Food is probably the most difficult thing to plan for when going on vacation. Something as small as an impulse snack or dinner out can completely blow your budget. The amount in your budget is going to differ significantly based on the choices you make. The trouble with Disney is they make every meal an experience at their parks!

Here are some things to consider:

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Cooking “at home”

If you’re staying at a resort or hotel with a kitchen or renting a house this is by far the cheapest option. By taking advantage of a grocery store trip or delivery service you can pack your lunches and snacks for the park and cook bigger meals in your room. Although this is cheaper, definitely consider how this dinning option will affect things.

To figure out how much you might spend in this area look up local grocery store flyers or, if you just want to estimate, look at your family’s weekly grocery budget and maybe add a 25% buffer to that cost.

Pros:

  • Way cheaper, and usually healthier, than park food
  • Best choice if you have special dietary needs
  • Flexibility when travelling with children or large groups

Cons:

  • Having to carry food with you in the parks
  • Might feel like you’re “missing out” on popular park food choices
  • Extra work while you’re on holidays
  • Disneyland does not allow large amounts of food inside the park (there is a picnic area)

Inexpensive or “fast” park food

These meal options are a great choice for lunch or no-fuss dinners. Averaging less than $15 per person you can get a decent sized meal for a lot less than the restaurants. Something to note is there are different dining options around the park so make sure you plan your day around that if you want a specific thing to eat.

 Pros:

  • Mid-tier pricing while still being convenient
  • Lots of different food options that accommodate kids
  • You get to sample some of the fantastic Disney specific cuisine

Cons:

  • Can get pretty expensive and is often unhealthy
  • Line ups can be quite long especially at peak times
  • Seating is sometimes limited

Sit-down restaurants

If you’re planning a sit down meal you can expect to pay anywhere from $15 to over $60 per person depending on where you choose. These are the only places where character dining is available, though, so that’s a great reason to try out a Disney restaurant. Just make sure you book early because most places are impossible to get in without a reservation.

 Pros:

  • All-inclusive experience so you can have a nice, relaxing meal
  • Character dining and some unique themes you can’t get anywhere else
  • Really good quality food

Cons:

  • For certain places reservations must be made weeks in advance
  • Very costly especially for a big family
  • Dining out with small kids isn’t always the best choice

Don’t forget the snacks

Snacks in the park can run you up to $15 but expect to pay around $5 on average. There are snack stands everywhere and plenty of temptation. If you’re trying to save money make sure you pack some tasty treats to fight off the temptation of a Mickey ice cream cone or churro at every booth.

A mix of everything

This is probably the best, and most reasonable, choice for food on your Disney vacation. Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your hotel room you can still make things like sandwiches and pack snacks to take into the park with you. Try and pick one or two sit down meals you really want to experience and plan for a couple lunches out at the kiosks. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid the overpriced snacks so make sure you work those into your budget too.

The thing about food is it’s sometimes hard to anticipate what everyone will want at each restaurant. In those cases use the highest number possible and (hopefully) come under budget rather than spending more than you anticipated.

A mixed dining plan for 2 adults and 2 kids might break down like this:

Day 1, 3, and 5

Breakfast: Fruit and yogurt for 4 people ($5)
Lunch: Packed sandwiches for 4 people ($7)
Dinner: Fast food at the park $15 per person ($60)
Snacks and drinks: Fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, cookies, granola bars, bottled water ($8)

Day 2 and 4

Breakfast: Fruit and yogurt for 4 people ($5)
Lunch: Packed sandwiches for 4 people ($7)
Dinner: Fancy character dinner $60 per adult, $30 per kid ($180)
Snacks and drinks: Fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, cookies, granola bars, bottled water ($8)

Total: $620

Of course when you have 5 kids like we do you would probably opt for just one character dining experience and only a couple fast food meals out, but you get the idea. Don’t forget to include any meals you might eat while travelling in your food budget too!

If you just want to ballpark your budget

It’s probably safe to budget $30 per day for each child and $40 per day per adult that you’ll be feeding during your trip if you’re mixing take out and store bought.

When you’re working on your Disney vacation budget don’t forget that you’d already be spending some money on groceries if you were at home. The number can seem staggering at first but try deducting your weekly grocery spending from that number (if not on the actual budget then in your own head) and see if that’s a little more reasonable.

When thinking about food choices really focus on the actual experience rather than the food itself. You’ll get many opportunities to eat great (or cheap) food in your lifetime but your Disney vacation will only last a short while.