Five Hacks for Stress-Free, Budget-Friendly Vacation Dining with Young Children

Because children are notorious for being hungrier before and after meals than they are at the dinner table, it pays for families to give some thought beforehand on eating out while on vacation.

Here are a few strategies to make meal time fun, stress-free and affordable:

  • Consider booking the hotel club floor. Increasingly available at properties like The Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont, the club floor option usually offers several small-plate meal options during the day and, in some cases, snacks and drinks around the clock. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront to be on the club floor, but if your children are picky, unpredictable eaters — as most kids are — you might end up saving money in the long run.
  • Avoid specialty restaurants on cruise ships. Sure, the surcharge may only be $20, but times four, it can add up. A popular strategy is to take more of your meals at the main, complimentary dining room and maybe spring for one or two dinners at one of the specialty dining venues. Or, if the kids are indifferent to fine dining, consider having them dine either at the kids club, if that’s an option, or on their own, then save the gourmet dining for the adults. Finally, take the time to look at the daily schedule of activities to see which dining options are complimentary each day. You might be surprised to learn that in addition to the dining room, you can also eat at the pool or sundeck for free.
Family restaurant

© Photobac | Dreamstime.com

  • Look for restaurants that offer kids-eat-free promotions. This is an obvious choice, but there are a few caveats to look out for. For example, if the eat-free promotion requires you children to order solely from the kids menu, which might be restricted to such uninspired choices as chicken fingers and pasta, stop to think if your children will be content with that. Sometimes older or adventurous eaters will prefer to eat “grown-up” food, and in that case, ask you server if they will serve small-plate versions of adult meals for a reduced price.
  • Check to see if there is room in the minibar for you to bring your own snacks and drinks. There is nothing more annoying than a minibar crammed with alcohol and expensive chocolates that aren’t right for your family, leaving no room for formula, healthy juices or milk. Some hotel minibars automatically charge you for removing items, even if you only do so temporarily to make room, so a good strategy is to ask the hotel at or before check-in to empty the minibar for you. Some higher-end properties will even pre-stock your minibar or mini-fridge to your specifications, by prior arrangement.
  • Consider renting a condo with a kitchen. This is a controversial suggestion, only because it presupposes that someone is going to be stuck cooking for the family. Unless that someone truly loves to cook, this isn’t the recipe for a relaxing vacation. That said, just because you have a kitchen doesn’t mean you have to make dinner every night. Some families use the kitchen just for breakfast, an easy meal to prepare and one that often costs more in a restaurant than it should. Or you can just use the kitchen for snacks and the occasional meal, keeping in mind that whatever you save, even on just a few meals, can add up over the course of a week-long vacation.