30 Ways to Feed a Teen on the CHEAP CHEAP in NYC

Where to eat in NYC with teens, grab some ice cream.
Teens are still kids so ice cream hits the spot for an afternoon snack in NYC, like this one at Loeb Boathouse Express Café. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The kids voted and they want to head to New York City for their teen trip. I couldn’t wait to get there until I realized I would have to feed them regularly on a budget. Since I used to live in NYC, I had a few ideas. But I still had to research so I’m sharing my list of where to eat in NYC with teens.

Our Trip to NYC

Years ago, our scout group decided to go to New York City when they graduated from eighth grade. So after raising money for years, our group boarded a plane for NYC.

Planning a a NYC trip for a youth group
Designed by famed Architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1883, the HI Hostel features dormer windows and a mansard roof. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Since urban travel skills and traveling on a budget topped our travel lessons list, we booked a week at a hostel. Hosteling International’s Hostel on the Upper West Side provides private rooms for youth groups under 18 with bathrooms down the hall and an inexpensive café.

Our teens came up with a list of must-dos and then I added notable buildings and museums. Since our budget was tight, we bought NYC MetroCards and used the subways along with ferries and the tram to get around.

Where to Eat in NYC with Teens

Feeding teens can be tricky. Some have allergies or other food restrictions and some teens are just plain picky.

For youth group trips, the budget offers additional restrictions as well. Then the space needed to accommodate a teen group for meals offers more challenges in NYC where space is limited, especially in restaurants.

Breakfast

Our hostel offered a traditional breakfast for an additional charge. Though we wanted to sample some of the best bagels in the city.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, bagels for breakfast.
Tops for breakfast in NYC, the bagel of course. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Top Bagels and More

A bagel is a must for NYC and not all bagels are the same. I recommend making the effort to sample some of the best bagels in the city. As a bonus, most kids will eat a bagel and it’s filling enough to hold teens until lunch.

For about $3 you get a bagel schmeared with flavored cream cheese. For $10 you can get melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon with scallion cream cream on a toasted everything bagel, my favorite. Order a regular coffee (NYC term for coffee with cream and sugar) to complete your breakfast. Though bagel shops offer juice for non-coffee drinkers.

Try one of the following for the best bagels in Manhattan.

Absolute Bagels, located at 2788 Broadway in the Upper West Side.

Russ and Daughters, located at 179 E. Houston in the Lower East Side.

Murray’s Bagels, located at 500 6th Ave in Greenwich Village.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, try French pastries.
A plate of croissants, including the cro-nut. Though honestly, it’s too sweet so skip it and order a regular croissant instead. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Dominique Ansel Bakery, located 189 Spring Street in SoHo (NYC term for South of Houston), is famous for the cronut.  But skip it since it’s way too sweet, even for my teen. Order one of their other croissants instead and ignore the sometimes snotty counter help.

Museum Eats

After breakfast, we headed to a museum most days since New York offers some of the best museums in the U.S. Most museums offer cafés for a quick bite while exploring their collections. I found this to be a convenient option to feed the kids though sometimes the offerings are limited and a bit pricey.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, take a break in the Museum cafe.
Take a break while exploring the MoMA Museum and grab a panini at their Cafe 2. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 11 W. 53rd St., offers several restaurants though Café 2 is the most kid-friendly. With a seasonal menu prepared by a chef, we enjoyed one of its paninis and a salad.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), 1000 Fifth Avenue, offers several restaurants though The Great Hall Balcony Café offers the best option for kids. We enjoyed a grab-and-go salad and soup during our visit.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum1071 Fifth Avenue, features a small coffee bar with snacks at its Café 3. 

The American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St., offers several restaurants though the Museum Food Court on the lower level features family favorites. During our visit we enjoyed salads though pizza, burgers, sandwiches and a selection of desserts are available.

The Loeb Boathouse Express Café, East 72nd and Park Drive North, offers another option close to several museums in Central Park. With breakfast items, burgers, soups and salads along with my favorite soft-serve ice cream, I found lots of outdoor seating for feeding a group of kids.

Food Halls across New York City

New York City offers food halls, a group of quick service outlets that share a common dining space. I relied on food halls to feed the teens because they could pick and purchase what they wanted. As a bonus, food halls offered lots of seating and tipping is not required.

A tad bit more expensive than traditional fast food (Subway or McDonald’s) but worth the extra dollar or two. And I found the top chefs from around the globe offered their quick-service concepts in the food halls.

Where to eat in NYC with teens. Try the Lady M Mille Crepes Cake
The best thing I sampled in NYC, Lady M Mille Crepes Cake that I found in the Plaza Food Hall. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Plaza Food Hall, located at 1 W. 59th St. in the basement of The Plaza Hotel, offers gourmet quick service outlets. Our group dined at The Plaza Food Hall before our theatre matinee and found some of the top chefs in NYC, like Chef Daniel Boulud.

Grand Central Terminal’s Dining Concourse or the Great Northern Food Hall, both located at 89 E. 42nd St., offers 35 different places to eat. Walk through the transportation hub and enjoy the Beaux-Arts building before herding the teens downstairs to eat. I found lots of options, like Jacques Torres Chocolate and Shake Shack, with lots of seating along with clean restrooms.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, a burger at Genuine Roadside Burger.
Enjoy a burger break at the Gotham West Market at Genuine Roadside Burger. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Gotham West Market, located at 600 11th Ave, offers long tables and several options for teens. I grabbed a burger at Genuine Roadside Burger, another grabbed pizza from Corner Slice.

Rockefeller Food Court, located on the lower level at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, offers lots of options for dining.

Hotdogs, Pretzels and the Black-and-White

A NYC hotdog topped the kids’ list and as a budget bonus, hotdogs are super-cheap. Not healthy or vegetarian but they’re a NYC icon.

Gray’s Papaya, located 2090 Broadway St. at 70th St, features hotdogs and fresh fruit juices. As a bonus, Gray’s Papaya has been featured in several movies and a must-do for movie fans. The recession special offers two hotdogs for under $6 and I found standing room only.

Need to feed some kids in New York City? Here's a list of quick service options that won't kill the budget.

A hotdog cart, located along most streets in NYC and especially Central Park, to grab hotdogs, drinks and pretzels.

Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, several locations and carts across the city, offers another top choice for hotdogs.

Don’t forget to grab a black-and-white cookie, it’s a NYC icon. Easily shared and available at most delis and bakeries.

More Teen Eats

Where to eat in NYC with teens, grab a Shake Shack Burger.
Burgers go a long way with teens so order up a NYC original, the Shake Shack burger. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Shake Shack, several locations across the city, another place to grab a burger, a shake and an order of fries. Solid cheeseburger but I found lines at all hours. They offer an app but our order was too large so we stood in line.

Katz Delicatessen, located at 205 E. Houston St., is an icon. The pastrami on rye sandwiches are pricey but huge. I ordered a half and got a bowl of Matzo ball soup along with a seltzer. The adults in our group loved Katz’s though it fell flat for the teens.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, try Katz's for pastrami on rye.
The pastrami on rye is a NYC icon though teens might not get it. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Xi’an Famous Foods, several locations across the city, offers hand-pulled noodles in a tiny storefront. For the foodie adventurous in your group, I enjoyed the spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles. Knocked me over into a carb-induced coma but worth it.

Pret A Manger, several locations across the city, is a UK-based quick-service outlet. During our visit we ordered a salad, soup and a sandwich along with coffee and bottled drinks.

Time for Dessert!

Managing a group of teens in NYC is exhausting, I recommend frequent dessert stops. NYC requires a ton of walking so desserts helped me keep my energy up and a smile on my face.

I found lots of super yummy desserts for under $10 though not everyone enjoys rich, creamy, chocolatey desserts like I do. Grab them an ice cream cone, a gelato or a chocolate chip cookie instead.

The Magnolia Bakery, several locations across the city, is known for their cupcakes. Though I loved the individual cheesecakes the best and the shops are girly-cute.

Ferrara Italian Bakery, located 195 Grand St. in Little Italy, offers a cannoli and cappuccino fix with table service. Or grab a gelato from their walk-up counter and walk around Little Italy.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, Jacques Torres Chocolate.
Seriously the best chocolate chip cookie ever at Jacques Torres Chocolates. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Jacques Torres Chocolate, several locations across the city, offers a fine selection of chocolate. The chocolate chip cookies are the go-to item on the menu and during my trip, I ate three.

La Maison Du Chocolate, several locations across the city, offers more divine-looking chocolate. I sampled their èclair and angels sang. Skip it for the teens since they will eat it in one bite and the chocolate angels will cry.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, La Maison du Chocolate for eclairs.
Chocolate lovers will weep when they sample La Maison du Chocolate’s eclair. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lady M Confections, several locations across the city, sells the crêpe cake. I sampled the signature mille crêpes cake with layer after layer of crêpey goodness. The best thing I ate in the city but I love my desserts. I found individual slices for about $8 at the Plaza Food Hall.

Épicerie Boulud, located in the Plaza Food Hall and Lincoln Center, offers more French pastries. Chef Daniel Boulud’s quick service outlet tempted me with an assortment of desserts. I choose the raspberry pistachio tart, a tiny work of food art.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, Epicerie Boulud.
Like a tiny piece of food art, I sampled the raspberry-pistachio tart at Epicerie Boulud in the Plaza Food Hall. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Junior’s Restaurant, a couple of locations in midtown and the original in Brooklyn, offers a full-menu though I grabbed cheesecake to-go. The original NY Plain tops lists for best cheesecake so if you love cheesecake, grab a slice. Makes the ultimate midnight snack.

Ladurée, located at 398 Broadway in SoHo, offers delightful French macarons for an afternoon treat. I loved the rose and orange blossom macarons the best. Grab some macarons to go in a pretty box for a souvenir.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, Laduree for macarons.
A rose-flavored French macaron from Ladurée made me swoon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Soft Swerve, located at 85B Allen St. in Chinatown, is an Instagram sensation that topped my teen’s must-eat list. Ube, a purple root vegetable from the Phillipines, is the flavor of choice here. My daughter had to try it so we stopped by. Not my thing but the kids loved it and snapped it to all their friends.

Where to eat in NYC with teens, Ube soft swerve.
Ube, a purple root vegetable from the Philippines, topped my teen’s list of food to sample in NYC complete with Fruity Pebbles sprinkles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Brooklyn Bridge Eats

During our trip, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to add another borough to our list. As a reward, I promised the kids real New York pizza.

Grimaldi’s Pizza, located at 1 Front Street, bakes their pies in a coal-fired oven. A pizza costs less than $15, a bargain. Make reservations for larger crowds since tables seating more than four are hard to get.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, located at 1 Water St. in Brooklyn Heights, makes their ice cream in-house (Cash only). Steps away from the DUMBO ferry pier, take the ferry back to Manhattan ($2.75/ticket).

Know Before You Go:

  • Public restrooms are hard to find. Even McDonald’s requires a purchase so buy a bottled water and take a scheduled potty break.
  • Pack hand sanitizer, baby wipes and bleach wipes to clean up everything from hands to tables.

Where to Stay in New York City with a Youth Group

Planning a a NYC trip for a youth group
Designed by famed Architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1883, the HI Hostel features dormer windows and a mansard roof. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a family traveler writer and a youth group leader, I got voted to plan our trip to New York City for a handful of high school girls. Packed with an itinerary full of museums and must-dos, I needed budget-friendly lodging for a group. My go-to for Europe, a HI hostel, provided what I needed for planning a NYC trip for a youth group on a budget.

Our mission, to learn urban travel skills so the girls had the skills they needed to travel the world as young adults.

Urban Travel Skills

What are urban travel skills? Knowing how to travel in urban areas using public transportation along with budget-friendly lodging options.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group. Plan on using the subway.
Buy a Metrocard and use the subway, just a block away from the HI Hostel in New York City. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Traveling in the U.S. is a bit different than traveling other parts of the developed world. Travel can be expensive in the U.S. especially for young adults and college students who don’t have reliable cars or are too young to rent cars.

Traveling exclusively by air is expensive and cumbersome. Just think about hauling yourself and your luggage to-and-from airports without the use of a car. Train travel, like Amtrak, is inconsistent throughout the U.S.

I wanted to teach our girls how to travel using different modes of transportation, like subways, ferries, commuter trains, trams, ride-share and cabs. To do that, New York City topped my list for destinations more than any other urban center.

Planning a NYC trip to a youth group take the Roosevelt Island Tram for fun.
New York City offers many modes of transportation, like the Roosevelt Island Tram along with ferries, commuter trains, cabs and subways. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With transportation figured out, I wanted to show the girls where to stay when traveling on their own as young adults. During my 20s, I strapped on a backpack and explored Europe with a rail pass and hostel membership card. It was fun and I wanted to give the girls the confidence to do it on their own.

Hosteling 101

A hostel is an inexpensive place to stay that provides basic lodging for all. Some are private and others are part of a federation, like Hosteling International.

Hosteling International (HI) is a federation of 70 national youth hostel associations. Formerly known as the International Youth Hostel Federation, Hosteling International began in 1932 and is classified as a charity.

Planning a youth group or student trip to New York City, it can be overwhelming especially with a limited budget. Top of the list, where to stay while exploring NYC. I've got all the information about staying at the HI Hostel in New York City with high school students.

Years back, there was an age limit for hostels but that’s been eliminated at most hostels. Open to all, though it still appeals to college-age students.

Planning a NYC trip for a Youth Group

According to HI, a group is 10 or more people traveling together. For students under 18, the group must be in a room of their own and have adult chaperones staying at the hostel.

Hosteling International caters to groups with a special reservation line to handle groups sales. For our nine-person group, we bought out a ten-bunk room.

Breakfast can be prearranged for a reasonable cost. Sack lunches can also be prearranged.  Luggage can be stored before and after the stay. Free tours and entertainment are available at the hostel too.

HI Hostel NYC

Located in the Upper West Side between 103rd and 104th Streets along Amsterdam Ave., the HI Hostel is actually an historic building. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the famed architect of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and the Biltmore Estate, the hostel was built in 1883.

Originally for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, the building offers dormer windows and a mansard roof along with rich architecture details throughout the building.

The HI Hostel NYC offers free Wi-Fi, free linens, a coin-operated, self-service laundry, a kitchen to use, a café, a game room, along with an outdoor courtyard. Space for your group to meet is also available. The hostel can assist in charter bus parking too.

Our Dorm Room at the HI Hostel New York City

A reasonably sized room featured five sets of twin-sized bunks with sheeting and a couple of fleece blankets per bed, think basic linens. Daily towel service was available though we had to grab towels off the laundry cart. Used towels are deposited in the bathrooms.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group then think about staying in a hostel.
Urban camping at the HI Hostel in New York City with bunks beds the girls loved. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Our room was dim with just a single light fixture but it featured two large windows with black-out shades. We had air-conditioning with the controls in our room. A bonus since we visited in the summer and New York is hot and humid.

Each bunk features an overhead light with a couple of standard 110-volt household outlets. I plugged in my phone and left it on the light fixture and charging station.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group, a hostel offers budget-friendly lodging.
Each bunk gets a metal school-type locker to store luggage and I purchased a lock for $4 from the lobby. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Each bunk also has a standard school-type metal locker though I forgot to bring a lock. I purchased one in the registration area for $4. The locker fit my standard carryon-sized rolling luggage with no problem.

The Shared Bathroom at the HI Hostel NYC

I found two bathrooms on each floor. Each was newly renovated with white tile and individual stalls for toilets and showers.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group then book a stay at the HI Hostel.
The outdoor courtyard features Ping-Pong along with lots of seating. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity features several sinks with lots of lighting and plugs for hair dryers. I never had to wait for a stall or sink though other people were always in the bathroom.

Shared Space at the HI Hostel New York City

The main floor of the hostel features a registration and reception area open to the public. A set of locked doors to the rest of the facility require a key card to open, just like a regular hotel.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group, the hostel offers a cafe.
The cafe, located on the first floor, offered quick-service items along with a coffee bar and beverage cooler. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The café serves fresh coffee drinks along with assorted pastries. Cold and hot sandwiches are available along with salads, yogurt, fruit and cold, bottled drinks. I found the prices reasonable, especially for NYC and it offered extended hours.

A large dining area, game room, computer room, and lounging room completed the first floor. I also found restrooms, stairs and an elevator.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group consider the HI Hostel NYC.
The HI Hostel in New York City offers a game room with free pool. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The HI Hostel New York City features a large outdoor patio. Guests gathered under the party lights and enjoyed talking with several tables and chairs. I even found a Ping-Pong table and hammock outside.

My Take Away from the Hostel

Our stay was a great experience for the girls. For girls who have attended camp, it was very camp-like. And I called it Urban Camping.

It was a bit like college dorm living too. So that gave them a taste of what’s ahead. None of the girls had any complaints and fought over the top bunks.

For a Mom, the beds were OK. My bunk mate, my 14-year-old, made the bed squeak and shake each time she flipped over in her sleep.

Walking down the hall to the restroom got old after several days. After a week, I was ready to have some private space. But this trip wasn’t about me, it was teaching kids how to travel within their budget.

The location was great. Two blocks to Central Park and one block for the 1 subway train. We used the subway to get around extensively.

The area was safe though we were aware and traveled as a group at night.

Things to Think About:

Some of the guests were under-dressed for the public spaces. Think college-aged dudes roaming the halls without shirts and girls in tiny shorts. But my Mom googles were on and we really saw more flesh in Times Square.

Hostel Must Haves:

  • Flip flops for shower and walking around the room.
  • Earplugs and eye mask. NYC is noisy.
  • Electronic chargers and even a small surge protector if you have multiple devices.
  • A lock for the locker.
  • A plug-in air freshener if staying with students for several days.