The kids' menu isn't always the best deal. Get tips for how to save money when you eat out with your family.
two tables in a restaurant
Credit: Monica Buck

A version of this article originally appeared on

It can be fun to eat out with your children, but it can get expensive quickly, even at family style restaurants. If you’re clever, though, there are ways to not only save money but also have your kids eating a healthy meal. Think things through before and you can turn any restaurant into the “family-friendly” variety, and even save a bit of cash in the process.

Consider Skipping the Kids’ Menu

The most important things to keep in mind when picking your kid’s meal at a restaurant are the drink options, whether or not a vegetable is offered, and what the dessert options look like. For those reasons alone, it might be best to stay away from kids’ menus at restaurants.

Why? Because kids’ menus are sadly predictable. More often than not the children’s menus in restaurants have one vegetable—french fries—and come with a soft drink and dessert. Entrees range from hamburgers to mac and cheese to chicken fingers. Not very inspired or healthy.

If the kids’ menu does happen to have healthy options, and is reasonably priced, it may make sense to order from it, but keep these two things to keep in mind:

  • If drinks are offered, see if they will substitute a soft drink or chocolate milk with seltzer or low fat milk.
  • If desserts look too indulgent, see if they’ll substitute some fresh fruit and whipped cream instead, or consider sharing one dessert as a family.

Share and Share Alike

If the kids’ meal options just aren’t cutting it when you’re out, you’ll have to get creative. Try having your children share a full-sized entrée, which almost always includes a vegetable. If the vegetable isn’t one your kids will eat, ask for a substitution or a more simple preparation.

In some restaurants, portions are so large that your child or children may be able to have a full portion from your entrée alone, so ask ahead of time how big your own meal will be before ordering another for your kid.

Think Outside the Box

If you have more than one child, and they aren’t in the same food mood, ask about the possibility of ordering a half portion for kids–often restaurants will accommodate, even if they already offer a kids’ menu.

Alternatively, you may want to order just an appetizer for your little ones. They’re often large enough and tend to contain vegetables. (If it doesn’t, add a veggie side.)

The key to eating healthy restaurant meals with your kids that don’t cost a fortune is feeling comfortable enough to ask for substitutions.