Are Kids Meals at Restaurants Worth the Money?

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  • It's common for restaurants to offer a kids menu with child-friendly items at lower prices.
  • In some cases, you might spend more to order from the kids menu than the regular menu.
  • Splitting meals between your kids and skipping extras like soft drinks can keep your restaurant tab to a more affordable level.

The quick answer? It depends.

Although my family orders takeout somewhat often (largely during periods when I get too busy to cook), dining at restaurants is something we tend to do sparingly. And a big reason has to do with the cost.

Most of the restaurants we frequent aren't fancy. But recently, I took my three kids and husband out for lunch at a local diner and was shocked by the $75 credit card tab that ensued.

Of course, some restaurants offer a kids menu loaded with items that tend to be more appealing to younger diners. You might think that ordering off of the kids menu is a good way to save money on dining out. But in some cases, going with the kids menu might cost you more.

When a kids meal just doesn't make sense

You might assume that it pays to order a kids meal due to its lower price point. But before you go that route, think about other options.

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At a diner in my neighborhood, you can get a kids meal for $6.99 that includes an entree and either a soft drink or cup of juice or chocolate milk. But the thing is, my kids don't need to drink something sugary when we're dining out. And the inclusion of those drink choices adds to the cost of those kids meals.

Recently, instead of getting two kids grilled cheeses with chocolate milks for $6.99 a pop, or about $14 total, I asked my daughters to split an adult grilled cheese for $8.99. They got a comparable amount of food, and while they complained about not getting their sugar-laden milk, they settled for water when our waitress was kind enough to throw an extra lemon into each.

Crunch the numbers before you order

In some cases, you may want to stick to the kids menu at your go-to restaurant because the food choices are the most suitable for your children. Kids menus tend to cater to pickier eaters who prefer to stick to a certain food rotation. At Applebee's, for example, the kids menu consists of chicken tenders, a corn dog, a cheeseburger, and a grilled cheese sandwich.

But often, the items you see on a kids menu can be found on the regular menu, and for not that much more money. So it may be possible to have two of your kids split a regular meal, or for you to even share your entree with a child.

Recently, I did this with my son. We were out to breakfast and rather than order him a kids' breakfast of one scrambled egg with home fries, I ordered my usual omelet and gave him a portion. I then split my home fries with him since they give you a lot and I never manage to finish them in one sitting anyway.

All told, eating at restaurants is an expensive prospect. And if you're trying to grow your savings account balance, it's something you may want to do just occasionally. But even if your family only dines out once a month, it still pays to do what you can to keep your costs down. And in some cases, that could mean avoiding the kids meal trap and being strategic when ordering from the regular menu.

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