NEW YORK CITY — Tea parties are a childhood staple, typically served around plastic toddler-sized tables with water or apple juice substituting for a warm-brewed beverage.
And while a high tea experience at classic standbys like the Russian Tea Room or the Plaza can cost upwards of $50 per person, nutrition experts have shared a few tips for creating an exquisite affair fit for a princess — right in your own home.
With a few small design tweaks and a little creativity, a tiny living room can be transformed into a salon de thé, according to moms Natalya Murakhver and Vicky Feltman, neighbors on the Upper West Side and co-founders of the healthy eating company Apple to Zucchini.
Both moms agree that making your own high tea afternoon is fun and easy, with the help of a few creative recipes and a trip to the dress-up clothes closet, to help turn even the most boisterous youngsters into a black-tie worthy party guest.
DIY HIGH TEA WITH KIDS
High tea is all about ceremony, but don't let that get in the way of having fun and creating a playful atmosphere.
"Don't be stiff about enforcing rules — don't make it a pressured situation," said Murakhver. "You can build as you go," she said, emphasizing that you can create a new twist on tradition each time you host it.
For example, while high tea is traditionally at 4 p.m., if that's your child's naptime, schedule it earlier. And don't limit the guest list: invite dolls and stuffed bears, as long as they behave.
Dress the Part: If you really want your kids to get into the mood, start with helping them make a set of paper crowns to ensure a royally fun time.
Take a sheet of colored construction paper and trace a jagged line across one side and then let experienced scissor users cut along the line. Decorate with gem stickers, drawings or feathers, and then tape or glue the two ends together.
Raid the dress-up box for white gloves and flouncy dresses. Lend your children scarves, ties and handbags if you don't mind getting them back with a little extra wear and tear.
Set the Table: Dress up your kitchen table or living room with a simple baby's breath bouquet or homemade paper flowers. Break out your most elegant table cloth, and have your child help you fold napkins while teaching them the etiquette of setting a table. Ask your child to pick three fancy items from your house to decorate the table — perhaps a framed photo or a gold paperweight or a figurine.
For dishes, Murakhver cautioned against putting hot liquid in a plastic cup because the plastic may leach out chemicals. A children's version of a real china tea set is best, she said.
Choosing your Tea: For the tea, choose a light fruity option, and make sure it's caffeine free. Chai tea, though tasty, often has caffeine, but raspberry or apple are good choices for first-time tea drinkers. Add a touch of maple syrup or honey to sweeten.
Tea selection can be part of the fun, too, Murakhver said, so take the time to discuss different types of tea and their places of origin with your kids.
"If your child has a cold, you can serve ginger tea, which has medicinal purposes," Feltman added.
Little Noshes: Traditionally, high teas serve small finger sandwiches served on white, crust-less bread cut into triangles or thin rectangles.
For a twist on this concept, use cookie cutters to slice a whole wheat sandwich into interesting shapes — a butterfly or a dragon, for example. Or if you want to incorporate cucumbers, cut them into stars to make them far more appealing to young guests. And with cleverly shaped sandwiches as a distraction, feel free to work in more adventurous jams or spreads, like apricot or fig, which are classic accompaniments to high tea.
"Preparing the food can be an activity in itself," said Feltman. "The sandwiches require no cooking and kids as young as 3 or 4 can help assemble the ingredients."
Feltman added that cutting off the crusts adds novelty.
"I actually save all the crusts because I love them," she said. "You could make them into croutons or just keep them as a snack for mom."
A tea party is not complete without sweets. But, if you're trying to limit sugar, try food blogger Jenny Rosenstrach's Almond-Cherry-Quinoa Breakfast Cookies, which the blogger calls "the healthiest possible cookie you can get away with still calling a cookie." As Rosenstrach suggests, don't mention the addition of quinoa; your children will never know.
Scones are another classic high tea accompaniment, but muffins or other pastries will do as well. If you're feeling ambitious, try making Deb Perelman's Apple and Cheddar Scones, which she calls "blissful."
Murakhver and Feltman urge parents to try to create kids' food that's healthy, organic and simple without having to be dumbed down, which is the founding philosophy of their company.
Practice Patience: Chime a little bell and begin. Tea is meant to be a leisurely affair, so use the opportunity to help your kids learn to sit still and sip their tea slowly.
The process of drinking tea "engages all of the senses," said Murakhver, which can help slow bouncy kids down.
Pinkies in the Air: Before tea cups had handles, drinkers held their pinkies aloft in order to avoid spilling the cup's contents. This practice is fun for kids to try, and it may even prevent spills.
Ease into Naptime: Beatrix Potter, the famed British children's author and illustrator, has heaps of delightful tales featuring adorably clothed country animals. Many of her stories center around tea parties and teatime. Start with "The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan."
Channel their Energy: Before moving to the next activity, Feltman advised parents to make sure the group has cleaned up together. Feltman said her son loves singing the "clean up" song and even though sometimes his efforts aren't that effective, the impulse is worth nurturing.
After tea and cleanup are done, use the assembled chairs for a game of musical chairs or grab a blanket and some pillows and make a fort.
RECOMMENDED HIGH TEAS AROUND THE CITY
If you're feeling ready for some high-tea glamour, but don't want all the fuss of making it at home, DNAinfo.com New York has rounded up the list of some of the best high teas around New York City.
Russian Tea Room, 150 W. 57th St. at Seventh Avenue
The 85-year-old Russian Tea Room is a resplendent room with floor to ceiling mirrors, chandeliers, gold chairs and fine china. Your children's eyes will grow wide.
Reservations are recommended, but drop-ins are also welcome from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $35 per child and $50 for adults.
"My two favorite items on the kids tea menu are peanut butter and jelly on a bilini and the pig in a blanket," said tea room Vice President Ken Biberaj.
Alice's Tea Cup, 102 W. 73rd St. at Columbus Avenue
The mini chain, which has two locations on the Upper East Side as well, takes its tea seriously, using double filtered water boiled to 180 degrees, according to its founders.
But it also invites whimsy; children are sprinkled with fairy dust and can wear fairy wings while they eat.
Unlimited scones, sandwiches, teas and assorted cookies are $60.
Vegetarians will appreciate the roasted cumin carrots and cucumber and watercress sandwiches or sweet and spicy pumpkin pancakes for breakfast, which begins at 8 a.m.
Café Sabarsky, at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Ave. (at East 86th Street)
With banquettes dating back to 1912, wood-paneled walls and early 20th century Austrian light fixtures, Cafe Sabarsky, on the ground floor of the Neue Galerie along Museum Mile, is like a time machine. Your kids will enjoy the atmosphere and fare at this special Viennese cafe.
The cafe's drinks are a high point, from house-made chocolate milk with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and cocoa-powder to fresh elderflower sryup with sparkling water and a large collection of herbal and black teas from across the globe.
Kids can set to work on a soft pretzel with Bavarian honey mustard, while adults can partake in house-made liverwurst spread with onion confit and a range of worldly delicacies.
Prices range from $3 to $16.
Bosie Tea Parlor, 10 Morton St,, between Seventh Ave South and Bleecker Street
Bosie has a "tea master" and an award-winning executive pastry chef known for his macarons, including flavors like vanilla bean cheesecake, but it also boasts a low-key homey vibe.
Kids are welcome, but the small size of the parlor makes it best for small groups. Decadent pastries are all less than $6, and tea sandwiches, which cost between $7 and $9.50 come in classic British flavors, such as cheddar and pickle and cucumber and cream cheese.
Tea, tea sandwiches and other treats are offered between 11 a.m. and 8:45 p.m.
Sweet Melissa Patisserie, 175 Seventh Ave. in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Melissa Murphy, the expert baker and chef behind Sweet Melissa Patisserie, has produced renowned baked goods at her cafe since 1998 and now has a popular cookbook divulging some of her secrets.
Sweet Melissa offers a reasonably priced children's tea with heaps of sandwiches, scones and treats, including hazelnut linzer cookies and gingersnaps. Adults seeking something different can order off their own menu, with more sophisiticated sandwiches such as homemade tarragon chicken salad in puff pastry. There are even special adult beverages, including champagne, on offer.
Tea at Sweet Melissa's costs $15.95 for children and $24.95 for adults.
Tea is offered every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Podunk, 231 E. Fifth St., Manhattan
Podunk is a "mom and pop" tea house with none of the frills or the formality of other high teas. With mismatched antique chairs and tables, knick knacks on the walls and fading throw rugs, Podunk radiates coziness. Kids with an eclectic side or a penchant for out of the ordinary New York City spots will appreciate its specialness.
Older kids will enjoy reading the menu and deciding from a variety of cleverly named teas, from the "truck stop tea" to the "ladies luncheon tea" to the "rustic tea" or "nibbler tea," all ranging from $11.50 to $35 depending on the size of your order.
Podunk is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.