Eating Well on a Budget: Feeding Your Family on Vacation

I have a family of six, and taking them on vacation can be pretty expensive. We’re always looking for ways to save money when traveling. Over the years, we’ve learned to balance indulging and being mindful of spending. 

There are many ways to save money on family trips. Adjusting our eating habits while traveling has significantly impacted our expenses. I hope one or two of the tips we’ve learned will be helpful to you, regardless of whether you are an enthusiastic spender or more cautious with money.

Pro Planning Tip: We recommend using Jessica Lieb with ET Family Travel to book your family vacation!

Vacation Rental House

Book a Vacation Rental with a Kitchen

One of the most well-known money-saving vacation tips is having access to a kitchen. This allows you to avoid eating out for all your meals by grocery shopping and cooking everything in-house. As a larger family, we prefer to rent a vacation home for additional space and kitchen access, which saves us significant money. 

Depending on our vacation plans, we use the kitchen for breakfast, packing lunches, storing snacks, and occasionally enjoying a home-cooked dinner. While we may not eat all of our meals at the house, it’s convenient to have a place to store and prepare food for our family. We can save hundreds of dollars by renting a vacation home.

Stay at Hotels with Free Breakfast

Many hotels across the United States offer complimentary breakfast as a perk. This often includes a free continental breakfast with essential items such as cereal, pastries, and fruit. Some hotels go further by providing a complimentary hot-and-cold buffet with amenities like waffle makers and omelet stations.

If a rental house isn’t the best option for your vacation, consider staying at a hotel with breakfast included. This way, you’ll get a free meal every day for your whole family, and you can save more on the overall cost compared to cooking your own meals. My kids love staying in hotels that offer complimentary breakfast, and I love that my four growing boys can eat all they want without me having to spend a fortune on breakfast.

Split Meals

Sharing meals with family members is a great way to save money when dining out, especially at restaurants with large portions or for those who don’t eat much. It’s an excellent way to experience popular restaurants with higher prices without breaking your budget. Sometimes, having kids split an adult meal is cheaper than purchasing two kids’ meals.

We also share meals because the portion sizes are huge. This way, I feel free to finish only part of the meal and avoid excess food waste. We save money by reducing the cost per person when eating out and avoiding the temptation to overeat.

Order off the Kid’s Menu

Many restaurants, especially fast-food establishments, allow adults to order from the kids’ menu. Although the kids’ menu options may be limited, they are typically much cheaper and come in more appropriate portions. While not all places permit adults to order from the kids’ menu, it can be a great way to save money when dining out.

I prefer to order a kid’s meal at fast-food restaurants or even quick-service restaurants at Disney World. With food prices increasing, this is a simple way to save a few dollars. Plus, the smaller portion sizes mean I have more room for dessert!

Eat Out for Breakfast or Lunch

Having lunch or brunch is almost always cheaper than having dinner. If you’re looking forward to trying new restaurants on your trip, limit your sit-down meals to one per day and make them midday meals. You’ll pay less for the same appetizers and entrees, perhaps in slightly smaller portions. 

When our kids were little, it was helpful to eat out at lunchtime so we could get them to bed early. We would have a simple dinner at our vacation rental or grab a quick pre-made meal from the grocery store for our hotel room. This allowed us to enjoy local restaurants but still stay on budget.

Pack Snacks

Remember, hunger can strike anywhere, so pack healthy, shelf-stable snacks for your trip. Consider dried fruit, mixed nuts, granola bars, and crackers. Remember to pack non-perishable snacks to save money on travel days for air and road trips. Stop by the grocery store before heading home to pick up snacks for your travel day.

We always pack snacks for our travel days and outings during our trip. I throw a few packs of crackers or cereal bars in my bay to avoid spending money on snacks if someone gets hungry while exploring. From years of experience, readily available snacks prevent meltdowns and unplanned spending.

Use Refillable Water Bottles

I spent six dollars on a single water bottle at Universal Studios, Florida! A simple way to save money is to avoid buying bottled water. Opt for free tap water if the local water is safe to drink. 

We always bring reusable water bottles whenever we travel. I fill the kids’ water bottles before we leave and use public drinking fountains to refill our water throughout the day. It’s a cost-free way to stay hydrated and helps reduce waste in landfills.

Book an All-Inclusive Resort

Booking a vacation at an all-inclusive resort might not be the most budget-friendly option, but it’s a choice that allows you to indulge without worrying about daily expenses. Picture yourself not having to see all the food transactions on your credit card. All-inclusive resorts and cruises offer you the luxury of paying one price upfront without the worry of costs adding up.

We love all-inclusive resorts and cruises because they give us one less thing to worry about. We pay for our whole trip in advance, and we only think about money when buying souvenirs. My four boys love being able to eat without any limits while on vacation.

Research Local Restaurants

Before traveling, it’s a good idea to research popular restaurants in the area so that you can become familiar with their menus, prices, and specials. Knowledge about this can help you plan where to dine each day. Some restaurants offer weekly deals, such as kids eating free nights or half-price drinks. If you plan your visit around these offers, you can save some money.

We always look for restaurants that offer generous portions and affordable kids’ menus. If there’s a particular restaurant we really want to eat at, we’ll plan our schedule around any special deals they may have. Though it’s not always feasible, it has proven to be a great way to save money on food.

a girl eating at burger king
Photo by Bulat Khamitov on

Find Restaurant Discounts

Restaurant loyalty programs are available in many parts of North America and offer significant benefits. Join multiple loyalty programs for freebies and discounts, look for deals on daily deal sites, and check with organizations like AAA or AARP for additional discounts. You may also find coupons at local tourism bureaus.

We like to pick up coupon books from the hotel lobby or visitor centers. These booklets have coupons for local attractions and restaurants. We also research popular restaurants at our destination before we travel and join their rewards programs.

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