Do you like to eat out? I REALLY do! We just don’t do it very often because it is not nearly as healthy as cooking at home, and it is definitely NOT a frugal option for feeding a large family.
Why do I like it so much then? Because in some ways eating out makes me feel human. I know that seems silly, but we live in a rural community and I do not get out very much, so doing something every once in a while that is fun and out of the ordinary is therapeutic for me. It is not therapeutic, however, if I am crying after the bill comes.
Not everyone can eat out for less than $30, but when I tell people that we eat out for so little I always get the same questions …
- “Are your children really picky eaters or not eat much at all?”
- “Are you talking about fast food?”
- “Is this a regional thing? Can I get it in my area?”
- “We have been trying to do this for years! How do you do it?”
First off, my kids are not picky eaters. My husband and I LOVE all ethnic foods, so we cook with all types of spices and different ingredients often from our frugal Bountiful Baskets produce. We like food, and our kids do too. My children always out-eat any other kids we are around.
The one thing that we have going for us though, is that our kids are young. I am guessing if you have teenage boys this might get a bit trickier … but if they are teenage boys maybe you can tell them to pay for their own meal too – just kidding!
You also may or may not be able to do this if you have a food allergy like gluten. Sometimes issues such as these bring on more of a headache when eating out, but you can definitely still try with these tips to get a better deal!
I am not talking fast food or high end restaurants. I am talking about those fun family-friendly in between restaurants where the environment is relaxed, yet still a sit down meal.
This is not a regional thing! As you will see below I outline major food chains that we go to. We have done this while living in the South and up North.
Yes, we do enjoy the food we get! I like food A LOT. I am not going to go out and waste my time eating food I don’t like.
How do I do it? Let me tell you!
10 Tips for Saving Money at Restaurants
- I do not go to the restaurant hungry. I remember in college I would skip lunch because I wanted to gorge myself at dinner. Not only is that not a healthy habit, but it means your eyes are bigger than your stomach when the menu is sitting in front of you. You will buy too much, be too full, and more than likely go home with leftovers.
- Get water. Not only is it better for you, drinks are so overpriced it is ridiculous at a restaurant. Need some flavor? Add lemon, lime, or even an orange wedges.
- Do not buy kids meals. They are often such a waste of money.
- Our kids always share an adult meal. Now if you have small kids like I do (5 eating under 8 years), I buy just one or two meals and split it between all five of them. Now you might ask, are they getting enough to actually make a meal?? Yes, they are! Many restaurants put way too much food on the plates for one person to eat. Many adult meals can easily be divided into four decent sized kids meals – like they look as big as if you had ordered from the kids menu. If your children are older and eat more, divide the meal in half.
- Parents need to share a meal. I know my husband and I usually like to have our own meals, but the bill hurts us often, and we always end up going home with leftovers. Again, many adult meals come with so much food that it will make two appropriate adult meals once divided.
- Go to restaurants that have freebies while you wait. Whether it is free bread or nachos and salsa, having a freebie makes it fun and also kills your appetite a little before the meal. Some also just have very inexpensive apps like chips and salsa too. We do those sometimes just to entertain the kids.
- Look for coupons. Many restaurants have coupons monthly you can find on their websites or in the Sunday newspaper. Some also have discount cards for frequent customers. Receipts sometimes include survey discounts as well. All of these items can help you save money at your favorite places.
- Check out Early Bird Specials and Kids Eat Free Nights. Many restaurants have deals for those that eat at certain times of the day. This may just save you money!
- Scout out restaurants. Many have a fee for sharing, but there are many others that do not. Call ahead and find out their policies.
- Plan Ahead. This is kind of the same thing as scouting out restaurants but it is important. Look up menus online and figure out what you are going to purchase beforehand so that you can stick to your budget better.
You might be reading all 10 tips thinking, “We already do all of this so why can’t I get our meals for under $30!” I am going to list specific restaurants we do this at. These are national chains and so hopefully you have these in your area!
I will notate that we normally are a clean eating family, but we are also a very frugal one. Real food and eating out on a budget do not go really well together. We eat out pretty rarely so we consider this our splurging health-wise in order to have fun as a family and still stick to our budget. Not all would be okay with that, but we are and maybe you are too!
Please tip your wait staff an appropriate amount! That is not the place to save money. If you have good service show them that it was!
SEE HOW WE DO REAL FOOD ON A REALISTIC BUDGET!
Places to Go, Money to Save
Chips and Homemade Queso – $4.29
Buffalo Chicken Wrapper (4 wraps) served with fries for Kids – $7.89
Lemon Pepper Chicken for Adults served with 2 sides – $9.29
OR each adult get their own meal (burgers start at $5.29)
Chicken Critters (8 chicken fingers) with two sides for the Kids – $9.99
Each adult can have their own meal starting at $8.99
Adults share a large more expensive meal up to $15.99
**Early bird specials available
Endless Chips and Salsa – $5.69
Mix and Match Fajitas for the Kids – $12.99
Bacon Avaocado Chicken Sandwich with Fries for Adults to share – $10.49
Loaded Potato Skins – $7.99
Bruschetta Chicken Pasta for the Kids – $12.99
Jack Daniels Burger for Adults to Share – $10.89
(You could go cheaper but a $1.87 isn’t too bad for good food!)
Gluten-free and Allergy Menus available as well as lunch specials
Discount cards available for frequent customers!
Five Cheese Ziti al Forno for Kids with salad to Share – $12.49
Chicken Parmigiana for Adults with salad to Share – $14.99
**Depending on the restaurant location and the wait staff they may or may not let you share the salad with everyone, and there may be a charge for sharing so call ahead!
Did that Help?
This is not an exhaustive list but these are some of the few restaurants that work for our family budget for now.
I do realize as my children get older and bigger they will require more food, but I see absolutely no reason why a family of 7 cannot eat for under $50 with all grown children sharing at least a plate between two older children with these prices. There is just so much food provided at these restaurants and we live in a culture where overeating, food waste, and overspending is just a normal part of our day. I don’t know that this is the legacy I want to leave for my children.
I hope that these tips are encouraging for you! I think it is good that families to create special moments and memories, whether it is eating out for dinner, or going to a park to play, or even having a fun and unique evening at home with board games. It can sometimes seem inconvenient for parents to create these traditions, but it is important that our children know we care enough to take time out of our crazy schedules for them and that we love our family enough to invest in it for the future.
CHECK OUT MY OTHER FRUGAL TIPS FOR LARGE FAMILIES!
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