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Tip from the DFB Guide: Three Great Ways to Save on Food at Disney World

Let’s face it — rising food costs are negatively impacting our budgets — and that’s especially true at Walt Disney World!

With years of Disney dining experiences between our “ears” ;-), we’ve learned some cost-saving measures that can truly help. And since we’re all about sharing (unless we’ve got our hands on our favorite school bread), we want to let you in on great ways to save on food during your next Disney vacation.

In our The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 e-Book, we have a whole chapter about budgeting and saving at Disney World. Pick up your copy here for an extra $4 off using code 2013 for a limited time!

The legwork’s already done! Reading our comprehensive DFB Guide will help you find great membership savings, coupons, and more ideas to help you save as much as you can on your trip.

3 Great Ways to Save on Dining at Disney World

Here are just a few of the great ways to save on food when visiting Walt Disney World that we included in the DFB Guide to help you stretch your vacation dollars.

1. Eat breakfast as your biggest meal.
Before heading to your first attraction, feast on a hearty breakfast. Breakfast can not only be exceptionally filling (and can be healthier than lunch or dinner), it’s the least expensive time of day to dine in Disney World! So fill up on breakfast and have a few snacks instead of big lunches and dinners as you go through the day.

Even character meals are less pricey at breakfast!

Eating a big breakfast will fill you up -- and cost less than dining big later in the day!

2. Ask about an “entree-only” price at counter service locations.
Counter Service menus usually include side items, and the prices reflect those extras. Don’t really feel like fries with your cheeseburger? Ask a Cast Member if there’s an entree-only price. You may be able to knock off the extra cost (and calories!) of those fries when you order an entree with no sides!

Go ahead and ask to hold the fries!

3. Dine off-site or at non-Disney owned locations.
It’s no secret that once you enter those purple gates of Walt Disney World that food costs soar. Dining at an off-site location will offer the greatest savings in your dining budget — even if you add the cost of taxi to get there.

Or you can seek out restaurants that are not owned by Disney but still conveniently located on Disney property. While not always a guaranteed slam dunk of savings, these can occasionally offer cheaper options. One great choice is Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney!

What Other Ways Can We Save?

These budget-busting tips are in addition to dozens of other money-saving strategies we list in The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 — like where to get free samples, how to quench your thirst for less, foods you can bring with you, where to get discounts and coupons, when to visit for the best savings, and more!

Be sure to check out The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 for extensive information on money-saving methods when dining at Disney.

Our up-to-date Disney Dining discount section will help you prepare for a vacation that’s within your budget! Click here to get your copy of The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 E-book — and use code 2013 for an extra $4 discount for a limited time!

What ways do you save on food while on a Disney vacation? Share your tips in the comments below and help us all have extra funds for cupcakes!

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34 Comments

  1. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I had never thought of tip 2. I don’t like fries and many places just don’t do salad sides. Thanks for that one! You’ve saved me some decent money there.

  2. Jessica says:

    I don’t come all the way to Disney to eat at chain restaurants ;) Yes, it would be cheaper, but I feel like it kills the magic!

  3. John G says:

    Our #1 tip when we have a car: Sweet Tomatoes. This is a salad bar + more franchise that is located on the frontage road down in the Crossroads.

    We always like to hit the parks at rope drop, so we’re ready for a break at our resort at lunchtime. We’ll pop over to Sweet Tomatoes, which has a looooong salad bar with more than 40 fresh items, pay, and once in the dining room you have unlimited buffet tables with a baked potato bar, around 6 soups, a pasta bar, and a big dessert bar.

    So, for about 10 bucks a person, we get our big meal of the day and will only need some Chili Cheese Fries from Pecos Bills as a snack and a Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich from (well, from whomever is selling those now that Main St Bakery is closed) somewhere for dessert!

  4. Tracy says:

    We book the latest breakfast buffet possible and then skip lunch. Works perfectly at Crystal Palace! And feel free to bring in snacks. Granola bars and peanut butter crackers are great when standing on line. I also bring in powdered Gatorade and then re-fill water bottles at the drinking fountain. (Plus this keeps little ones hydrated!)

  5. Sandra says:

    We don’t eat many TS meals at WDW due to the cost and also not wanting to be tied to a reservation. I have comparison shopped the types of meals we tend to eat and found that comparable meals at places like Denny’s and Applebee’s actually cost MORE than eating them at our resort food court. A great salmon dinner with two veggies and a nice roll is about $10; $14 at Applebee’s. My son’s favorite chicken strips and fries are $8.49 at WDW and around $10.00 at Denny’s. Snack credits from the meal plan pay for things like soup, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and biscuits and gravy, all of which make nice smaller meals. And we can use our refillable mugs at our resort, and choose the free ice water at park CS places if paying OOP.

    We agree that Earl of Sandwich is a great value, but families could also consider Pollo Campero, a Latin American chicken place which opened two years ago in the old McDonald’s space. They have a family meal with chicken and sides that would feed four for around $17.00.

  6. Wendy Snelgrove says:

    While it doesn’t save you money, this tip can save you serious calories and that “blecch” feeling in the afternoon: get apple slices or carrots or grapes (etc.) as your side instead of fries.

    We got fries once or twice, and split them, but frankly, they aren’t the greatest fries in the world, and a burger with apple slices doesn’t have the same “I need a nap” inducing properties as a burger with fries.

  7. venessa says:

    Chad and I always share our meals and usually snack around here and there. =)

  8. Marlene says:

    We found this out the hard way:
    when ordering entree only, make sure you are paying for the entree only.

    For example, your receipt should list “burger ONLY”.

    We had to ask multiple cast members (with reassuring answers – but they were incorrect).
    We had to get a manager to adjust our charge.

    At the food court checkout register, even though your plate has only a burger, unless your receipt lists “burger ONLY”, you can still be charged for the entree with the sides!

  9. Mitch says:

    My wife and I often split a lunch meal mid-day, then eat a full sitdown supper, and split a lunch meal 9:00 or 10:00 at night when we are hungry again. Works well for us, and the nice thing is we don’t over eat this way. We do usually go with the DP and find this works very well for us.

  10. Taylor says:

    I save money everyday I’m not on vacation, so I don’t have to when I am. Disney time = splurge time.

  11. Rach W says:

    I agree with John G’s Sweet Tomatoes rec. There is also one near Universal. Be sure to go to their website & sign up for the mailing list to get coupons for additional savings.

    I also like Earl of Sandwich for reasonable eats, especially since they give a 10% discount to annual pass holders.

  12. Tammie S says:

    When we stay at Fort Wilderness campgrounds we eat a nice breakfast in our motor coach to hold us over until lunch. My husband & I usually split a meal, while the teenagers have a quick service to themselves and then we all usually have a snack at some point during the day/night and we usually have a nice sit down meal. Comparing DDP verse OOP, we found there’s a lot of food you feel you “have” to eat since it’s already paid for. We have been able to save a few bucks (usually the price of 1 night+ at the campgrounds), not add a lot more calories then we usually would have & if we want to add an extra quick service or snack – we are still saving.

  13. Rich says:

    Taylor wins this round.

    This last trip, we did a grocery delivery to the villa and ate like normal for breakfast…. bowl of cereal, PB sandwich, or toast. Can’t believe how cheap it was and how well fueled we were. Plus we all got up at our own speeds.

  14. denise c says:

    I don’t get a huge appetite in the heat – I always order a kids meal – YES, they will let you! Much cheaper, smaller portions = better for me!

  15. Marc says:

    Going to take #2 one step further. For those of you who order kids meals, notice they ring each item separately. If you choose not to order something from the meal group (eg, tap water instead of milk, skipping dessert / mooching off the parents), etc. you will not be charged for that item. It slowly adds up.

    We usually stay at offsite timeshares so with the refrigerator / freezer we bring down a collapsible cooler, some re-freezable ice packs, and stop off for water, snacks, juice boxes, and homogenized milk and the amount of savings is incredible.

    The oddest thing we do (again, we are in a timeshare) is bring down…a griddle. It takes up some room but it allows us to have much more varied meals in an easier way. Making pancakes or grilled cheese for 4+ people can be a pain with the couple of frying pans the units give you. We are usually there in 2 week stints so it also helps break up having cereal every morning.

  16. Karla Dejesus says:

    When we get stuck eating lunch in the parks we get a double burger and pay 80 cents for a extra bun so we both get a burger.

  17. Joe Calamita says:

    Couple of tips…
    Getting a full pizza on the Boardwalk is a the cost of 2 counter meals and can feed a family, so you save a meal or two…
    We also have tried a new approach to dinning. We buy gift cards for the $$$ of the meal plan. We also use our Red card at target to get the 5% off the cost of the Disney cards. We then use the cards to purchase meals. That way the money is spent, so we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about trying to save money on meals (it is vacation, after all), but we don’t we can share an appetizer or desert instead of stuffing ourselves “because its paid for” I also would rather eat my deserts later instead of with dinner. (not a fan of desert at Teppan Edo’s for example). At the end of vacation, we can pick up some gifts in the stores with the gift card instead of loading up on Mickey rice crisp treats, which we used to do to use up all the snacks from the meal plan. Just a thought…

  18. Jym says:

    I agree with the first two tips. I’m not a big fan of leaving property to eat. I’d rather, if on a budget, go somewhere with huge portions (like Tony’s, Marrakesh, or Tangierine) and share an entree. I also highly recommend the DFB Guide to WDW Dining. http://dfbguide.com/

  19. AJ says:

    Jym — Thank you!

  20. Kg says:

    Don’t forget AAA gets 20% off at Earl of Sandwich

  21. Carole says:

    I love this blog and all these tips!! I’m a local and HAVE to save money at Disney! Everyday cant be vacation. So, I’ve studied up on the best snacks and meals and have found that the kiosks always offer decent prices on food! My kids are 5 and 6 so I bring healthy foods for them to snack on and only buy them cheap food so that I can try the things that look amazing! (they get a taste) then we share a treat usually. If I’m in a pinch I’ll order a kids meal for me and let the kids share an adult meal.

    I can’t wait to do a waffle or cupcake challenge!! Thanks so much for this blog! When I do the challenge I’ll be sure to document it for you!

  22. Mike says:

    If visiting Walt Disney World, if you have a vehicle-go off Disney property and dine at any of the eight billion restaurants in the Lake Buena Vista-International Drive area. Do your home work. So many choices and so close.

  23. Pat says:

    We stay in Villa and go food shopping 1st day, We make breakfast in morning before hitting parks(usually 6 of us on trip), if we know we are not coming back to resort in afternoon, we pack sandwiches, fruit, chips etc) fill 2 ziplocks with water freeze overnight and carry in, Put bag in locker. When time to eat we just find a nice spot and eat..saves lots $$

  24. Liz says:

    Karla (or anyone else), I’ve heard the burger tip before–get a double & pay for an extra bun–and I’ve wanted to try it. Do you know off-hand which CS restaurants in the parks serve double burgers? Thanks!

  25. Julius says:

    If my wife and I travel during a non-free-dining-promo time, we save money by splitting quick service meals (we’ve also split an app and entree at Le Cellier, but this was still expensive).

    We found that the salads available in lots of quick service locations – Chicken Caesar at Catalina Eddie’s or the Asian salad at ABC Commissary, for example, could be split easily between 2 adults – the smaller portions also mean less “recovery” time for your stomach before hopping on a roller coaster or other thrill ride.

    You can also get a cup of ice for free at most kiosks, meaning free water once it melts (or fill it at a tap/fountain).

  26. Beth W. says:

    If you do find yourself using the Dining Plan (free or not), my favorite “credit stretcher” is to use your snack credit for breakfast! Snack credits can be used for wonderful pastries at your resort, and with your refillable mug, you can get a decent breakfast and save your Table Service and Quick Service credits for lunch and dinner!

  27. Karen says:

    Bring your own food! You can bring in food/beverages! When the kids were little we would pack pb&j for them and just buy them a treat.
    Now they will share an adult serving for their lunch.
    We get cups of ice water for free.
    Sometimes we bring our own water bottles and just refill with the free cups.

  28. Melissa says:

    We fly to WDW and one of our carry on bags is full of less than 3 ounce foods. Small boxes of juice, oatmeal packets, individual cereal boxes, trail mix, almonds and other nuts, individual servings of peanut butter and jelly packets, crackers, small cans of tuna and chicken salads, cheese n crackers, jerky/beef sticks, small packets of carrots, lunch box sized canned fruits, crystal light packages, anything I can find that can be broken down into 3ounce or less packages. We eat breakfast in our room and take snacks into the park and by the pool to add with an item bought in the park….We’ll buy a double burger and fries and extra bun for 1 hamburger each and we share the fries. Many meals are big enough to share especially when an extra side is added. Kids meals are plenty big for adults and no one care that buy for an adult (swap the fries for grapes or apples) At Downtown Disney we always stop at Earl of Sandwich.

  29. Janine Isles says:

    We Fly in from the UK and the day after we get to the Offsite Hotel we go to Walmart and buy all our snacks and drinks there and then take a sandwich onto the parks and eat later at the park. That way we have more money to spend on Disney extras :)

  30. Richard says:

    If you’re going to spend a good amount of time on Disney property, then the Tables in Wonderland card is great. Costs about $100 for a year and you get 20% off your bill at tons of restaurants and the added nice thing is it includes alcohol.

  31. aristea says:

    so many great value saving ideas! we also do so many of the things you all do.
    i’d like to add that we make french toast using a type of greek easter bread similar to challah bread. my friend brings her crock pot. i prefer an appetizer (or salad) and soup for dinner so many times we go to the lounges instead of TS. we also use gift cards or the rewards dollars from the disney visa card to pay for our meals.

  32. Heather says:

    One thing lots of people mentioned is doing the free ice water instead of paying the high price of drinks. We do that and I pack water flavorings. Then the kids get hydrated and can pick a flavor :) Works well for the husband that isn’t big on just water too!

  33. Teena says:

    My biggest $$ saver tips when it comes to food are these: Cups of ice water (free anywhere that serves fountain soft drinks), and Pecos Bill’s condiments bar. You can order fries and pile on the cheese, onions, mushrooms, etc!

  34. Stefanie says:

    I also take advantage of the free ice water at lounges or QS. I decided to treat myself my last trip & got the QS DDP & found it to be too much food for me. So I will be going OOP as usual in the future. As already mentioned, there are many QS meals that are big enough to split between two people. I have done that in the past & found it worked great. One meal midday & another later in the evening held the two of us over well. A couple of out favorites are the Club sandwich & School Bread at Kringla Bakery & the Grilled Veggie sandwich w/fries at Backlot Express or Studio Catering.

    We have also stayed in timeshare unit rentals & went to Publix for breakfast items in the morning.

    Here’s a tip I found out if you’re not cooking breakfast & staying off property: Subway breakfast sandwiches are a filling & inexpensive way to start your day before you go to the parks. :) There’s several on 192 which are conveniently on the way. If you get coupons in the mail weekly like I do from Subway, Burger King, Steak & Shake, etc., bring them w/you to use for a meal off property or purchase an Entertainment Book for Orlando.

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