There are so many things to plan for as you get ready to take your kids to Disney World, and one of them is where and what you’ll eat. There are many options but the key is to be prepared before you go. Here are some ideas that can help you make sure you maximize the fun without spending half your budget on food.

orlandovacation_a-la-carteYou can bring your own food

The good news is that you’re not totally reliant on Disney World to provide you with meal options. One choice is to rent a vacation home equipped with a full kitchen. You can then prepare full meals for your family for a fraction of the cost that you’d pay to eat in the parks. Another option is to simply bring your own bagged lunches into the parks. Disney World allows food and non-alcoholic beverages, and soft-walled coolers are okay, too.

Stick to a la carte

You’ll find many of the counter service restaurants offer meals that seem like a great bargain. However, if you’re not going to eat the entrée, side, and dessert, it won’t be a good deal after all. If you know your kid is only going to eat the nuggets, then just get the nuggets. You can order virtually anything a la carte, even if it’s only listed as part of a meal, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Table service restaurants book well in advance

If you are going to eat a few meals in the park, and you want a sit down meal to take a break, then be sure you book your reservation as far in advance as possible. Reservations open up at 6 AM eastern time 180 days in advance. Some of the most popular options, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, can book up within minutes.

Character meals can save you time – and time is money!

There are numerous meals throughout the parks that give you and your little ones a chance to meet characters. While they can be more than $50 per adult, they can also save you a ton of time – especially if you’re traveling during peak times. Instead of waiting in several 30 minute – one hour lines just to meet a few characters, meals allow you to sit down, relax, grab a meal, and meet the characters at your own pace.

The most highly coveted character meals are those that take place before the park opens. You’ll have the chance to eat a tasty breakfast, meet your favorite characters, and then get into the parks before they open! Of course you can’t hop on rides, but you’ll be first in line when they do open.