like order a big plate of plain rice that we had sauce to put over top, or a tin of tuna and some salad, etc. There has definitely been an improvement in the amount of fruit available for sale, though. I’m impressed by that – mango, pineapple, as well as the standard apples and bananas.

    1. Oops – meant to say that I’d put the meal on in the morning in the slow-cooker to be ready when we got home!

  8. Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook

    Did you visit DisneyLAND or DisneyWORLD? I’m curious because when I went to Disneyworld in 2004, refilling water bottles didn’t work out for us because all the water in the area (not just parks but also the hotel) smelled like rotten eggs!! It was hard to drink and not very thirst-quenching. We’ve wondered if this was a temporary problem that they’ve since solved. It led us to buy a lot of flavored beverages.

    My family’s standard approach to a day at an amusement park is to eat a huge breakfast before we go and then focus on staying hydrated but not eat until we are very hungry, typically around 3pm. Sometimes we bring a picnic and leave it in the car (at a park where you can return to your car) or in a locker; other times we buy one meal in the park at a place we selected in advance for acceptable food.

    Do you get tired of carrying the bag of food? What do you do with it while on rides? I can’t recall Disney policy, but the park we visit most often has a place to put stuff “at your own risk” where I wouldn’t want to leave a big bag of appealing food….

    1. Becca,
      It was Disney World, Florida – so hopefully they’ve resolved the problem. The water wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t horrible.

      My husband carried the food and it wasn’t very many hours since we got rid of it by 11 or noon. On the rides it just got plunked down by our feet, and a backback too (by someone else’s feet). Not actually too hard! We could have used a locker but didn’t want to have to travel to retrieve it, so that flexibility was worth the hassle of carrying.

    2. That “rotten egg” smell is just a natural part of Florida water. When I first moved down here as a child, my family and I hated tap water . You get used to it, and it eventually tastes good to you. Hard to believe, I understand ! Drinking it very cold helps when you’re new to it.

  9. I’m glad someone else brought up the taking of packets of mustard, ketchup, etc from restaurants. I feel that if you aren’t using the items for the meal you purchased there, it is stealing. We always return unused packets to the proper bins after a meal. I’m not trying to be ugly but I don’t think that’s something you should be recommending.

    1. Although it seems like the nice thing to do is return your unused items/condiments to their bin, It is actually not a good thing to do for sanitary reasons. I used to always return my unused items and taught my kids to do the same but was shocked when a restaurant employee stopped me one day and asked me not to do that. She said those items were no longer clean and although I had never thought about it, I completely agree! Often times people have colds and don’t realize it or even forget that they are sick and go about their regular routine of ‘returning their unused items’. This was a real eye opener for me and I know I sure don’t want to be using packets or utensils that multiple other people have handled!

      1. This is true. I work at a restaurant and if someone leaves unopened packets of salt or ketchup on the table, we have to throw it away.

  10. We pack snacks/drinks for WDW, but that’s all. Part of why we love Disney is the amazing table service restaurants, so we budget for 1 or 2 sit down meals a day. Oh, and we research which restaurants to eat at ahead of time, so we don’t pay for the ones that aren’t as good. Our favorite park is Epcot. Eating “around the world” is expensive, but so much fun! Especially for the non-roller-coaster riders like me. Harder with kids, I know, and maybe once our little brood expands this will change!

  11. We don’t attend Disney since we live in Ohio, but in the long ago past we used to go to King’s Island or Cedar Point (we live in Ohio) and we always packed food! Way too expensive to eat in theme parks.
    I used to fry chicken and pack it in a cooler, along with homemade potato salad, cole slaw, fresh veggies to snack on, fresh fruits, granola bars, dried fruit, and baked beans (these are good hot or cold). There would be quite a few of us and so I took a lot of food as it is better to have too much than too little. We would take two coolers for food and one for drinks (water bottles, real juices, and tea). We usually traveled in 2-3 cars (extended family also went) and so we had plenty.
    We would eat a large breakfast before we left home- eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and fried potatoes. I made the pancakes the day before. The chicken was also fried the day before. We also packed bread, peanut butter, homemade jam, a cream cheese sandwich spread, and splurged on chips for lunch.
    We raised 8 kids and so we had to be frugal. Getting into the parks was several hundred dollars, adding food to it (bought at park) would have been several hundred more. It was not in our budget to add food costs to the mix.
    Food for the day usually ran us around $50-$60 for the day- not bad for enough food to feed 15+ people! The most expensive was the chicken, but it was still reasonable.
    It really is easy to take your own real food when visiting a park, the zoo, or anywhere else.

  12. Did you just say: “Tip: Plan to hit a fast food restaurant or deli, somewhere you’d normally need to eat anyway, that has little condiment packets and disposable utensils, before you go to Disney. Get some mustard packets, napkins, pre-wrapped utensils and salt/pepper if you need them.” You mean, take their condiments for use elsewhere?? Why don’t you buy your own travel condiments rather than taking those meant to be used by the customers who are eating at the restaurant?

    1. I did say that…and I see your point, but I avoid using disposables so often even when we do pay for them (by purchasing food somewhere) that I guess I hope it all comes out in the wash. I have no idea where to buy tiny mustard packets either…

      1. Costco, GFS, and similar stores that sell big packs of things sell condiment packets, although you have to buy a large amount. Staples sells more reasonable quantities–but still enough that you’d want to buy before your trip and leave most of them at home, maybe split with another family who plans similar travels.

      2. minimus.biz has individual packets of all kinds of things. Some are sold quantity of one so be sure you change that if you need more. I’m not affiliated with them but I like stocking up for travel.

  13. We used to rent a locker for 5 dollars (they have them near the entrance, where the customer service is) and leave our small cooler with lunch and juice in it. We only carried one backpack with water bottles and granola bars around and we would plan our day to be near the entrance around lunch time.
    Oh, and the best time to visit Disney World in Orlando is early Dec (to see all of the lights) or February (best weather and least amount of people).

  14. FYI Disney parks will give you free cups of ice water if you ask for them (at food places that are more than a vendor cart :p) – you can then use those cups of water to refill your bottles if you don’t want to deal with the disposable cup ;). One time I when we went to Disneyland I made a whole variety of Power Balls (from the wonderful Snacks to Go cookbook) and had them neatly labeled and easy to access in my backpack. My family ditched them in favor of buying food 🙁 but the friends we were with thought they were the best snack ever and couldn’t get enough – especially of the German Chocolate ones :D.

  15. My family has annual passes to disneyland and we do this everytime! Since we live close we just bring cold meals from home. Disney however is very diet friendly. If you choose to splurge and eat at a table service restaurant, they will accommodate any dietary need to the best of their ability! Gluten free, grain free, broccoli free, they take it all! You just have to make a reservation and call with your request.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]
[activeKey]