With no cooking or clean-up

Sit Down Dinner for 3 for Less Than $15

by Susan Jensen

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Working parents daily wonder what to do about dinner. Buying food, cooking, and cleaning up after a meal take a lot of time. Once we had a child, neither my husband nor I had the energy for this. It felt unfair these duties mostly fell to me because I had two chromosomes.

One day, we looked at the recurring arguments in our marriage. They almost all surrounded division of household labor. We realized we had four jobs: our full time day jobs, caring for our four-year-old daughter, and taking care of our home and property. No wonder we were exhausted! Rather than dump on each other, we would have to get additional help. I jokingly suggested that we needed a personal chef like Oprah had.

Accidentally, we discovered many restaurants offer kids a free meal if parents buy one full meal. Most chain restaurants present this offer at least one night per week day. Many small local restaurants do, too. Restaurants could be our personal chef! They would also serve us and do the cleanup. Here is a very partial list of chain restaurants that have a "kids eat free" night, allow kids to eat free with an easily obtained internet coupon, or allow kids to eat free every night with the purchase of an adult entree:

  • IHOP
  • Chik-fil-A
  • Denny's
  • IKEA
  • TGI Fridays
  • Applebee's
  • Longhorn Steakhouse
  • O'Charley's
  • Holiday Inn
  • Fuddruckers
  • Golden Corral
  • Texas Road House
  • Olive Garden
  • Marie Callender's
  • Firehouse Subs

Tap water, which costs nothing, was our sole beverage. My husband and I split one adult meal. Reduced food consumption resulted in weight loss for us both.

Another great discovery was green containers, which keep vegetables and fruits fresh for a good four to five days. I began prepping raw fruit and veggies on Sunday for the entire week. We snacked on them before going out to dinner, so we weren't as hungry walking in, making it easier to limit how much was ordered.

If the main meal wasn't enough food for the two of us, we would order another side of salad or steamed vegetables. Our overall bill for dinner for three was coming in under the cost of purchased food at $10 to $15 for all of us. We were eating healthy food like salmon, steak tips, ziti, and tilapia in a portion controlled manner. Most importantly, we finally had much needed down time in the evenings. We could now chat amiably over dinner as someone else served and cleared the dishes.

Local restaurants, eager to drum up business, sometimes hopped onto my suggestion to have "kids eat free" nights. Within a year, we were eating out every weekday evening.

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Our daughter is now over 12 and no longer eligible for "kids eat free" specials. She is growing and needs a full, adult sized meal. We still manage to eat out most nights nutritiously and cheaply. Tap water remains our beverage. Once a week, we eat breakfast for dinner as a veggie omelet is an inexpensive, healthy meal. Hearty soup, chili, salads, and stuffed baked potatoes make other high nutrient, low cost restaurant meals. We have continued eating raw veggies with dip before we leave the house, so we aren't as hungry at the restaurant and can order smaller, less expensive choices.

Many chain restaurants offer special deals if you fill out customer surveys. For example, IHOP gives a free stack of pancakes. We save the survey coupons and go out for pancake meals every so often. Our food bill is still low, and most importantly, we have a peaceful home and time to enjoy life.

Take the Next Step:

  • Visit the TDS library for more on dining out and spending less.
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  • It's tough raising kids today! You need every time and money saving idea you can find. That's why you'll want to get our free weekly Dollar Stretcher for Parents newsletter. You'll find great ideas designed just for parents that will help your family 'live better...for less'! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE.

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