Raising kids today isn't cheap. Providing just the basics -- food, shelter, and clothing -- can take a big bite out of family finances, but add the frills -- entertainment, vacations, and eating out -- and a family's resources can downright go down the drain. That's why it's so refreshing to find merchants who offer real money-saving deals for budget-conscious families.

Unfortunately, "kids eat free" deals are getting fewer and farther between. For example, take O'Charley's restaurants, which no longer offer these family freebies, and whose corporate representative instead advised me to look at the kid's menu, with meals starting at just $2.99. Still a bargain -- but not as great as free. You'll have to do some high-quality sleuthing to find the best deals out there for your family.

Here are some tips to get you pointed in the right direction.

Tips for getting low-cost kids' meals

  • Try Tuesday. Mark your calendars: Non-weekend days are the best times to find kids eat free offers, with Tuesday in the lead.
  • Look for the fine print. Most restaurants require the purchase of an adult entree for every free child's meal, and the offer may only be valid during a short time window in the evening.
  • Check the dictionary. When it comes to eating free, some restaurants define kid as someone 10 and younger, while others use 12 and younger as the standard. (For peace of mind, we suggest not telling your 13-year-old that someone considers him or her an adult.)
  • Ask locally. Have a national chain restaurant nearby? It may well offer a kids eat free night, even though it's not an across-the-board policy. For example, Perkins' corporate headquarters urges its franchisees to offer kids eat free nights, but does not require it. Still, says their corporate rep, most restaurants do participate.
  • Approach your favorite Mom & Pop. Your local restaurants may offer coupons or special discount evenings for families but just not have the resources to advertise as well as the national chains. It doesn't hurt to ask.

A sample of the savings
Here are some of the national chains where kids can eat for little to nothing:

  • CiCi's Pizza (typically, children ages three and younger eat free, while kids from four to 10 qualify for a reduced price)
  • Denny's (free on Tuesdays and some Saturdays)
  • Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts (In the U.S. and Canada, up to four kids eat free per registered family)
  • Lone Star Steakhouse (two kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entree on Tuesdays for dinner and Saturdays for lunch)
  • Perkins (at participating locations; check your nearby restaurant)
  • Roadhouse Grill (free on Tuesdays when the child is accompanied by an adult)

This article is adapted from the Motley Fool Green Light "Money Answers" archive, which features more than 100 articles on personal finance topics such as taxes, credit, and beginning investing, organized by subject and life stage. For access to this content -- plus the current newsletter, back issues, members-only discussion boards, and advisor blogs -- take a free 30-day trial today!

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor with three hungry (and adorable) rugrats at home. She's married to Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter.