by erin thursby
While there are lots of kid friendly fast-food joints and chains, sometimes it’s good to break out of your culinary rut, even if you do have fussy kids to feed. We’ve rounded up some deals and suggestions for the next time you don’t want to cook, but you’ve got to feed the family. And it’s not just about saving money. Healthy choices, non-chain choices and memorable dining experiences for your kids are all part of the mix!
When going out it’s difficult to find a kid’s menu that doesn’t feature deep-fried chicken fingers, a burger and fries. There’s a reason for this. It’s what kids will consistently eat. But it also creates a problem for parents that want to get their kids some health-conscious grub. Here are a few places you can get healthy meals from for the kids (and adults).
You’ll find lots of strollers at the Healthy Way Cafe (10281 Midtown Pkwy, 642-2951). It is “fast food” but their all-organic, all-natural fare attracts parents who want to eat healthy and give their kids healthy options as well. Half wraps, organic PB&J, kids salad and more are available on their menu for just under $5. Kids under 12 eat free after 4 pm Monday through Thursday, with the purchase of an adult meal.
Kids are far more likely to eat a meal when they’ve participated in making it. At the Pita Pit (1810-5 Town Center Blvd, Fleming Island, 579-4930) on Fleming Island, you can order a kid’s pita with a base of Black Forest ham, melted cheese or turkey. From there, they can choose their own toppings. While certain toppings in abundance aren’t healthy, pita bread is better than the standard bread you’ll find at most fast food joints.
Not cooking doesn’t always mean sitting down at a restaurant or hitting the fast-food window. Instead, you can take advantage of healthy and tasty take-away meals at places such as Take Away Gourmet (2103 San Marco Blvd, 398-6676) or the supermarkets Native Sun (10000 San Jose Blvd & 11030 Baymeadows Rd) or Whole Foods (10601 San Jose Blvd, 288-1100).
Just for Fun
One interesting alternative is Elizabeth’s Tea Room (568 Atlantic Blvd, Neptune Beach, 270-1980). They’re only open ‘til 3 pm for lunch and they’re closed on Sunday, but they’re a perfect place to relax with your little girl. It’s less a place to find a deal and more like a special treat. They take reservations for brunch on the weekends and they’re a fun for a girl’s party.
True fish camps such as Whitey’s Fish Camp (2032 CR 220, Orange Park, 269-4198) and Clark’s Fish Camp (12903 Hood Landing Rd, 268-3474) have a family atmosphere, plus it’s a North Florida experience. At Clark’s kids will love the baby gators in the tank and all the stuffed game animals. Whitey’s has murals and a view of the water, where you just might spot a wild gator. Both have kids menus with the usual items.
Dave & Busters (7025 Salisbury Rd, 296-1525) with their huge game room, is billed as a place for adults who never grew up. But if you actually look, there are a whole lot of kids who haven’t grown up yet running around their game room. In the dining area, which is all dark woods and classy colored glass, it’s very adult, worthy of a lunchtime board meeting.
A bit less amped-up but always a treat for kids who love to read, is the Downtown location of Chamblin’s Uptown (215 North Laura St, 674-0868). The original location in Lakeshore near Ortega doesn’t have a cafe, but the newer Downtown location does. Even if you don’t order from the kid’s menu ($1.75-2.50) the menu is well-priced (under $6) and the fare is tasty. Tuna salad wraps, egg & cheese croissants, bagel sandwiches and a goat cheese salad are on the regular menu. Kid’s fare includes turkey & cheddar, ham & cheddar, pb&j or grits (with or without cheese). Ice cream and smoothies are also on the menu. After dining in the cafe the kids can wander the stacks and you can bond over books.
A more hands-on novelty that will delight the little ones is at Mama Mia Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant (12220 Atlantic Blvd, 221-1122) where kids can make their own pizza, tossing dough and choosing toppings. These pies are about $5, with toppings extra. They also take Polaroids of each child.
Good Deals & Local
Go to kidseat4free.com for many of the local chains that offer free kid’s meals. Simply type in your zip code, the number miles from your zip you are willing to travel and the day of the week. There is a lack of restaurants offering free meals for kids on Saturdays, because most restaurants aren’t looking to attract families that day of the week. Most deals are offered on Sundays, Mondays or mid-week to increase traffic.
Taking your kids to a pub might seem strange, but at Culhane’s Irish Pub (967 Atlantic Blvd, Atlantic Beach, 249-9595) they keep the tradition of the Irish Public House (aka the pub) so they’re very family oriented. Tuesday through Thursday kids under 12 get a free kid’s entree with the purchase of TWO (not one) adult entrees. Basically, they get kid’s sized portions of the adult entrees (mini Shepard’s pie anyone?) from the Wee Folk menu. You might recognize Culhane’s from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives where they were recently featured.
On the Westside, there’s Tom & Betty’s (4409 Roosevelt Blvd, 387-3311) a classic diner with a classic car theme. They have a kids menu with fare such as hot dogs, burgers, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese and the like for under $4. Kid’s night is on Thursdays when kids get a discount on adult entrees.
While Southside’s Red Elephant (10131 San Jose Blvd, 683-3773) is a chain, it’s a Florida chain. For families it’s a comfortable place to eat. Men can watch sports on the flat-screens while the kids play games and mom relaxes. The sweet pizza crust can be habit forming and the boiled peanuts are a novelty. While they offer the standard American fare, they also have surprising items such as hummus on the menu. Expect to pay about $10 a person.
My all purpose go-to is Biscotti’s (3556 Saint Johns Ave, 387-2060), which is surprisingly kid-friendly. It’s not billed as a “family restaurant” and it feels more like a bistro, but they’re laid-back and neighborhood-oriented enough for it to be a good place to take the kiddies, provided they aren’t going to run totally amok. At Biscotti’s you’ll feel like you’re going some place nice without feeling like you have to leave the kids at home. At night, besides the usual kid-oriented items (chicken fingers, pizza) they also sometimes serve a pasta special for kids.