Are you the parent of one or more tweens? If so, your family may be experiencing growing pains when you go out to eat. I know that's the case for my family of five. We have noticed lately that kids' meals just aren't filling our 10-year-old twins up the way they used to. But we aren't ready to start shelling out the bucks for adult-sized meals every time we go out to eat. Fortunately, I have found a few ways to trim our dining budget while still giving my kids enjoyable meals that don't leave them hungry five minutes after we walk out the door. Maybe some of these suggestions will help you, too.
Don't miss kids-eat-free nights
Some restaurants offer great deals for families in the form of kids-eat-free nights. Find out if your favorite restaurants participate, then try to take advantage of these offers when you can. My kids especially love Tuesdays at Lone Star Steakhouse, because they can eat a kids' steak dinner for free. Make sure and tip extra for great service, since your bill will be lower than usual and the servers are likely to have a busy night catering to families like your own.
Order a la carte
This trick does not work at every restaurant, but it will work at some. One of my kids' favorite Mexican restaurants will allow you to order enchiladas a la carte, and at a very reasonable price. Since the twins have gotten bigger, a kids' single enchilada meal is often not enough for them. I've discovered that I can order a second enchilada a la carte to go with their kids' meal, or just three enchiladas by themselves if the kids aren't in the mood for rice and beans, for less than the cost of an adult's two enchilada dinner.
Ask about substitutions
Speaking of foods the kids aren't excited about, there's nothing more frustrating than looking at a child's plate half full of untouched food while they complain that they are still hungry. Sometimes a kids' meal is plenty big enough for a tween if only they would eat everything on the plate. This is where a good substitution may come in handy.
All three of my kids love the chicken strips kids' meal at Chili's, but they really hate the fries. Thankfully, Chili's is always happy to substitute corn for the fries or applesauce, and that makes my children very happy and full.
Split an adult sized meal
Sometimes, it is cheaper to get an adult sized meal and an extra plate than to buy two kids' meals. At Cracker Barrel, you can even get an adult meal with about the same sized entrée as two kids' meals, plus three sides. You pay about the same price as you would for the kids' meals, but you get an extra side. One caveat: in order to save money your kids will need to drink water with their meal, but this is better for them than the empty calories in soda anyway.
Check out the lunch menu
If you happen to be dining during lunch hours, you may find that a much more substantial meal is available on the lunch menu for the same or barely more than the cost of a kids' meal. While this may not actually save you money on lunch, it could save a few dollars when your tweens are too stuffed to beg for a snack an hour after you leave the restaurant.
Hit the buffet
If your kids are really hungry, you might want to check out a buffet. Your tween may eat you under the table at an all-you-can-eat joint like Golden Corral, but because they are still 12 or under, you'll only be out the children's price. Ounce for ounce, this could be the best deal of all.
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