Eating Out with Toddlers On A Budget

My hubby and I love eating out, and we have tried to not let having two young kids stop us from enjoying some of our favorite restaurants.  But, Bugster didn’t like baby food for long and has been eating “adult food” exclusively since about 9 months.  We’ve struggled with how to keep our dining out costs down while still feeding 4 people full and balanced meals.  Some restaurants actually make this really easy, and I want to highlight a few for you now.  These restaurants have very low-cost or FREE dining options for older babies and toddlers:

1)            Claim Jumper

This national chain has been recognized by Parents magazine for being super kid-friendly, and it comes in tops in my book, too.  When you request a high chair for your table, they automatically bring two other things with it: a package of Oyster crackers to quell your baby’s immediate hunger needs, and a place mat with adhesive backing that they place on the table for you.

The crown jewel of Claim Jumper’s kid friendliness is its free baby plate.  It is a buffet on a plate for toddlers.  There is a dish of homemade chunky cinnamon applesauce, a cupful of mandarin orange slices, 2 cheese sticks (1 yellow and 1 white), and a huge slice of turkey.   And, did you catch that I said this is free?  The best servers offer it to you when you sit down.  But, if they don’t, all you have to do is ask for a baby plate, and it’ll come to the table moments later.

For the entire Parents magazine article:

2)            The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory is a notoriously expensive national chain that only added a printed Kid’s Menu within the last few years.  So, I know you may be surprised to see them on my list.  But, they also have a free baby plate.  It’s not a meal substitute, but it certainly quells the hunger of a cranky baby!  It is comprised of small slices of their bread (sourdough and brown) and banana slices.  They bring it while you’re still looking at the menu, allowing you to actually get through all 20+ pages of it.  Again, the good servers bring it without asking; but, if they don’t, you just have to request it.

3)            Chipotle

If you’ve ever been to  Chipotle, you know that their menu looks very basic: pick your meat, pick the entrée you want the meat in, and pick your toppings.  But, there is a hidden menu.  First, there are quesadillas.  You can even order different sizes (small is made with taco-sized tortillas, and a big/regular quesadilla is made with the burrito tortillas).  A small cheese quesadilla is perfect for a younger child.  The Big Cheese always gets the same thing – and it’s also not on the menu.  She gets a single chicken taco.  While tacos are on the menu, it’s a plate of 3.  They happily make her single taco for her every time we go, and charge us accordingly.

Bugster’s meal is free.  I order a side of beans and/or a side of rice, depending on the day.  If I request a small side and tell them it’s for the baby, they give me a small (2 oz.?) cup and don’t charge me.  If I don’t specify a size, it’s a little bigger, but the charge is insignificant, maybe $0.85 or so.

See?  Having kids doesn’t mean giving up on eating out. 

Feel free to share your own budget-friendly tips for eating out with a family. CLICK HERE for more tips on eating out with toddlers.