As a parent, you're probably familiar with this routine: You're at a restaurant and your child is squirming, saying "I'm hungry," asking for bread or a snack from your bag. You order a meal from the kids' menu, but when the food arrives your child decides he's not hungry and doesn't take a single bite, or maybe one bite and pushes the plate away, pronouncing "all done." Well, terrific -- might as well throw $5 in the trash. On the flip side, you don't order a meal and this is the night he decides to eat -- and polishes off most of your meal, leaving you to walk out hungry.
Maybe it's just my picky eater, although I doubt that. It's likely that many frugal parents think paying for a kid's meal at a restaurant is a waste of money. But there are times when you want or need to eat out. What's the work-around? Just head for restaurants that welcome kids with a free meal.
The rules are few and mostly specific to the particular franchise, chain, or locally-owned restaurant. For the most part, though, if a restaurant offers a kids-eat-free day (or evening), be ready to shell out for an adult entree -- no ordering off the appetizer menu for yourself. One regular main course typically entitles you to one, and maybe two, free kids' meals.
The other common stipulation is that only youngsters can benefit from the kids-eat-free deal. Most restaurants set the maximum age at 12 (or sometimes 10), although some restrict the free deals to ages 3 or 4 and younger.
The following list is just a sampling of the many restaurants that give kids a free break. MyKidsEatFree reports that 80 percent of kids-eat-free specials are advertised only by word of mouth. So check on your intended venue -- you might be surprised.
Golden Coral offers free meals on Mondays for kids 10 and under, while Quaker Steak & Lube's deal is available from 5pm to 10 pm and includes free video games.
Kids score with free food with the purchase of an adult meal on Tuesdays at Texas Roadhouse, Champps, Friendly's, Lonestar Steakhouse, Captain D's, and Perkins. Ponderosa Steakhouse also has free kids' meals from 4pm to close, as does Chick-fil-A from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.
If you're heading out with the family mid-week, note that Firehouse Subs (from 4pm to 9pm) and Qdoba Mexican Grill offer free meals for youngsters on Wednesdays with the purchase of an adult meal.
In addition to Tuesdays, Captain D's offers the same free deal on Thursdays. Backyard Burger joins the parade on Thursdays, as well.
Make Friday your date night without the kids because few restaurants offer any type of free nourishment for children on this day.
Dining out on Saturdays with the kids isn't much better than Fridays if you expect to find a free meal on the menu. One exception is Steak n' Shake, where kids get a combo meal with the purchase of an adult entree.
Sunday finishes off the week with lots of kids-eat-free options. Most Jason's Deli locations invite kids to eat free all day on Sundays, although some locations extend the offer on Mondays instead. Steak n' Shake offers the same deal as on Saturdays; some Qdoba Mexican Grill locations offer free kids' meals on Sundays rather than Wednesdays; and Firehouse Subs makes this a second free day for children from 4pm to 9pm. Hooters also waves the free kids meal flag on Sundays.
Some restaurants welcome children with a free meal every day. These include Cici's Pizza (kids under 3 only), IHOP (youngsters 12 and under), and Shoney's (kids 4 and under). At Denny's, the kids-10-and-under-eat-free night (from 4pm to 10pm) varies by location and O'Charley's holds freebie days for kids on weekdays at most locations.
Instead of a meal giveaway, some restaurants slash the price of kids' meals on select days. For example, Fuddruckers prices kids' meals at 99 cents on Mondays and Tuesdays from 4pm to 9pm, as does Fazoli's on Tuesdays from 5pm to 8pm, while Buffalo Wild Wings asks $1.99 for kids' meals on Wednesdays from 5pm to 8pm.