Eat This, Not That! at Theme Parks

Don't let your weight loss progress get taken for a shaky, painful ride. Stay on track with your diet with these better-for-you theme park eats.
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Trying to lose weight and riding a roller coaster are more similar than you might realize.

First, there's the whole sweating your butt off thing and the time spent being patient. Then, after you've put in the long wait, excitement builds in your chest as you wait for the drop. When we're talking about a theme park ride, however, the drop is usually dramatic, stomach-churning, and thrilling for just seconds. But when we're talking about dropping the pounds, the descent is slow and steady, and it leaves you with a lasting sense of pride and accomplishment.

So with that said, you definitely don't want to stall your progress by going overboard with your summer cheat meals — especially at theme parks, where some of the dishes and "snacks" pack a half a day's worth of calories. The key to maintaining your flat belly? Choose your battles wisely and stick to the lesser-of-the-two-evils theme park bites below. You can further commit to keeping your body in summer shape by putting these 35 Foods to Get You Beach Ready on your next grocery list.

If You're Craving Ice Cream…

Looking to cool off with an ice cream stand treat? Skip the little beads of ice cream and indulge in a traditional scoop instead. A half-cup of Dippin' Dots Moose Tracks, for example, is more caloric and also had six more grams of sugar than traditional Moose Tracks ice cream. While that may not seem like a huge difference, that's more of the sweet stuff than you'd find in an entire Domino's sugar packet. With eight grams (or 40 percent of the recommended daily value) per serving, the saturated fat content in the Dippin' Dots is also a bit concerning—especially when you consider all of the other fatty fare you might eat while you're at a theme park. And speaking of overdoing it, be sure to check out our exclusive report, What Eating an Entire Pint of Ice Cream Does to Your Body!

Eat This:

MooseTracks Ice Cream
1/2 cup: 180 calories, 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (1 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 2 g protein

Not That!:

Dippin' Dots Moose Tracks
1/2 cup: 210 calories, 12 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 60 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (0 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 4 g protein

If You're Craving a Salty Snack…

With a whopping 99 grams of carbs and next to zero protein or fiber, a big pretzel will do nothing more than spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry and queasy. Split one with three of your family members if you must, or better yet, split a kids' size bag of popcorn (a wholesome wholegrain) sans butter to indulge your salt tooth without bloating up like a balloon.

RELATED: 35 Things That Give You a Bloated Stomach

Eat This:

Kids' Size Unbuttered Popcorn
300 calories, 20 g fat (14 g saturated, 230 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (4 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 2 g protein

Not That!:

Large Soft Pretzel
483 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 779 mg sodium, 99 g carbs (2.4 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 11 g protein

If You're Craving a Frozen Treat…

Popsicles, ice cream bars, and snow cones are super popular at amusement parks—and for good reason: they're far easier to eat while you're walking around or waiting in line for a ride than a drippy cone. And while some people may pat themselves on the back for picking a treat with a controlled serving size, don't let their small size fool you; most of them aren't sensible indulgences. Things like Magnum Double Chocolate bars (340 calories and a third of the day's fat), Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bars (200 calories), and snow cones (403 calories of pure sugar) are far from guilt-free. Do yourself a favor and stick with a thin fruity ice pop or a Snickers Ice Cream bar to keep your dessert calories under wrap.

Eat This:

Snickers Ice Cream Bar
180 calories, 11 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 60 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (1 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 3 g protein

Not That!:

Snow Cone
403 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 33 g sugar), 0 g protein

If You're Craving a Sweet Snack…

Funnel cake and deep fried Oreos may be theme park mainstays, but that doesn't mean they're bikini body friendly. While a single funnel cake carries over 700 calories and an entire day's worth of fat, each deep fried cookie will cost ya about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat apiece—and who ever eats just one? If you need a deep-fried fix, split these options with a few friends. However if you want something all to yourself, stick with a candy apple, which are sold in many theme park specialty candy shops. To err on the side of caution, stick with a piece of fruit that hasn't been rolled in candies, chocolate or crushed cookies, which simply add fat, sugar, and calories without offering up additional nutrition.

Eat This:

Candy Apple
215 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 78 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (4.5 g fiber, 38 g sugar), 2 g protein

Not That!:

Funnel Cake
760 calories, 44 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 80 g carbs (0 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 8 g protein

If You're Craving Beef…

In the battle of the buns, hot dogs beat brats every time—and for two simple reasons: They're less caloric and less fatty. Another pass? The Philly cheesesteak. One 8" sandwich has over 700 calories!

Eat This:

Hotdog on a Bun with Ketchup and Mustard
318 calories, 19 g fat (916 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (2.5 g fiber, 2.2 g sugar), 13.3 g protein

Not That!:

Bratwurst on a Bun with Ketchup and Mustard
423 calories, 27.6 g fat (981 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (1.4 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 16.7 g protein

If You're Craving Poultry…

We're not sure if the Paleo trend is to blame or if people are just into Instagramming their major food conquests, but theme parks across the country are serving up massive one-and-a-half pound turkey legs—for $12 a pop! And they aren't just pricey, based on our calculations, these dino-sized legs are extremely fatty and caloric. In fact, just one of these things likely packs more calories than 37 cheese sticks and more fat than 35 Chips Ahoy! Chewy Cookies. Just think about that for a minute. Is that really something you should be eating? A better choice: a grilled chicken sandwich—heck, even a six-piece order or chicken nuggets (about 300 calories) would be a smarter option.

Eat This:

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
360 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 900 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 33 g protein

Not That!:

Giant Turkey Leg
2,272 calories, 106 g fat (32 g saturated fat), 840 mg sodium, 0 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 304 g protein

If You're Craving a Fried Side…


Although this is probably the only nutrition competition French fries will ever win, they're the clear champion in the battle of the fried side dishes. If you want to indulge, go halfsies with your roller coaster-mate and don't forget to wait a little bit before hopping back on the rides. Since they're filled with so much fat and a bit of fiber, too, they'll take awhile to digest.

To see how all of your favorite fries stack up, be sure to check out our report, Every Fast-Food French Fry—Ranked!

Eat This:

French Fries
Medium: 340 calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (4 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 4 g protein

Not That!:

Onion Rings
Medium: 440 calories, 21 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 55 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 6 g protein

If You're Craving a Fruity Drink…

To be clear: neither the "Eat This" or the "Not That!" options here are good for you; the slushy, however, is the better of the two evils. If you can, sip it down with a snack that carries some fiber and protein (like a whole grain snack bar or some nuts and a piece of fruit from home). This will help to slow down the absorption of the sugar so you won't experience that uncomfortable (and unhealthy) surge and crash sensation associated with sugary fare. If you decide to indulge in the icy drink, try to keep your added sugar intake for the rest of the day to a minimum. A small 12-ounce serving has as much sugar as 48 jelly beans!

Eat This:

12 fl oz: 135 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 37 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (0 g fiber, 37 g sugar), 0 g protein

Not That!:

Strawberry Milkshake
12 fl oz: 520 calories, 15 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 85 g carbs (0 g fiber, 74 g sugar), 11 g protein*

If You're Craving Mexican Food…

Sure, they call it a salad, but in reality, a taco salad is just a huge fried tortilla shell filled with ground beef, cheese, sour cream, and a few token shreds of iceberg lettuce. The resulting dish has close to 900 calories and more fat that 19 sizzling strips of bacon! To save over 350 calories without sacrificing the taste you crave, opt for the soft beef tacos. If you can, ask for corn tortillas (a whole grain) instead of the flour variety, which is void of any notable nutrients that your body needs to stay satisfied. And for even more ways to eat your way slim at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurants, check out Eat This, Not That! for Mexican Lovers!

Eat This:

Soft Corn Tacos with Beef, Salsa & Cheese
3 tacos: 525 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 1,135 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (7 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 39 g protein

Not That!:

Beef Taco Salad with Cheese, Salsa & Sour Cream
1 salad: 888 calories, 63 g fat (32 g saturated fat), 1,576 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (1 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 44 g protein

If You're Craving Pizza…

Ah, pizza! It doesn't matter how sweltering it may be outside, a hot, steamy slice always seems like a good idea—amiright?! While it may be more price conscious to nab a small individual pie instead of multiple slices, it's not worth the extra calories. Since they're often made with deep-dish style crusts, these one person pies serve up nothing more than excess salt and carbs. In fact, just one of them carries more carbs than three hamburger rolls! Yuck! Stick to two plain slices for a more nutritionally sound meal. And for even more ways to save calories at your favorite pizza joint, be sure to check out these 6 Easy Ways to Cut Pizza Calories.

Eat This:

Cheese Pizza
2 slices: 540 calories, 34 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 440 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (0 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 22 g protein

Not That!:

Individual Cheese Pizza
1 pie: 760 calories, 44 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 620 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (0 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 32 g protein

Image credit: Creative Jen Designs /

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