Kids’ menus at restaurants are predictable, mediocre, and often overpriced. No one went to cooking school to whip up mac ‘n’ cheese for five-year-olds; so, no matter how good the restaurant is, it usually shows. How do you find food that will keep your tiny diner happy…without blowing your tab on a full-priced entrée (which your kid will probably nibble on briefly before turning back to those crayons?)
Skip the grilled cheese and hot dogs. Seek out tastier options—that might cost even less.
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Choose Side Dishes
Side dishes often include options comparable to those on the kids’ menu, especially in Italian restaurants. Plus, you’ll have a better chance of finding actual vegetables here. The sizes are right, they’ll be cooked with more care than items directed toward youngsters, and they’re usually a few dollars less.
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Appetizers offer good portions for small eaters at modest prices. They also tend to include more fun options than the standard chicken fingers, like beef saté, dumplings, or quesadillas—all of which will expand your finicky eater’s culinary repertoire. We regularly knock more than $10 off of our tab by sharing three or four appetizers family style, rather than buying entrees for ourselves and kids’ meals for the little ones.
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Ask for Half Portions
If you see an item on the main menu that you know your child will like, ask if the kitchen make a child’s portion at a correspondingly smaller price. According to one of our friends, local places are more willing to do this than chain restaurants. Having regular meals at your disposal definitely widens your options without inflating your bill.
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Remember to Share
If you know a place that serves large portions, look for a dish that both you and your child will like. Ask for extra plates. We consider it the unofficial “kids eat free” deal.
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Try Being Happy
Happy hours correspond nicely with family dinner hour—restaurant deals aren’t always limited to cocktails. Look for restaurants that offer a break on appetizers and main dishes, too. While on vacation, we went out for a dinner for three (with glasses of wine for mom and dad) for under $30 this way.
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Try Local Family Nights
Many local restaurants offer “kids eat free” deals to fill their tables during early evening hours and on off-nights, like Tuesday or Wednesday. Chances are good that this will steer you back to the kids’ menu (darn!), but at least you won’t be shelling out $6 or $8 for macaroni with butter.