Yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch. For kids. And dinner, too, at a range of restaurants, hotels and taverns around town with family- friendly menus that make it affordable to dine out.
Just think, no more strain of wondering if your seven-year-old is going to eat anything more than a single chocolate-dipped marshmallow and one blanched broccoli floret for dinner. No dressing. Don't laugh. It happened to me at a smorgasbord a few years ago. At $17.50, it would have to have been the most expensive meal on the planet.
The good news is that there are plenty of freebies for youngsters these days when it comes to eating out and Wagamamas in Subiaco takes the cake - or maybe that should be the yakitori - with its "mini noodlers" menu available any time, any day, for kids 12 and under coming in with a paying adult. It's a one-for-one deal and the kids' meals come with a fresh orange or apple juice. How good is that? The same deal is available at outlets Australia-wide.
"We've been doing it for at least four years," says assistant manager Terry Gregory. "School holidays and weekends are huge."
On the menu, which doubles as an activity sheet, there are "mini ramen" in a vegetable stock, topped with grilled chicken breast or fried tofu, seasonal greens, carrot and sweetcorn, "mini katsu", "mini yakitori", "mini noodles", "mini ramen" and "mini cha han" with stir-fried white rice, chicken or tofu, egg, sweetcorn, carrot, snowpeas and sauce.
Top choices are katsu, noodles and ramen with chicken or fish. "But we do get the odd trendy kid who comes through and orders tofu," Mr Gregory says.
Check out your local and you might be surprised, though most deals are limited to certain days and times. Pancho's, an institution on the Victoria Park restaurant strip, introduced its "little banditos meal" with "gringo vittles" - a mini enchilada or mini nachos with small con queso dip about 18 months ago. It's available 5-6pm from Tuesday to Saturday and from 5-9pm on Sundays.
"A lot of parents with young kids like to get in and out quickly," says general manager Neil O'Driscoll. "It's casual family dining and we welcome everyone. We don't have many rules surrounding the offer other than the standard ones - parents order a main meal and kids must be 12 years or under."
The Curry Tree's Simon McKenzie says the restaurant's Monday and Tuesday night kids-eat-free deal is popular with regular families - and there's a playroom with arcade games, big screen TV and Wii. Top pick is butter chicken with rice and baby naan, but there's a vegetarian korma that's popular along with play-if-safe options, chicken nuggets, fish and chips, or sausages and mash - all with salad - for conservative eaters.
"I've got a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, so I make sure the meals are yummy," Mr McKenzie says. "A lot of people think kids won't touch curry, but the butter chicken is so mild a baby in a pram could eat it."
Mash Brewery in the Swan Valley has been doing kids' Friday nights for a couple of years to attract families. Venue manager Karl Smith says nuggets and chips come up tops always, but there are also fish and chips and steak and chips on the mini menu. "Mothers sometimes request salad and it's just left," he says. "Parents always want the kids' meals to come out ASAP, so they can eat and have a play - we have a Playstation and toys in a corner, that are easily visible from the tables, to keep them entertained for a while." Best of all, it's two kids per adult ordering a main.
At the Bentley Hotel, it's weekends, 11am-4pm, with the Sundays just introduced to take advantage of warmer weather and accommodate parents whose children play Saturday sport. Hotel manager Tara Richardson says kids love the cheeseburgers, while many parents choose - you guessed it - the pub classic, chicken parmigiana with salad and fries. "We set aside a separate area for the kids with trestle tables and have a couple of young staff interact with them," she says.
"Often six to eight kids will sit in a small group and play cards, but we have things like puzzles and colouring-in to keep them entertained. It's relaxed and stress-free. Families will come in for lunch or an early dinner; so long as they're seated by 4pm, it's not an issue with the meal deal."
'We do get the odd trendy kid who comes through and orders tofu.'
TOP 10 KIDS EAT FREE
Bentley Hotel Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm. Choose from nuggets, cheeseburgers, sausages and mash, or pasta and meatballs. One kids’ meal per adult main ($20 minimum). Kids’ activity area.
Blu Grill, Woodlands Everyday, 5-6pm, with tables to be vacated by 7pm. One kids’ meal per adult main. Kids choose off the “baby blu” menu. Top pick is the “brats burger” with Liveringa minced beef and choice of chips or salad. Great location across the road from Jackadder Lake.
Brooklands Tavern, Southern River Tuesday nights. On the menu, grilled fish and chips, chicken kebabs with salad, sirloin steak, burger and chips, calamari, pasta, meatballs, plus bangers and mash. One kids’ meal with an adult main ($20 minimum).
Curry Tree, Nedlands Monday and Tuesday nights. One kids’ meal with any adult entree and main combo. All-time favourite is butter chicken with rice and a baby naan.
Left Bank, East Fremantle Monday and Tuesday after 6pm in the restaurant. Kids’ menu with pizza, chicken parmi, fish and pasta bolognaise, all with chips or salad. One kids’ meal per adult main.
Mash Brewery, Swan Valley Friday nights. Two free kids’ meals, including fish and chips, steak and chips, and nuggets and chips, per adult main. Play area with PlayStation and toys.
Oscars and Sons, Two Rocks Tuesday-Friday, 5-6.30pm. One kids’ meal per adult main. Favourites include chicken parmi or lasagne with salad and chips, schnitzel and tortellini.
Pancho’s, Victoria Park Tuesday-Saturday, 5-6pm; Sunday 5-9pm. “Little banditos meal” consisting of enchilada or mini nachos, con queso dip, soft drink and ice-cream with any adult main.
Ramon’s at Willow Pond, Cannington Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Menu favourites are chicken and chips and fish and chips, both crumbed in house. One kids’ meal per adult main. Beautiful gardens with giant chess and draughts sets that kids can play.Wagamama, Subiaco All day, every day, with “mini noodlers” menu for kids 6-12. Kids’ meals come with fresh orange or apple juice.