EDITOR’S NOTE: We first published this in December 2015, and prices are subject to change without notice. If you have questions, call the restaurant. For our Champaign-Urbana kids eat free list, click here.
By Kristy Wilson
I can remember when my brother was in his early teens, and I was a bit, a-hem, older! I visited my dad’s house and we pondered what to have for lunch.
My dad remembered that the Hardee’s Frisco burger (very new on the market at that time, and popular … and yes, my metabolism was a ton better then too, so please don’t judge!) was on special. He left for town and returned with a burger for everyone, a super-sized French fry and a soda. We let my brother go first because he looked like he was going to start gnawing on his own arm if we didn’t. He took his food, went into the other room and before we could fill our plates he was back in room stating “dad, what else can I eat?”
So maybe you don’t have a teenager whose stomach seems like a bottomless pit due to still having an incredibly high metabolism but nonetheless you want to make sure that if you are going to eat out that your child gets enough food and you don’t find yourself having to order more once they’ve finished their meal.
Below you will find a list of restaurants that not only ensure that your kid will leave full at a lower cost, but most offer a variety that is different than the run-of-the-mill kid’s menus. Some of these may be on our kids eat free list, but certainly not all.
Applebees: The kid’s menus range here from $4.99 on the “Really Hungry” menu to $5.99 on the “Really Really Hungry” menu (typically double the entrée). Look for items that aren’t typically seen on most kid’s menus and that will appeal to those wanting their kids to eat something other than chicken fingers and French fries, such as chicken grillers, cheesy bread, apple dipper with yogurt, vanilla yogurt and strawberries, steamed broccoli, and carrots and ranch. Also, Monday night is burger night. Every Monday burgers and unlimited fries are just $6.99 plus tax. There are several new burgers on the menu and for those who don’t like traditional french fries try their new sweet potato fries.
Chili’s: All meals come with an entrée, side and choice of drink for $4.99. There is not a ton of choice (in my opinion) for entrees, but I was impressed with the choice of grilled chicken sliders. I also like that the same sides that are offered to adults are available for kids (rice, mashed potatoes, salad with choice of dressing, fresh pineapple, steamed broccoli, celery and ranch, corn on the cob, and of course french fries).
Courier Café: For $4.50 or less kids can pick from an entrée of chicken (chicken fingers available all day; baked chicken available after 5 p.m.), shrimp, two mini burgers, baby beef stack, or ham stack with swiss cheese. These entrees come with a choice of cottage cheese, french fries or fruit cocktail and are served with a sundae for dessert. If your kids don’t like ice cream or have a milk intolerance they can also choose from a fresh baked cookie. For those kids who might not be quite as hungry for $2.50 they can choose from the following: “Monkey stuffed sandwich” (peanut butter, bananas, sunflower seeds, and coconut), mini bagels and choice of cream cheese, cottage cheese and peaches with crackers, or peanut butter and jelly on fresh baked bread. Each of the lesser costing meals are served with vanilla wafers.
Also, don’t forget about the salad bar, which offers a nice array of foods for just $0.32 an ounce for the finicky little eaters in your family. Did you arrive with your children and nothing to occupy them? No worries, you can choose from an assortment of books that they have available for children to borrow. Also, for those kids a little older nothing beats inserting some change in the crane machine and fishing for a gum ball. Courier’s menu is unfortunately not available online.
Desthil: For $5.75 plus tax children can enjoy a choice of hot dog, flat iron steak, PB&J, battered fish, chicken fingers or a cheeseburger with hand-cut french fries, choice of salad or fruit bowl, a drink and a mini root beer float for dessert. That sound like enough food for an adult! There are other items (spaghetti, mac and cheese, and cheese pizza) that are available a la carte as well. We especially like that there are options on the menu like steak and fish that you aren’t likely to find on every kid’s menu.
Houlihans: For $4.99 plus tax children can enjoy an appetizer of carrot and celery sticks with ranch followed by an entrée of choice (chicken fingers, pizza, corn dogs, burger, grilled cheese or mac and cheese) with a side of choice (fruit, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, asparagus, or french fries), a drink and choice of dessert (applesauce or ice cream). Quite a bit of variety! The menu unfortunately is not available online.
Most Mexican restaurants: With unlimited chips and salsa offered at most Mexican restaurants and the most entrees costing $10 or less you can’t go wrong. Often the entrees are large enough to split among a couple of younger kids (for example order fajitas which typically come with four flour tortillas or more and have each kid make two fajitas).
Old Orchard Lanes and Links: This could have easily made the list for Hidden Food Gems in C-U, but since it didn’t cross my mind at that time I will note it here for affordability. While they don’t have a kid’s menu per se, they are incredibly affordable with most menu items being $8.99 or under (most are well under). There are several pizzas/pizza combos that cost more than $8.99, but those are the larger size pizzas 10” and up and/or come with salads, breadsticks and drinks. Also noteworthy, during the summer Old Orchard is a participant in a nationwide program that offers free bowling for kids. The food choices aren’t the healthiest, but every once in a while a couple of free bowling games and an affordable dinner out … Winning!
Olive Garden: The never-ending pasta bowl. Need I say more? For a whopping $9.99 kids can enjoy more than 20 choices of unlimited pasta on the adult menu. This would be perfect for the tween/teen who is a little too old to order off the kid’s menu and seems to have a bottomless pit for a stomach. They also offer multiple pasta options costing $5.69 and sandwiches for $6.69 on the kid’s menu. The meals all come with salad and bread sticks, but dessert is a bit extra.
These are just a few of the suggestions that we have. What are some of the affordable dining out with kids options in CU that we have missed?
Kristy Wilson considers herself a “townie” having lived in the community for over 26 years. She grew up in Unit #4 schools and attended the University of Illinois. Kristy is passionate about her professional work as a social worker. In her spare time she enjoys food! In particular she loves to try new recipes and sample new dishes at local eateries.