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Frugal Fridays - Eating out cheap with kids

Eating out has always been the budget breaker in our family. Tim and I have always enjoyed going out to eat, and have done it too much. Now with four kids it can really take its toll on the budget (and occasionally the sanity!) We try to not eat out often. We save it for special treats, but often find ourselves out and about and suddenly it is meal time and there is a car full of hungry, grumpy kids. So, here are some tips we've learned to help keep the cost down.

Drink Water
It is amazing how much this will save you. Adult drinks can be up $2 at some restaurants. Kids drinks $1 or more. It adds up quick when you are with the family. Do the kids really need more sugar and/or caffeine? Do check though for the kids, some kids menus include their drink, so you wouldn't save $ by drinking water.

If you do choose to buy drinks, buy the smallest size. Most places have free refills, so no matter how thirsty you are you can be satisfied with the smallest size.

Know your Restaurants
Pay attention to their ads and signs. Many places have days when the kids eat for free. A local Italian place here has Two for Tuesdays. Remember them or write them down. Save your special treats for those days.

Don't go to fast food.
It really is not that cheap, especially if you buy the kids meals. Yes, you do pay for the toy. You can eat better food (though I'm glad to see some healthier options at fast food places) for the same or less money.

Consider how much your kids really eat.
My youngest don't finish a whole kids meal. Can they share a meal? Mine can. Or sometimes I will share part of my meal and just by them a side.

Eat at Buffets
I know some of you just don't like buffets, and I do prefer to be served made for me food too, but we have found these to be the best place to take the kids. Here are a few reasons;
Better food and more options than fast food
Instant gratification for the kids. They don't have to wait after they order.
It often costs less than fast food. Two and sometimes three of our kids eat free.
Great for picky eaters!
Some examples
A few Sundays ago we went to CiCi's. The kids love CiCi's. We had to pay for two kids and we drank water. Our total was $22. Another tip about CiCi's if they don't have the pizza you want on the buffet they will make a pizza to your order and bring it to your table.

Shoney's gives you one free kids buffet per adult buffet.

Golden Corral is reasonable too. They price kids according to age.

Probably our favorite buffets though are the local ethnic ones. Pricing varies, but at most at least two of our kids are free, some price by age and usually the adult prices are very reasonable. It is a great place to have the kids try new food. Ours love Chinese. A few weeks ago we went to an Indian buffet. I love Indian! The kids were a bit hesitant at first, but found many things they liked. Total with tip $27. We spend that much at fast food.

I think with better planning I could cut down our dining costs. For example I should keep a stash of snacks in the car so I don't get "caught" out at meal time. I also could pack a lunch if I think we may run into meal time while running errands. The reality though is I am not always that together, and often there is nothing that is easily packed. Or maybe that is just an excuse to go out to eat!:) Eating out is something we are going to do. Keeping these tips in mind will help keep the costs under control.

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Frugal Fridays - Eating out cheap with kids + water