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11 Kids Eat Free (or Cheap) Restaurants Across the US

We know how expensive it can be to feed the family while traveling, especially if you need a break from the car and you want something healthier than a burger and fries. We pulled a list from several different sources in hopes to target the largest restaurant chains that are most likely on that big blue exit sign or at least not too far off the exit.

But, before getting into the details, we do want to explain a few things.

Many restaurants advertise kids eat free on Mondays and Tuesdays. Why?

Well, if you think about some of your smaller, local restaurants, if they are closed for an entire day, it’s more likely to be a Monday or Tuesday. This is because business is slow on the first two nights of the week when families are trying to get back into the swing of the weekday schedule after a long, fun-filled weekend. Also, families are more likely to go out later in the week like Thursdays through Sundays, especially if extended family come to visit.

Also, many sources out there list restaurants by day of the week starting with Monday, and the list gets slimmer and slimmer as they progress through the week. So we decided to put restaurants in order of most likely to be found during your journey, no matter how long the ride is. We are also including suggestions for a healthy adult dish because, let’s face it, if the parents aren’t happy, no one is.

Most restaurants that offer a reduced price for kids to eat want to bring in the business through accompanying parents, as those deals clearly state that it’s available only with a paying adult, and many require dining in. They want to make sure you get the full dining experience (often for dinner) because you are more likely to return if the food AND service is good.

You may not see your favorite restaurant on this list because so many popular franchise locations are closing for various reasons. In fact, only four of the 20 best chain restaurants chosen by Business Insider offer specials for kids, and the list is based on financial performance, customer satisfaction, and overall value. I wonder why they are so profitable?

We can’t guarantee if a specific location participates, and sometimes different locations advertise their offers for different days, or change or cancel at any given moment. Usually, a restaurant chain’s Facebook page will offer the most accurate and timely specials. We do, however, recommend that you contact the specific location to verify the offer before arriving with hangry kids.

Denny’s (1,700 Locations)

If you are traveling on a Tuesday, swing into Denny’s between 4pm and 10pm. Denny’s is one of the few get three for the price of one restaurants. This means if you have two paying adults and four children, all four kids will eat free. Parents: order the Tilapia Ranchero or the Cranberry Apple Chicken Salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

IHOP (1,650 Locations)

Any day of the week, hop on in to enjoy America’s favorite pancake house because breakfast for dinner is always sure to please everyone in the family. One kid, 12 and under, eats free with each paying adult between 4pm and 10pm. Bacon and eggs with a carb-loaded pancake sure does sound delicious, but if parents want a healthier alternative, try the Egg White Vegetable Omelette or the Grilled Balsamic-Glazed Chicken. Also, look for the words “Simple & Fit” on the menu for more healthier options.

Chili’s (1,600 Locations)

Mondays and Tuesdays are for hungry kids at Chili’s. Each dining adult gets to invite one kiddo to eat on the house. The Grilled Smoked Chicken and Quinoa Burrito or the Ancho Salmon are excellent choices to pack on the protein to get you through the rest of the drive.

Buffalo Wild Wings (1,200 Locations)

Not as good as a kids eat free deal, Buffalo Wild Wings still appreciates the hard work parents put into planning the annual vacation or road trip. Every Wednesday from 4pm to 10pm, kids eat for only $1.99 with a paying adult. We know how tempting their wings are, so, if you feel like treating yourself, go ahead. But, it’s good to know you can get the Naked (grilled chicken) Tenders with any of their signature sauces if you want the flavor without the trans fat.

T.G.I. Friday’s (575 Locations)

Make Monday your kids’ Friday by stopping at this family favorite where you will get one free kids’ meal per adult entrée. Some locations will honor this deal on Tuesdays as well. The Thai Pork Tacos come in at under 300 calories, and the Sizzling Sirloin (or Chicken) & Spinach contains just over 400 calories.

Red Robin (500 Locations)

On Wednesdays, kids eat for only $1.99 with a paying adult. Known for their burgers, they still offer a few healthy options. You can order a turkey burger, Boca burger, or Garden burger and substitute it for any of their other burgers.

Golden Corral (500 Locations)

Kids under 10 eat free every Monday between 5pm and 9pm. The buffet is always a good option to cater to parents’ changing appetite, but it will be more difficult to dodge the fried goodness if you dine from the buffet. If your integrity is on the upswing, then mind the portion sizes and stick to the Applewood Grill portion of the buffet with entree options less than 250 calories. Steamed veggies or boiled potatoes make for healthy side items.

BONUS TIP: Golden Corral has been known to advertise long-running specials throughout the year when kids 12 and under can eat from the buffet for only 99 cents every day of the week. If you’re looking to save big, call ahead to a location to find out if you timed your traveling just right.

Ruby Tuesday’s (500 Locations)

Having a healthy salad isn’t too difficult at Ruby Tuesday’s as long as you use oil and vinegar for your dressing and resist their irresistible pumpernickel croutons. Ironically, Tuesdays are the day kids 10 and under eat free at this restaurant. After 5pm, one kid gets to eat free per one paying adult. If you walk in chanting to yourself, “Do not look at the croutons,” consider ordering the sirloin, chicken, or salmon grilled with no seasoning or sauces. If you simply can’t resist the croutons, add two or three to your salad for 47 more calories.

BONUS TIP: If you do order the Endless Garden Bar, grab a few extra veggies to share with your kids.

Texas Roadhouse (475 Locations)

Texas Roadhouse is extra fun for the kids since they don’t get in trouble for throwing food on the floor. Peanuts may sound like a good option for a free appetizer, but parents beware: a half cup of their peanuts (with shells) adds another 160 calories to your meal. On Mondays and Tuesdays, kids 12 and under eat free from 4pm until closing. The Grilled BBQ Chicken is a healthy selection for parents as long as you say no to the fries and choose steamed veggies instead.

Bob Evans (475 Locations)

Kids eat free on Tuesdays at Bob Evans. Get one free kids meal with each adult entrée. The Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad or the Harvest Chicken Power Bowl are both great options to eat healthy. Remember to hold the croutons and select a vinaigrette for your salad dressing.

Perkin’s (400 Locations)

Yet another option on Tuesdays, one kid eats free per paying adult. If there’s any restaurant on your trip where you can treat yourself to a delectable and unhealthy meal, it’s the potato pancakes at Perkin’s. And if you go, go hard; add bacon and eggs with extra butter and sour cream.

If there’s only one lesson learned from reading this post, it’s to do all of your traveling on Mondays and Tuesdays, if possible. Otherwise, depend on some of your larger chains like Denny’s and IHOP to save the most money any day of the week. We hope your family has safe, tasty and healthy travels this summer!

 Zaneta is a Research Specialist and Writer for exercise.com and autoinsurance.org. Writing and research has been an integral component of her studies in anthropology, instructional technology, technical and professional communication, and adult education. A mountain biker-turned-paddler, she lives in Greenville, SC with her spouse, 12-year-old daughter, three lizards, and two Dachshunds.

1 comment

  1. This is a great list for those taking road trips with kids. It can really get expensive on the road!


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