Dining out with youngsters can be a pricey proposition – both for your wallet and for their nutritional needs. Lots of restaurants offer “kids eat free” nights or other special deals. There are at least three or four websites in my area alone that tell you when these deals are — and many of them are wrong or out of date. They can be a starting point, though, if you want to know when kids eat free; ultimately, the research is up to the parent. (One national chain that says kids eat free on Wednesday nights doesn’t honor that in my town. But they do offer it on Tuesday nights.)
The deal is usually this: Get one kid’s meal FREE when you order an adult entrée. Some places are more generous and give you two kids’ meals free with an adult entrée. Of course, you may be restricted to just one time a week. That doesn’t always work for families.
And even though kids’ meals are relatively cheap, they’re often not nutritious. Fast-food restaurants, in general, don’t have healthful choices, though a few give a nod to nutrition by throwing in a dozen grapes or something similar. Maybe you don’t want your kids to eat a burger, hot dog or fried chicken fingers and French fries every time you go out.
So what are your options? Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to order an entrée and split it between two kids than it is to order two kids’ meals. Or order an appetizer for each child for about the same price as a kids’ meal. Thought most appetizers tend to be high-calorie, there are healthful options – like veggies and dip, pita bread with hummus, a chicken quesadilla or soup. Get one child the veggies, and one the quesadilla, and they can share.
Or consider sharing your own entrée with a child – they’re often large enough for two adults as it is. That way, you don’t end up with a to-go box of food you may never reheat. Look for fruits and veggies in any form – like a salad bar, or substitute fruit for fries as a side order. Finally, let restaurants know that you’d like to see healthier options on the kids’ menu. Who knows? They might even respond.