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Disney Food for Families: Getting Kids to Try New Foods at Walt Disney World

It’s no secret that my daughter Louisa is more than a little produce averse. There was a period of about four years when NO fruit or vegetable crossed her lips, and even now at age 12 she still has to be cajoled into having more than a bite or two of something as innocuous as sweet potato or banana.

Frozen bananas, a gateway fruit.

So you can imagine my surprise when, on a recent trip to the Animal Kingdom’s Yak & Yeti restaurant, she consumed nearly the entire plate of wok-fried green beans we had ordered for the table. It was one of those parenting moments where you hold your breath and move slowly so as to avoid breaking the spell.

Yak & Yeti wok-fried green beans. My hero!

Those Yak & Yeti yummies didn’t turn Louisa into an inveterate bean eater, but she is now occasionally willing to nibble on a tempura string bean if we’re out for Japanese. Based on our prior track record with legumes, I’m going to count that solidly in the win column.

The Theme Park Food Effect

What was it about the Yak & Yeti beans that made Louisa such a fan? Yes, they were quite tasty, and yes, the green part was handily obfuscated by a crunchy, yumtastic fried breading coating; but we had tried similar ploys in the past to no avail. My theory is that the Yak & Yeti beans were flavored by the spice of (cue the orchestra) The Theme Park Food Effect.

Much like campers will say that meals eaten on the trail are the BEST, you know that their experience is colored by the fact that their senses are overwhelmed and they’re starving from an exhausting walk in the hot wilderness. The Theme Park Food Effect is the same thing, only substitute “hot theme park” for “hot wilderness.” In other words, your defenses are down and you’re positively famished, so everything tastes better.

We had previously experienced the Theme Park Food Effect with Louisa’s twin sister, Josie. Josie is generally a far more adventurous eater than her sister, but she too has pockets of food aversion, one of which was non-fish seafood. An order of calamari from Mama Melrose’s at Disney’s Hollywood Studios changed her mindset, and now she’ll readily eat calamri, clams, mussels, and scallops. Score one for the Theme Park Food Effect.

Tempura Calamari and Veggies at Raglan Road might be a good place to start

Of course, the Theme Park Food Effect does have its limits. I’m reminded here of a line from the sitcom Seinfeld. Jerry is speaking about his nemesis neighbor’s eating habits and says, “Newman wouldn’t eat broccoli if it were deep fried in chocolate sauce.”

Some kids will never be willing to eat certain foods, even if they’re deep fried in chocolate sauce and personally served to them by Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and the entire cast of High School Musical. For example, Louisa was going nowhere near that calamari.

And that’s OK, but just in case your child has some food fears or aversions that are nearing the breaking point, The Theme Park Food Effect may be exactly what you need.

“Magical” Disney Foods May Change Your Kids’ Minds About Food Fears

To point you in the right direction, here are some typical food fears, and the Walt Disney World dishes that could possibly work the Theme Park Food Effect magic on your children.

Veggie Aversion

If veggies are a no-go for your kid, try:

  • Wok-fried green beans. Yak & Yeti, Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
  • Capricossa pizza (with eggplant and artichoke). Via Napoli, Epcot. Pizza is a great delivery method for any new food.
  • Carrot cake cookie. Writer’s Stop, Disney’s Hollywood Studios; and other locations. For some kids, even this little bit of “orange food” is a good start.
  • Carrot Cake Cookie

  • Okonomi Yaki.Katsura Grill, Epcot. This pancake-like dish has some shredded veggies in the batter.
  • okonomi yaki

  • Sweet potato pancakes. Boma, Animal Kingdom Lodge; and The Wave, Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
  • Sweet Potato Pancakes

Fruit Aversion

If your little one won’t eat fruit, try:

  • Caramel apples. Main Street Confectionery, Magic Kingdom; and other locations. They may try to eat the candy off of the apple, but it’s worth a shot.
  • Caramel Apples

  • Pineapple bread pudding. ‘Ohana, Polynesian resort. If your child does eat this, ask for the recipe, it’s readily available.
  • Ohana pineapple bread pudding. A great way to convert a child to the wonders of pineapple.

  • Frozen banana. Frozen novelty carts throughout all four theme parks.
  • Chocolate and caramel covered grapes. Karamell-Küche, Epcot.
  • Close-Up Chocolate Caramel Grapes

  • Chocolate covered pineapple. Main Street Confectionery, Magic Kingdom; and Karamell-Küche, Epcot.

  • Chilled strawberry soup. 1900 Park Fare, Grand Floridian. Tastes like a smoothie, but sometimes the presentation as soup draws curiosity.
  • Strawberry Soup in Bowl

Spice Aversion

If your kiddo has an aversion to spices, try:

  • Chicken curry with rice. ABC Commissary, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Mild enough to be a starter food.
  • Pumpkin spice funnel cake. Funnel cake stand, American Adventure, Epcot. Even cinnamon and nutmeg are too strong for some children. Fried dough is about as appealing a delivery vehicle as could possibly exist.
  • Pumpkin spice funnel cake. A way to introduce a child to spices.

  • Beef Brewat Rolls. Restaurant Marrakesh, Epcot. On the appetizer menu. Lightly sugar-dusted beef pastry with cinnamon.
  • Inside the Beef Brewat Roll

Seafood Aversion

If your child doesn’t eat seafood, try:

19 Comments

  1. Terri Billups says:

    It wasn’t a child but me that had that Magical Food Moment. Until a particular trip to WDW, I refused to let anything with asparagus pass my lips. DH and I were having dinner at CRT, and I was thoroughly enjoying the vegetable medley that had come with my chicken dinner. I told DH that I HAD to find out how they had made these green beans — they were delicious. I looked down at my plate and found evidence that I was not eating green beans. There in all its pointy glory was an asparagus tip. Since then, asparagus has been a regular on our menu when it is on sale (but only roasted or grilled — haven’t worked up the nerve to try it any other way).

  2. V says:

    LOVE this post! I get that child picky eaters can be tough but it’s SO important to encourage them to try new things and Disney is the perfect “safe” environment to experiment. Be fearless!

    Or sure, be afraid of that asparagus, but still TRY it. Experience life, don’t hide from it! This goes for adults too – you can hate a food but you should at least give it a good-faith, “due diligence” try first. Open minds, open mouths, open hearts. :)

  3. Kathy Coppola says:

    Although my kids are pretty adventurous eaters, I still find that if I order something “different” on vacation, they’re usually first to pipe up and ask for a taste. We joke about my daughter especially, that every meal we have on vacation is a buffet for her, because she eats a little bit off of everyone’s plate! Luckily, my husband and I both enjoy eating foods at WDW that we normally wouldn’t have at home, both ethnic foods (Restaurant Marrakesh), and ingredients (duck) that I don’t usually cook. And if all else fails, and they absolutely won’t try it, just let them eat what they like. It’s vacation, after all!

  4. V says:

    PS I didn’t read Terri’s post before using asparagus as my example I swear! LOL :)

  5. Joy Ousterout says:

    I find that my pickiest eater is actually my husband! For this reason – I completely relate to this article. What amazes me is that I find him to be a little more adventurous when on vacation – particularly at WDW. We are talking about a 33 year old male that just had his first “bite” of apple – no joke! However – at Disney I find that if I say – you can order whatever you want – you just can’t make any substitutions (ie: fries instead of mashed potatoes) or ask for no sauce or seasoning. While he still has complete control of his choices he is more apt to branch out with different flavorings when given this caveat. At WDW was the first time my husband ordered fish and bison of all things! Taking him out of his home element and a little bit of Disney magic makes all the difference!

  6. Sue says:

    Great article! My kids will try just about anything, but I still appreciate all of the interesting suggestions to try on our next trip.

    Of course you have to be careful what you wish for — my three will polish off a plate of calamari without me. I kind of wish they hated it so I could enjoy it in peace.

  7. Erin says:

    Terri – I’ve found it often helps to eat something without knowing what it is. I had the same experience with beets once. I ate them accidentally and then realized that what I thought I had hated, I actually loved.

    V – Good points. And LOL about the asparagus.

    Kathy – Epcot is a great place to sample new cuisines. I tend to order things there that I don’t normally cook at home as well.

    Sue – Too funny. You better find some things that they don’t like and start ordering those :-)

  8. Brian says:

    Not just for children! I can’t stand vegetables in general, but I repeatedly ate my green beans at Disney World, and the threat of 50s Prime Time Cafe shame got me to force down collard greens. There’s another side of the effect that people are much more willing to try new things when they’re happy and relaxed, and where are we more happy and relaxed than Disney World?

    And I really want to try the beef brewat rolls…

  9. Erin says:

    Joy – GREAT idea applying the same principles to adults.

  10. Kristina says:

    I really think that the USDA food pyramid should include deep fried veggies and chocolate covered fruits!!!

  11. Andee says:

    I’m SO excited to take my nieces and nephew to Disney World for the VERY FIRST TIME this August! The older two are amazing, they’ll try just about anything (especially my nephew- how many four year olds do you know that ask for sushi??), but the little one will ODDLY only eat fruit, pasta with butter, and beans (any kind of bean)!

    Excited to take them down and see if the “Theme Park Effect” has any effect on her!

  12. CAROL GAMILL says:

    My nephew goes out to eat with us all of the time, and when we decided to take him to Disney with us we decided to make a new rule. Everyone must eat something new at every restaurant. he has tried duck, asparagus and all sorts of things. He has spread his palate quite a bit thank goodness!

  13. Susan says:

    I love this article! My son is so picky it’s painful…but he won’t eat veggies, fruits, fish, spicy, etc…he won’t eat any of it. This is the only part of our trip to WDW that I dread! But there is enough basic pizza and uncrustables for him (I mean us) to survive! Do you have one suggestion for him to try to see if he’ll branch out his food choices?

  14. kirsty says:

    I cant really relate to this article since we eat almost anything and my dd5 is a great eater. She just had calamari for the first time we ordered it out with a group of friends and she just started eating it. We dont make a big deal out of food, they said tell her what it is, so we did she did not care. We do allow her to make substitutions, since there is food she just can not stand like mashed potatoes. So she will ask for sweet potatoes instead or another veggie.

  15. Love, love, love this post. I have a resistant eater myself and I’m very familiar with the battle. Our theme park win: we were staying at AK villas during my son’s crackers-only phase, and he happened to have growing pains in his legs at the time. We told him that Mickey Mouse applesauce had special powers to heal his legs — and he ATE it! This was a huge, huge victory, and led to applesauce still being one of his very favorite things to eat. Whatever it takes, right? :)

  16. Becca says:

    Printing this off to take with me! Does anyone have any tips to avoid the picky eating in the first place? At the moment he’s like “I don’t know what this is, but hey! I’ll put it in my mouth”. I’m afraid of when that will end!

    BTW do not be afraid to lie to your children. My sister was told that calamari were onion rings for many years, and now she’s a seafood fiend!

  17. Rosaena says:

    I have a food story. It was a miracle, really.

    Our youngest had an eating disorder due to a long hospital stay at birth. To get him to eat *anything* was a struggle.

    My husband and I decided not to sweat his meals during vacation and not to count his calorie intact. Even if he only drank a bottle, we’d be good with that.

    On the 2nd day of vacation, he was sitting in his highchair as we ate lunch at Sunshine Seasons in EPCOT. I had a fruit topped dessert next to my plate. As the family was chatting about the morning events, our youngest took a blueberry off my dessert and stuck it in his mouth.

    We were shocked! He’d never taken food by his own free will before! I didn’t want to move, thinking that I’d scare him from doing it again. No one said a word though we all tried to act normal. After that one blueberry, he grabbed another…and another. And he kept going. After that, he wanted to try little bits of food wherever we went.

    It was still a struggle to get him to eat but this was most definitely a turning point in his therapy. And now, as an 8 year old, he’s an adventurous eater. He’s looking forward to trying Boma’s buffet when we visit Disney next month! :)

    To say that WDW is a Magical place, well, it was true for us!

  18. Courts says:

    I’ve got a good one.
    My hubby & I have always been foodies & we always love to experience Disney thru other’s eyes & mouths too!! We love the food there & while I worked there for 6 months we ate just about everywhere! We like to expose kids to “new eats” and we have a rule, try it, if u don’t like it, no prob, get something else!! For our god-daughter’s 15th birthday (her quincenera) we gave her the gift of going to Disney for her FIRST VISIT. We all agreed each order something different and try it all!! I knew she’d be willing to adventure into different foods, keeping in mind that she’s a teen & may not try everything. We went to the Rose & Crown in EPCOT for lunch & ordered the cheese plate for the appetizer. I thought, ‘yeah, she’ll try two of the cheeses but no way would she try or even go near the bleu cheese’. I nearly fell off my seat when she reached over scooped up a glob of the bleu & topped with the toppings & bit down. She admitted it wasn’t bad but wasn’t her thing!! I was soo proud, u would’ve thought I was her mom & she was just elected the President!! LOL she also tried Collard Greens @ 50′s Primetime, Spinach dip (and scraped the bowl w/ her finger @ Sci-fi Drive-In) & it all was building up to our dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table where she devoured everything even half of my husbands short ribs!!!
    i know some of it is the endless walking and heat that makes u sooo hungry. BUT i think Disney just does everything right!! if u are going to try something new, Disney is the best place to do it, cause they’ve done everything possible to perfect their recipe & make whatever item taste like heaven on a fork!!
    Since our trip to Disney, I’m happy to say that our god-daughter keeps trying new and more adventurous foods. AND encouraging her siblings & cousins to try.

  19. David Hodges (@thedislife) says:

    My kids will eat just about anything, but they will eat it even quicker if you fry it or put chocolate on it.

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