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The healthy foodie’s guide to eating vegan/gluten-free at Disneyland

I recently came back from a very fun trip with my family to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland in Southern California. One of my goals on this trip was to find a way to eat delicious, healthy food and stay true to my diet of vegan/gluten-free (V/GF). I have to admit, eating V/GF while at Disneyland wasn’t a walk in the park (no pun intended). There were a few times where I realized the true meaning of the slang term “hangry.” (Definition: irritable or bad-tempered as a result of being hungry.) I even thought about calling this blog, “Woman cannot live on fruit cups alone” or “Starving with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty,” but settled on a more positive choice. 🙂

Sure, I read up online to see what food choices I could expect to find, but to be honest, I have three additional personal qualities that go against success on my mission of eating vegetarian V/GF at Disneyland. First, I admit it: I’m spoiled. I live in Marin County and am surrounded by some of the world’s most delicious vegan food options and restaurants. Second, I’m a cancer-survivor, so healthy food is also a must. Just because something is vegan/gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy or balanced. I can’t just eat processed food and sugar all day long and call it good: I need whole grains, fruits and vegetables (aka “real food”). And third, I’m a great cook (so my family tells me 🙂 ), so I’m not used to “roughing it” where food is concerned.

Maybe there are a few supposedly “vegan” options at Disneyland, but I’m sorry, just “taking out the cheese” of a vegetarian option doesn’t cut it. Eating plain iceberg lettuce (mildly wilted) for my lunch, after walking about 10 miles around the park? No thanks! Sure, I don’t mind a fruit cup as a small mid-morning snack, but that’s not going to hold me through the day! And sugar, sugar, sugar all day long? I’ll pass on the headache, hot flash and sugar crash. So if you’re on your way to Disneyland and want to eat healthy vegan/gluten-free while you’re there, here are my best suggestions for you.

Follow these four tips and I promise you won’t be disappointed:

1. Eat breakfast first in your hotel. (Get yourself some granola and almond milk/almond yogurt or eat a protein bar.) One morning I spent $9 in Disneyland just to buy an orange, a banana and vita-water (desperate times call for desperate measures). A couple of dollars less will get you a few mango slices with Tajin seasoning. That’s about it as far as healthy V/GF breakfast options will go in the park.

2. Go outside the park for lunch. Downtown Disney has several options for lunch, but I recommend Tortilla Jo’s. They’ve got a sit-down restaurant with guacamole made tableside (delicious!) and lots of vegan/gluten-free options. Right next door they have an easy “to-go taqueria” with lots of healthy choices. Everything I had here was great! Actually, I’m not sure how I would have made it through without them: Tortilla Jo’s, you’re a V/GF lifesaver.

3. Make reservations for dinner at Napa Rose in the Grand Californian. Or you can also eat in their lounge without reservations (yes, they serve the full menu there, too!). Not only do they have V/GF options on their menu, but the chef will even make you something special if you ask. We ate there two nights in a row, and both dinners were amazing! Their food is not just average, but excellent! Be sure to ask for their GF bread with olive oil to dip. Yes, I know, not everyone wants a fancy evening meal after a day at Disneyland, but I told you, I’m spoiled. Besides, you’re on vacation, so you should spoil yourself, right?

4. Don’t miss Sprinkles, a cupcake shop in Downtown Disney. This sugar splurge is so worth it: Be sure to check out their V, GF or sugar-free cupcakes. The only bummer is they don’t have one that’s V/GF and sugar-free—but I cheated on the GF and got their red velvet vegan cupcake. It was light and moist: absolutely delicious!

I tried several other restaurants in Disneyland and Downtown Disney (which shall remain nameless), but don’t waste your time: blah, tasteless or downright yuck. If you stick to the above four options, it may not be cheap, but you’ll have delicious food and won’t be “hangry” on your journey. What’s more important than keeping your body, mind and spirit strong for the long, crazy days of Disney delirium? And even better, the animals will thank you for remembering them with compassion on your vacation.

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