Last week was pretty awesome. A great opportunity to enjoy all my loves – eating, writing and spending time with my family – came together when our blog was invited by Henry Rinehart to try out his family-friendly bistro on Manhattan’s Upper West side. (Check out our Q&A section soon for an interview with Henry – the proprietor of HENRY’S on how he balances running a restaurants, family and his personal commitment to improving school food.)
Me, my husband, our 4 year-old and 22 month-old had a great time eating together and meeting the staff at HENRY’S. My children eat well at home, but it’s always a gamble as to how well they will eat and behave when we are in a restaurant. Thankfully everyone was happy and relaxed which I think is due both to good nap times and the easy going and attentive staff at the bistro. They happily greeted our entire family putting everyone at ease. The kids had a three-course meal featuring an edamame starter, macaroni and cheese entrée and vanilla ice cream finale. The edamame starter is pure genius. In addition to being nutritious, it is a great distraction. It also seems to exemplify what Henry’s approach – fresh, local food offerings that you enjoy eating and make you feel good afterwards. As our little ones popped out the beans and sucked on the salty pods we were given a five-minute grace time to decide on our drink and menu selections.
The main course of macaroni and cheese was hungrily devoured by my 22 month old. We couldn’t cool the food fast enough for him to put into his little mouth. Never before have I seen him so happy with his food in a restaurant. Inexplicably my four-year old wouldn’t eat more than a spoonful before declaring she was done and announcing she wished she had ordered guacamole. Apparently the waitress’ attentiveness made an impression because my daughter then tried to special order guacamole. Thankfully this wasn’t necessary since my entrée arrived and she happily shared my risotto until her dessert course arrived.
My husband and I truly appreciated the American wine selection beginning with a delicious Riesling from Michigan and the remainder of the picks from California. Based on the staff’s recommendations we also enjoyed the shredded kale salad with endive, grapes, hazelnut, parmesan and maple vinaigrette starter, special oven roasted chicken with asparagus risotto, pappardelle pasta with bolognese and chocolate bread pudding with banana, caramel and hazelnut ice cream. The evening was a success in my eyes. My husband and I got to order the type of food we are accustomed to dining upon when we get the rare date night, and the atmosphere and selection was casual enough to bring the rest of the family. It was a very nice change of pace from our usual family pizzeria nights and inspires me to plan more dinners out. If you are in the area be sure to check out HENRY’S at 2745 Broadway at West 105th Street (www.henrysnyc.com)
– That’s IT Mommy friend, Jill & Family
Here are seven great tips for eating out with your kids from Henry Rinehart, the owner of HENRY’s modern American bistro on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. To ensure a terrific experience for children and adults alike, Henry recommends these seven strategies for dining-out success:
Almost Important as Learning the ABC’s
By exposing your child to a healthy, happy dining out experience, you are teaching a fundamental life skill. The family dining out experience can be a great place to model important adult behaviors: the three P’s: Predict, Prepare, Prevent. Predict what the social situation will be, Prepare your little ones for how to behave and what is expected of them and you will have done well to Prevent some the difficult situations parents find themselves in when dining out with young children. Also,: bring (silent) toys, books, coloring, and other things for the children to do while grown-ups chat. When you boil it down, it really comes down to rest, food and doodies anyhow.
Put It in Perspective for Your Kids (and Yourself!)
Talk to your family about why you want to dine at a restaurant with them. Share that goal as something that is important and explain why that is. Of course a night off from cooking and convenience are great reasons, but going through a drive–thru can accomplish that -– gathering around a table at your neighborhood restaurant to share the day’s events can be priceless!
Ask your children to make an effort to participate in the whole dining out experience. Get them involved and invested early. Before you go, have fun and role play different scenarios so children not only learn what to do at a restaurant, but what NOT to do as well. This is a great time to establish expectations and boundaries.
Solving the Picky Eater Problem
Look at restaurant menus before you arrive so you can develop a strategy to order for your picky three-year-old. If you love the menu and do not see something for your beautiful daughter, call and ask to speak to the Chef or Owner. Ask for help ordering from the menu. Develop a relationship before you even get there. HENRY’s solves this problem by offering a special family menu for children under 12 – and the promise of a great dessert often does the trick.
Try, Try Again
Rome was not built in a day. Neither are family habits. If your first or second outing does not go well, do not give up –- and be prepared to abort before the meal is done if your child’s behavior is not on par with the boundaries and expectations set before stepping into the restaurant.
All Restaurants are Not Created Equal When it Comes to Pint-Size Diners
Do not frequent restaurants that do not provide good service. Go out of your way to find those places where service is professional, helpful and earnest. Service should be focused on supporting you in your efforts as a dining parent and should not be judgmental or anything other than helpful. HENRY’s prides itself on training staff to deal with diners with young ones.
Relax and enjoy
Once you have done all this hard work, revel in the joy that is dining and make healthful eating experiences one of the foundations of your family life. If you have done the work of thinking ahead to some of the situations that your child may need guidance navigating, then the whole family will be able to enjoy dining out together. Working together with your children to teach them what is acceptable and expected of them while dining out will continue to pay dividends for years to come, setting the stage for healthful eating habits while defining and enriching the family dynamic.