Fast Food On A Budget

imageFeeding your family on travel days can be difficult. Pulling a trailer or driving a large RV makes it hard to visit local eating establishments, and cooking along the way — though possible — is often not an appealing option. My family doesn’t love fast food, but because we are often stuck with it on travel days, we have learned to make the best of it, and we now have a few tricks up our sleeves to make it more manageable financially. Here are our favorite tips for eating fast food on a budget:

Never order drinks. We purchase cans of soda to drink in the car or at home or skip the sweet drinks entirely. Restaurant beverages are overpriced. The exception to this rule is when buying a drink will get you a cheaper meal. This is sometimes the case when using a coupon or a crowd savings deal. Such coupons tend to be “Get a Free Meal With the Purchase of a Drink” deals, which clearly make for a cheap meal.

Split your order. If you have a great coupon, but the restaurant has a one coupon per guest rule, split your group up and have each adult in the party place a separate order. This way you will be allowed to use multiples of the same coupon. This sometimes requires strategic planning in advance, so make sure to read the rules of your coupons carefully and take full advantage of them.

Supplement with food from home. If you will be eating at a fast food joint you may like to add a bit more nutritional value to the nuggets and fries and stretch your budget by eating an orange or apple with the meal. Fruit is a cheap, filling, portable, and nutritional way to add to a meal.

Order from the value menu. Fast food places often offer “value meals” these meals are rarely a good deal. Opt instead for the value menu items or special offers. Burger King’s 10 nuggets for $1.49 split between two kids, or McDonald’s pick 2 for $2 for instance. By ordering these menu items, and sometimes supplementing with food from home, we are often able to feed out family of three for $6-$9 and always under $15.

Share meals or order kid’s meals. If you do find that ordering a meal is a better deal than the value menu, look into sharing meals or ordering kid’s meals all around. Our preschooler never eats an entire meal on his own and I can often fill up on a kid’s meal. Look at pictures online before you visit a restaurant and decide from there how many meals you actually need to order.

Take advantage of loyalty programs and restaurant apps. Have all the punch cards and all the apps. Even if you only visit a place once in a while, these programs are worthwhile. Most only require you to hand over a card to punch or swipe, a small price to pay for free food.

Our Go-To Fast Food Offers

Below are some of the deals we tend to take advantage of. This is not an all encompassing list by any stretch. Get creative and see what kinds of deals you can find, and how you can make them work for your family.

  • Burger King – 10 nuggets for $1.49:
    Two 10 PC nuggets, one large order of fries, and fruit from home
    Total – around $7.00
  • McDonald’s – 20 nuggets for $5
    One 20 PC nuggets, one large order of fries, and fruit from home
    Total – around $8

*Note: McDonald’s has a good coupon app

  • McDonald’s – You Pick 2
    Three “You Pick 2” deals and fruit from home
    Total – around $7.50
  • McDonald’s – Sausage Biscuits
    Three sausage biscuits w/ jelly, two coffees, juice and fruit from home
    Total – around $6
  • Starbucks – Iced Coffee
    Two tall iced coffees with flavor and cream and a kid’s hot chocolate
    Total – around $6

*Note: Ask for 5 pumps of your favorite flavor and half and half in your iced coffee to create a drink that is nearly identical to an iced latte for half the price. Use the Starbuck’s app, get to the level specified in the app, and receive free refills on iced coffee.

  • Wendy’s – Value Nuggets and Fries
    Four 6 PC nuggets, three value fries, fruit from home
    Total – around $13
  • Subway – Foot Long (certain cold cuts only)
    One foot long sandwich, chips from home, fruit from home
    Total – around $8.50
  • Steak n’ Shake – Kids Eat Free on Weekends and Under $4 Menu
    Two Under $4 meals, one cup of chili, and one kid’s meal
    Total – around $12 w/ tip
    *Note: Steak n’ Shake has a good rewards app
  • McAlister’s – 99 Cent Kid’s Meals (not all locations offer this deal)
    Two kid’s meals, one adult meal, one kid’s sweet tea
    Total – around $13

*Note: You can’t visit McAlister’s without a drink of tea, and free refills mean a little one can go a long way.

**Note: McAlister’s has a good rewards app

  • Cici’s Pizza – Happy Hour (not all locations offer this deal)
    3 Happy Hour Buffets
    Total – around $13
  • Fazoli’s – $.99 Kid’s Meals on Tuesday Nights and Coupon for Free Pasta
    Two orders:
    First order – Free Pasta
    Second Order – Build your own pasta and kid’s meal
    Total – $7.50

*Note: Coupon can be acquired by signing up for email club.

  • Little Caesar’s – $5 Hot n’ Ready
    One pizza and fruit from home
    Total – around $6.50
  • Taco Bell – Value Menu
    Three soft tacos, two bean burritos, fruit from home
    Total – around $8

*Note: The 12 crunchy taco box would be an excellent deal for a large family.

  • Denny’s – Kid’s Eat Free on Tuesday Nights (some locations may not offer this deal)
    Two $4 Value Slam meals and one kid’s meal
    Total – around $10 with tip
  • Qdoba – Large Size Kid’s Meals
    2 kid bowls and a kid taco (all include one side and a drink)
    Total – around $12

*Note: Some Qdoba locations offer a kids eat free day.

Do you have a great fast food deal you love to use? Please share it in the comments!

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