20 Jul Japan with kids: eating on a budget
While food is a part of the culture and we do enjoy experiencing it, eating out is never a big priority for us. Restaurants in Japan are typically small, some with seating only at the counter. We have had both a fantastic experience and an awful one dining out in Japan. While budget plays a big part in our eating habits, it’s usually time that is the decider. We like to keep moving without having to think about being near restaurants and often a child is napping or getting tired over lunch time. We just don’t find dining out to be all that convenient.
So, where is our favourite place to eat?
Convenience stores! Well not eat in them but we buy our food there and take it out to a nearby seat or park; onto long train rides or to our accommodation.
Japanese convenience stores are truly awesome and they contain a wide range of foods, drinks and many other items.
Some food items available at Japan’s many convenience stores:
- A large selection of bakery items including sweet and savoury rolls, pastries, cakes and pancakes. They also stock a small amount of bread loaves which are quite sweet and sliced really thick.
- Sushi and Onigiri
- Sandwiches, salads, hard-boiled eggs
- Packaged meals that can be heated including; Pasta, noodles, curry and rice, crumbed pork and chicken.
- Hot food including; steamed buns and various fried foods.
- Milk, yoghurt, ice-creams and cold deserts
- Fresh fruits
- Many different packaged snack items ranging from chocolates, biscuits and potato chips.
- A huge selection of drinks both non-alcoholic and alcoholic.
My pick is onigiri, which are triangles of rice with various filling options. I also enjoy trying the different flavoured drinks and always have to get a milk tea, yum.
Lawson convenient store in Gero.
Picnic in a park.
Convenient store meals for dinner in the hotel.
Other places we buy food:
- Fast food: We eat fast food way more than we do at home (practically never). It’s easy, the kid will eat and they have clean toilets! There’s usually something different to try and Japan McDonald’s have awesome toys in the happy meals/sets.
I like McDonald’s ebi burger. The fillet is a crunchy crumb filled with a creamy sauce and small prawns.
I even fed the baby McDonald’s, they have a side choice of corn!
- supermarkets/grocers: products in supermarkets can be a lot cheaper than convenient stores. We usually buy bread, milk, water and fruit from a nearby supermarket. We always have breakfast at our accommodation and I also cook at least one meal at each stay. On our recent trip as we had a 10 month old, I bought fruit and vegetables to cook for him each day.
During our recent stay in Tokyo we were near an Aeon supermarket which we bought the basics from as well as drinks and ice-creams almost every night because they were so cheap.
- Bakeries: bakeries in Japan are mostly deli style, you grab a tray, load it up with the selections you want, take it to the counter and pay. They all have a large variety of both sweet and savoury items.
- Train station shops: train stations, especially large ones, have many different options. Going for a long ride on a bullet train? grab a bento box to eat during your journey! It’s a great way to experience everyday Japanese cuisine.
- Street: if you are in Japan during festival periods than you will be in for plenty of street food treats! Even if it’s not, most of the tourist attractions have stalls selling various foods. A lot of stores also have a section that faces the street where they cook and sell freshly made products. You will find everything from hot foods, fresh rice crackers, sweets and ice-cream.Takoyaki on the street in Osaka.
Window of Gontran Cherrier in Shinjuku.
Focaccias for lunch.
Want to dine out?
As I said we understand food is part of the culture and do enjoy experiencing it. If your children are older than ours, you will find it easier to visit various restaurants. When looking for a place to dine in, I would sneak a peek inside to see that seating was suitable for young children and check it wasn’t full of cigarette smoke. We had a lovely lunch in Arashiyama with Fletcher at 18 months old. It was a small restaurant with high backed chairs. We had delicious, cheap udon and although no English was spoken, the staff were very friendly.
Beef udon in Arashiyama. Fletcher was given a plastic bowl, small fork and glass of water.
We have had a traditional Japanese multi course dinner twice while staying in ryokans which were great experiences.
Read my review on our stay in a Takayama ryokan here.
One thing I always say I want to do in Japan but haven’t yet, is to eat in a sushi train restaurant.
Something fun for the family could be dining in a themed cafe or restaurant. Japan certainly know how to do themes. We had a coffee break in a Hello Kitty themed cafe, read about it here.
Japan also has plenty of American family restaurant chains such as Denny’s and Johnathan’s.
If you are more organised (and less tight) than us, Tokyo Urban Baby have a list of baby/child friendly restaurants and cafes in the city, some with great looking outdoor areas.