I love to eat out with my children, but it can get expensive, even at family style restaurants. If you’re clever, though, there are ways to not only save money but also have your kids eat a healthy meal.
Fortunately, we are all foodies in my family. The four of us love to cook and eat. We don’t shy away from places that you might not tag as family friendly, and many of the places we may go don’t have a formal kids menu (think Asian or Spanish tapas).
However, a little thinking things through before ordering (and maybe a little negotiating with your kids) can turn any restaurant into the “family friendly” variety, and even save you quite 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, I tend to shy away from kids menus at restaurants. Until my children learned to read, they didn’t even know there was such a thing as a kids menu.
Kids menus are sadly predictable. More often than not the childrens 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 all 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. In an effort to have my kids eat more nutritious food and save money, I often have my 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. (Sautéed spinach or steamed broccoli always work in my family.)
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.
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