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5 Restaurant Chains That Have the Best Kids' Menus

Options for younger diners can be more than just nuggets and fries—if you go to the right place.
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The kids' menu at a restaurant is often a sad story, featuring a few chicken nuggets, buttered noodles, and the requisite offering of French fries. Sometimes, the kids' menu isn't even its own booklet or coloring page, just a footnote at the end of the regular menu. If you have kids or if you've dined out with any recently, you know that a really good kids' menu can mean the difference between a pleasant meal and being pelted with florets of steamed broccoli while you try to carry on a conversation.

The reality is that these days, many kids' palates have evolved beyond the mushy noodle stage, but with food prices already sky high, you can't blame parents for not wanting to order another entrée off the main menu for their tot. A solid kids' menu will offer appetizing, creative choices in smaller portions at a reasonable price point. And it goes without saying that the meal should include a drink and dessert—and not some freezer-burned dixie cup pulled from the bowels of the walk-in!

Here are five restaurant chains that you can bring your kid to in good conscience knowing that they will get a decent meal, if not a generic pack of crayons.

The Cheesecake Factory

Kids' Grilled Salmon at the Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory offers some fun options on its kids' menu, including the Kids' Pepperoni Flatbread,  which looks delectable no matter your age, and the Kids' Mini Corn Dogs, made with all-beef hot dogs. (Because what kid doesn't love food on a stick that can be turned into a weapon?) Parents love it when a kids' menu offers some healthy options, and this one features both grilled salmon and grilled chicken. Most kids' entrees are priced under $10, so no need to hire a babysitter the next time you're dining out.

"I brought my niece here for dinner because I knew they had a decent kids menu," wrote a reviewer on TripAdvisor. "My 10-year old niece is a picky but mature eater for her age as evidenced by her dinner choice: salmon, mashed potatoes (instead of French fries) and steamed broccoli. …Everything tasted great!"

For dessert, the Mini Hot Fudge Sundae is sure to be a hit—just be sure to share a bite of your cheesecake, too!

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Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse 6 oz. Sirloin
Courtesy of Texas Roadhouse

Steak on a kids' menu is definitely an anomaly, but you'll find it at Texas Roadhouse. The popular restaurant chain serves up Lil' Dillo Steak Bites for the younger ones and Ranger Meals for bigger kids with bigger appetites. The Ranger Meals include either Andy's Steak, a hand-cut sirloin, or the Ranger Rib Basket, featuring fall-off-the-bone ribs. Kids can choose from yummy sides like green beans, mashed potatoes, or steak fries. At just over $10, the Ranger Meals are a little pricey, but you're getting steak so it's hard to complain.

"The kids meal offered steak!" wrote one surprised TripAdvisor reviewer. "My little boy was tired of chicken in other kids meals, he loved the steak tips on this menu! It has become our favorite place now!"


Pepper Pals Cheese Burger Bites at Chili's

At Chili's, a Pepper Pal meal will score your child an entrée, a side, and a drink for just around $6. The Cheese Burger Bites are perfectly sized sliders for little ones who can't yet handle a full-sized burger and the Cheesy Chicken Pasta is nice so the kid doesn't end up eating only carbs for dinner. Even nicer? When you join Chili's Rewards, members can receive free kids' meal rewards that can be redeemed in-restaurant or online. Who else just decided they are not cooking dinner tonight?

Olive Garden

olive garden cheese ravioli
Olive Garden

If your child is under 12, then you're in luck at Olive Garden—and so is your kid. The kids' menu here goes way beyond pasta with butter. Children will love the Kids Cheese Ravioli with tomato sauce or the elevated Kids Five Cheese Marinara with Choice of Pasta (choose from fettucine, shells, or good ol' spaghetti). For $6.99, it's a decent value and you can add a protein on top for an extra charge (a meatball is the best choice, obviously). Entrées come with a drink and a side but no soup or salad. That stuff's for the grownups, junior!

P.F. Chang's

Kids Honey Chicken at P.F. Chang's
P.F. Chang's

Forget the mac n' cheese. This widely popular Asian-inspired chain restaurant will keep kids satisfied so grownups can enjoy their meal and celebrate. Dishes like Kids Honey Chicken and Kids Lo Mein will make little ones feel like they're part of the group, but without having to taste anything too spicy or unfamiliar. Dishes come with fruit and a side and will run you around $6 to $7. Some parents have complained that the kids' meals here don't come with a drink, but isn't water a better option, anyway? Mommy blogger Cher at Mom and More said her kids were "in heaven" eating food off the kids' menu here and that she "can't even remember the last time they ate so good." High praise indeed!

Ronnie Koenig
Ronnie Koenig has written about food, drink, travel and culture for The New York Times, TODAY, The Atlantic and many others. Read more about Ronnie