Spending Smart: Eating out as a Family

When Zach and I made our monthly budget we talked about things that are important to us and where we want to see our money go each month. Eating out is very low on both of our lists of importance. We eat at home probably 90% of the time. I cook most nights for dinner (Zach typically will cook a night or two a week as well! Especially on the weekends!) and Zach takes leftovers for his lunches each day. We feel that cutting costs on eating out is a easy way to spend smart for our family and plan for our future.

However, we still enjoy eating out on occasion as well! Here are some of the ways I try to spend smart when we eat out:

  • When we are choosing a restaurant I try to find places that have a special going on. Many restaurants have a kids eat free night and that is a huge savings (especially since I can typically eat a kids meal as my meal too!). Chick-Fil-A is a favorite for our family and every Tuesday night they do family nights where kids eat free. McAlister’s has kids eat free everyday. Zaxby’s has 99 cent kids meals on Wednesday nights. Steak and Shake has kids eat free on the weekends. I’m sure there are MANY more that you can find with a quick google search!
  • I also hunt for coupons and we try to use gift cards when we have them!
  • When at the restaurant we ALWAYS order water. Did you know that restaurants typically make the majority of their profit from soda sales? It’s crazy how expensive they are and how quickly it adds up your bill (and how terrible they are for you!). 
  • We also always look carefully over the menu and decide smart choices for our spending. We try not to over-order. We will share meals. We rarely order appetizers or desserts. We like to dine at places with free bread 😉 Fill up on bread and order a smaller main dish!
  • My BIGGEST money saving tip for eating out is bringing along my own food. I bring a little cooler with food for the kids. It allows them to share a kids meal at the restaurant (I do believe it’s rude to not order anything so we always get a kids meal or order a large enough meal for one of us for them to share). Here is what I typically bring along:
    • Milk for both kids. Some restaurants provide free milk with the kids meal and if that happens I just bring back home the milk I packed! But I’m not going to go eat out and PAY for milk when we have SO much at home!
    • Grapes or some other easy to transport fruit
    • Cheese sticks. Again, easy to transport as well as not messy!
    • Veggie Pouches. Most kids meals don’t come with vegetables and my kids LOVE these. They are expensive (I get the Babies R Us brand on sale for 50 cents each so I stock up) so I only use them when we are dining out or on vacation where vegetables just aren’t easy. 
    • Kye’s vitamin. He has an Advocare chewable vitamin at each meal and I try to always remember to bring it along with me (if I forget he always asks!). 
  • By packing food for our kids we are able to insure they eat a well balanced meal and that we save money by not having to order them a bunch of food they will never finish. Typically they share a kids meal and don’t even eat it all anyway! I know as we have more children it will only be more costly to eat out so I figure it’s better to get the kids adjusted to sharing since they will be doing it for a LONG time 😉

While eating out is a special treat for our family, I also want to make it an ENJOYABLE experience. Zach and I are firm believers in no-phones or other such type entertainment at the table. We want our dining out to be a family time together but so often restaurants have LONG waits!

To minimize our wait times we usually try to eat out at 5:00. We beat the dinner rush and usually are able to get our food pretty quickly. In the event that we do have to wait for our food I don’t like the kids to start eating while we’re waiting. If that happens they end up being full and bored when our food finally arrives then we can’t enjoy it! Instead, I pack lots of little “quiet” toys for them to have at the table while we wait. Kye is old enough now where he doesn’t need anything at all but if I have something for Britt I usually like to have something for him as well just to be fair. Some good things to bring along are:

  • Magnadoodle Type Pads
  • Look and Find Books
  • Small Cars
  • Other Small Toys

Many restaurants have kids coloring pages but Kye is JUST now old enough to enjoy them and Britt is only entertained by them for a few minutes. Zach and I will also take turns with Britt walking around the restaurant if needed. She struggles to sit still for too long (like her daddy!) and we’d rather save her “sit time” for when our food arrives so we can enjoy our meal!

While we don’t eat out regularly, I do think it’s important to eat out often enough so our children know how to behave at a restaurant. We require the same behavior at home (such as staying in your seat, using table manners, etc) but it’s good to put it in practice in public as well! I feel like we have a good balance in place where we don’t spend a lot of money but are still able to enjoy the dining out experience once in awhile! 

What tips do you have for spending smart while dining out? How do you manage your kids when at a restaurant?

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