Money-Saving Tip: The “No Kids Meal Challenge”

Let’s welcome back guest author Katie Drake with an interesting food challenge: saving cash by NOT ordering kids’ meals! Sounds counter-intuitive? Read on…

The Kids’ Meal Dilemma

Tell me I’m not the only parent this has happened to: you sit down for lunch, and instead of eating their chicken nuggets and apple sauce, your child is eager to get moving to the next ride.

So you and your spouse pick at the nuggets, eventually throwing most of the meal away. And 30 minutes after lunch is done, you hear the dreaded whine: “I’m hungry.”

No Kids Meal Challenge

The No Kids Meal Challenge at Walt Disney World

I’m not a plate cleaner myself, but I do hate seeing so much food – and money – go to waste. So on our recent trip to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, our group of three families agreed to a challenge: no kids meals.

Instead, the three sets of parents would share their meals with the five kids in the group, supplementing with snacks if we were still hungry.

We figured this would save us some cash, result in less food being thrown away, and leave more room in our tummies for the Mickey-shaped pretzels and Dole Whips we always seem to buy anyway.

No Kids Meals Group

We figured this would work:

  1. because Disney’s portions are generally pretty big,
  2. our kids are still fairly small (ranging in age from one to five years old),
  3. we’re never actually hungry in the parks anyway since there is so much good stuff to eat by way of snacks.

Always prepared, the moms did supplement our meals a bit. String cheese, juice boxes, crackers, apple sauce, and fruit snacks all made their way into the parks with us, and they were available whenever any child showed the slightest hint of hunger away from a meal or other snack.

But for the most part, at meals we managed to stick to our guns and only order adult meals, which we shared. Our friends with the five-year-old and two-and-a-half-year-old ended up buying a meal for the kids to split if they were particularly hungry, but when they did, they usually had food left over. In fact, even eating only two meals throughout the day, we often had food left over.

The Savings

So the big question: did it save us money? You bet! Even though we brought many of our own snacks from home, it was considerably cheaper than buying a similar Kids Power Pack. We did buy some of our favorites like fudge, pretzels, and a giant cinnamon roll, but we probably would have bought those anyway.

I calculated we saved $48.64 without tax by not buying kids meals for our daughter, and we had free breakfast at our hotel and didn’t always eat three meals a day. We also tossed a couple of juice or milk boxes in the bag each day, so we didn’t have to buy any drinks for her.

Mickey Pretzel with Cheese

Things to Consider

Now, there are some caveats if you want to try this. The biggest factors are what your kids will eat and if you are willing to let that impact your food choice. If you have a nothing-but-chicken-nuggets eater, it’s probably not a great move for you.

This worked out OK for us because our kids are pretty good at trying new food. The only time I caved to my two-year-old daughter was when she asked for the San Francisco Shrimp Louie Salad instead of soup in a bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Cafe, which was fine by me.

It also depends on what you like to eat. We found it easier to share things like pizza and salad at Napolini, or chicken and mashed potatoes at the French Market than a messy chili burger at the Hungry Bear. If you are big on smaller meals like a hot dog and chips, you may still need to buy a kids meal.

Some table service locations, like Blue Bayou, have a split-plate charge, but it is still cheaper than ordering a separate meal.

Pizza and Salad to Share at Napolini

It also depends on how old your kids are and how much they eat! At eight years old, my nephew could down an adult meal, so this wouldn’t be a good option for him.

This challenge would also be hard if kids outnumbered the adults by a significant margin, though younger kids could still split meals. Our only experience where the portions were just not big enough to share was at La Brea Bakery Express, where the portions – at least what we ordered – were really only enough for one person.


Overall, I thought this worked great and would totally do it again if paying for meals out of pocket. My daughter got plenty to eat, and my husband and I weren’t ill from trying to finish all of her meals.

Most of all, I liked that we didn’t throw away a ton of food! And the savings were pretty awesome, too.

Would you try the No Kids Meal Challenge? Let us know your Disney money-saving tips in the comments below!


  1. Gina says

    I love this idea so much! I don’t have children, but i have been attempting to share food with my travel partner (usually a family member or friend) – even for 2 adults the Disney portions are usually plenty, and we don’t need to stuff ourselves at every meal. I also like to have room for snacks. We always agree that we can get more if we are still hungry, but we never need to! The only thing I don’t share is the bread bowl of clam chowder at the wharf! my favorite! and how can you share soup?

  2. Heather says

    In May we shared meals at WDW on the counter service meal plan. We ended up with 7 meals left over on our check out day. The portions at Disney and big. My daughter & I shared meals and were not hungry. Next time we go she won’t be able to order off the kids menu. So we will definately will be sharing. Its a great idea for Epcot too. You get to try foods in multiple countries and aren’t stuffed.

  3. Marina says

    This is what my family had always done when we were at WDW. I don’t think I had my own meal until I was 14 or 15! Like you said though, most families wind up picking up snacks along the way (for us it was popcorn and several ice cream treats), so sharing really just keeps you from overeating so much while you’re enjoying yourself.

  4. Katie says

    We have been doing this for as long as I can remember. Even if your kids are too old for kids meals, we always get two or three adult entrees for four people and we always have enough, maybe even too much at times!! This is a great money saver and everyone gets to try a few different things!!

  5. Jess Ater says

    Love it! Have you ever tried the kids meal only challenge? Where instead of buying the adult priced meal and instead of wasting all that food just order kids meals for the family? We went to Be Our Guest for lunch for my birthday and had a feast for $33 with tax. It was my bday so I of course got a regular adult portion. My kids and hubby however split the kids turkey sandwich meal and I shared my fries as I can never eat but just a handful of those things. Hubby got soup for himself too and we got 3 desserts there too. I got a soda, hubby got water and the kids split their kids soda and cupcake. For feeding a family of four I was quite impressed with ourselves. We still had room in our budget for a $5.50 Gingerbread cocoa in collectors mug and a popcorn in Santa Mickey tub! We also got to Be Our Guest at 2:00 right before it shut downs for dinner. So this was our only meal all day. Gotta think thrifty but Disney’s food always smells soooo good while in the park you gotta always have room to splurge on something, anything. We have also in the past bought a cupcake for $3 at the Main St Bakery and got 4 forks and split it. My heart goes out to those poor fools that charge away on food and they are the same people we see dumping plates FULL of food. Wish Disney would make a family meal at every restaurant ya know like $25-30 to feed a family of four. Oh well, I have many wishes and changes for Disney when it comes to costs. Make use of places with Free refills you only need to buy one cup and share it with your family. Just pray no one is sick and you should do all right.

  6. Tinkymurph says

    @Heather,just curious as to what you did with the left over meal credits? I am wondering if they still let you trade them for snacks. A few years back we had CS credits left and we were allowed to trade them for 3 snacks. It was a great way to take home small souvenirs.

  7. Heather says

    We went back to the resort food court. The cast member made “meals” for us, like a sandwich and snacks. He said “just bring up what you want & I’ll make it work out to 7 meals”. Which saved us money since we didn’t have to stop for food on the drive home.

  8. says

    @tinkymurph, as of my recent trip at the end of October (during F & W Fest, so maybe just for then), we were not allowed to trade CS meals for snack credits. We were told that too many people were doing it and stocking up on snacks to bring home, so they put an end to the trade. At that time, the statement was that you are no longer allowed to trade CS meal credits for snack credits. But I wouldn’t take that as the definitive answer, because sometimes things work out differently, depending on the CM or the time of year, or so many factors.

  9. tinkymurph says

    Heather & Sherrie,
    Thanks for the info. Now I have an idea of what to expect for our New Year’s trip!!

  10. Jennifer says

    My husband and I have our own “Disney plan” for eating. We were in the parks for 8 days and he never ordered his own meal – he usually ate part of my order and finished for the kids. That was a few years ago, so I think we might try the “no kids meals” plan on our trip in August.

  11. Karen Samples says

    Well,our family has been going for years and we have never done this. We have “big” eaters for small kids,now they are older and it hasn’t slowed down(teenagers) We do however,take 2 waterbottles per person(when they were small-just me & my husband would carry a backpack,for the past several years-everyone carries their own) pkg.of peanuts,cheese crackers,baggie of grapes,baggie of small baby carrots and small pkg of skittles) We really don’t pick up a lot of snacks in the parks(Mickey Mouse bar-a must but not usually anything else). They tend to get hungry as we are in lines,so they pull out of their own bag a snack. We refill our waterbottles and take some drink flavored packets to use with our quick service meals. But usually for dinner is a nice table service, so we do order sodas then. But this has saved us much money. Pack your own spray sunscreen for improtu spraying that is needed and repeated during the day. NO ONE will enjoy all the parks if you get sunburned! Mix up the items you put in your backpack each day(and of course the pkg.of candy) That makes things nice.

  12. JD says

    This would never work for our family, my 8 year old can eat an adult meal himself. The kid meal food is all junk, pizza and nuggets, etc. when my son was small he would eat off the adults plates. At least then the kids can get a nice piece of fish or grilled chicken instead of junk. If you have older kids that can split an adult meal that would be preferable to a kids meal, too. I don’t know if it would save, but at least the kids get a decent quality of food instead of fried junk food all day. My son is eating off the adult menu now, but I wish when he were smaller (or someday when we share the Disney experience with our grandkids) they would have some better quality meals with kids portions, like grilled chicken or fish, even salad. It is a disappointment when even at the nicer restaurants they offer the same 5 junk food meals for the kids.

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