The move: The carnitas meal
If you're the type of person who eats half a burrito at Chipotle before being so full your friends have to carry you out of the restaurant, opt for a kids meal instead. Clocking in at under $5, the carnitas meal includes two soft tacos made with standard filling burrito ingredients: carnitas (duh), rice, black beans, and salsa. You could get a chicken, steak, barbacoa, or chorizo meal too, but the carnitas is the best-tasting cheap meal, since most burritos are $7 and up. And that's not all: It comes with a bonus side of chips and a box of apple juice to wash it all down. Mmm, tastes like nostalgia!
The move: Bowtie pasta with marinara sauce
While the food at Cheesecake Factory is undeniably tasty, it's also pretty pricey (hello, $17 Crusted Chicken Romano!). Ordering off the kids menu should save you enough money to offset that giant slice of cheesecake ($7.95) you know you are going to order for dessert. And while the menu, which also offers quesadillas and grilled chicken, says it's designed for people 10 or under, you don't have to be a youngin' to enjoy a plate of pasta with marinara sauce with a refreshing soda. After all, Cheesecake Factory’s pastas are delicious, and this is no exception. It's also significantly less expensive than any of the other pasta dishes, which are typically $14 and up.
The move: Two mini-cheeseburgers meal
While this is technically only served to people "12 and under," if you ask nicely enough your server might just hook you up. The menu is cleverly split up into two sections: "Really Hungry" or "Really Really Hungry." As you might expect, the "Really Really Hungry" menu has food options with bigger portions. Choices include mains like two mini-cheeseburgers along with sides you actually want like mozzarella sticks. Best of all, just like in middle school, each meal comes with chocolate milk. And you get it all for under $6, which is much less than the cost of a regular burger ($8.50).
The move: Six-count original nugget meal
With arguably the best damn nuggets in the fast-food game, it'd be a mistake to get anything other than the six-count original nugget kids meal. That's six opportunities to try the chain's notoriously delicious dipping sauces (we are partial to the honey mustard BBQ sauce). Chick-fil-A is also the only chain where you can get waffle fries and a sweet iced tea with your meal, so take advantage! The closest menu item to this is an eight-count nugget combo for $5.95, which is about the same price per nugget -- but if you're going to be filled up on six nuggets, fries, and a drink already, who needs it?
The move: Pepperoni pie
You definitely want to get the pepperoni pie when ordering from Chili's. Oh, you didn't know Chili's had pizza? That's because it doesn't, except for kids. The pie is about the same size as Pizza Hut's personal pan pizza and it comes with a side and a drink. Get the corn on the cob and a cup of cranberry juice so you can tell yourself that you're being sort of healthy. And seeing as how the cheapest meals on the menu start at around $8, you're saving a little bit of cash.
The move: Funny Face Pancake
Whoever said "you shouldn't play with your food" sucks and has clearly never played with their food. It's fun, and no chain embraces this idea more than IHOP. The kids menu is home to a Funny Face Pancake, which is a single chocolate chip pancake with a smiley face crafted from whipped cream and cherries. The only flaw? It doesn't come with hash brown hair. On the plus side, it's a buck cheaper than a stack of five pancakes, which doesn't come served with a smile. Literally.