While food is not the most expensive item that makes up a family travel budget, if you plan ahead for your trip in other areas (plane fares, hotel bookings, car rentals if applicable) there is no reason why you can’t squeeze savings out of your dining budget while not compromising the elegance of your trip.
You can of course simply avoid regular fare restaurants and eat at fast food outlets or buy food in a grocery store and dine in. For the most part, this is NOT why people go on vacation however, so the following advice is geared toward saving where you can and still be able to eat in decent restaurants when desired. So let’s pretend you are visiting a Theme Park and use some common sense before you enter their gates.
Do NOT rush out of your room and head for the Park! Stop and eat breakfast at a family friendly place while on the way. If you are staying ‘on-site’ there probably are numerous chains outside the gates and easily within walking distance of the Park. Kids meals will probably only cost $3-$4 and will fill everyone up for less than $25. This way, you are not entering the Park and having to immediately feed the kids overpriced and non-nutritious corn dogs and sodas at exorbitant prices. Of course as parents we want to indulge our kids at times so this does not mean you can’t buy cotton candy or ice cream later. It just means the kids will be less likely to want it an hour into the day.
The same is true when you leave. Don’t fill up on concession food at 4pm and then go out to dinner at 7pm. No one will eat all of their food at dinner (including adults) and you will have wasted an evening of dining. If you do eat at the Park, then eat out later at a fast food restaurant or bring food back to the room to snack on. Another favorite idea is to order a pizza to be delivered to your motel room. Most motels have lists of delivery places for you either in the room or near the front desk. For probably $20 or less (tip included for driver) you can order a filling pizza rather than spending twice that much at Denny’s or similar type chains.
Better yet, don’t eat much after 2pm and then plan on a decent meal that evening, though I would still suggest a family place where kid’s meals don’t cost as much. Save your night of fancy dining for a day when no one has eaten recently. The most important thing however is to fill up BEFORE you arrive at your destination. You’ll find the stomachs don’t yearn for cotton candy for hours this way and instead of spending $60-$80 on food inside the Park, you’ll likely spend less than half that on the kids and end up saving $20-$30 as a result of smart planning.