So…it’s official.  My kids love Chicken Kiev, and they’re not quite so warm and fuzzy about borscht.

My approximation of borscht

It’s Backyardigans Week here in the RRG house — the week when I promised L. I’d make only dinners revolving around foods that have been mentioned in episodes of “The Backyardigans,” his all-time favorite show.  The fortunate part about all of this is that the Backyardigans happen to be preschool foodies, with lots of exotic ideas from foreign lands.  The less fortunate part, depending on how you look at it, is that the dinners are a) slightly more work overall than I would ordinarily commit to during the week; and b) somewhat outside of the routine repertoire around here, meaning that we’re all trying a few new items.  (I don’t count the trying component as unfortunate, per se, but it does make dinnertime a trifle less…CONFIDENT, shall we say?)

Backyardigans dinner #1 was the one that started it all: Chicken Kiev and borscht, two items I’d never eaten, nor seen made.  However, a few quick perusals of various recipes yielded enough information for me to prepare at least some reasonable facsimile of both items.  The chicken, frankly, was easy, whereas the borscht (or the borscht-like creature I approximated) was a challenge to figure out in terms of striking a balance between what I presume to be more authentic, and what I thought we’d have a fair shot at enjoying.  In the end, I decided to play the whole thing a bit safe and serve whole-wheat bread and a spinach salad alongside, so that the boys (and J. and I) would have something to eat if we weren’t crazy about our Russian-inspired fare.

Inside the Chicken Kiev (note the Backyardigans dinner plate)

I didn’t have to worry, as it turns out.  Oh, we all ate a bit of bread and salad, but the chicken was a major hit with all four of us, and the borscht…I can at least say we tried it, and we all had enough of it to satisfy me that it had been given a fair shot.  I think I was the only one of the four of us who actually sort of LIKED it, though I wouldn’t eat a large amount of it again anytime soon; encouragingly, though, L. didn’t make any faces or anything like that about it.  He just politely said that he’d rather eat the beet chunks I piled in the center of his bowl to convince him it was in fact a BEET soup, and then asked for a serving of salad.  Fine by me.  I’m not crazy enough to turn down a preschooler’s request to eat plain beets and spinach.

Here’s the thing, though: Like it or not, we all tried it, and tried it with a good deal more enthusiasm and open-mindedness than I think might have been warranted under ordinary circumstances.  Making the link between something familiar — like a favorite show — and a new food was clearly appealing to L.  (P. wasn’t buying my assertions that the Backyardigans eat borscht.)  And I’ll admit that, while I’m a pretty adventurous eater, the idea of a beet soup has never quite taken hold with me; I’d happily have gone the rest of my life without trying it, absent a good excuse.

This was a good excuse, though.  Making a special meal for my little ones, just because they wanted to try something, falls into the category of VERY good excuse as far as I’m concerned.  If I’m honest, I don’t think I really expected them to like the food.  It just came down to priorities, really; I could either choose to be the mother who smiled indulgently and ignored their enthusiastic requests to try these things, or I could be the mother who rolled up her sleeves and made it happen, no matter what the outcome might be.  And given the general state of preschool and toddler food fetishes, far be it from me to say that they can’t try something new.

The important thing was not whether or not they enjoyed the meal, though I was very happy that they liked the chicken (and, as a side note, I’d definitely consider making it again).  No, the important thing was that we sat down as a family, decided to try something new, made it, and sampled it together.  We had an experience, the four of us.  They learned that trying new things can have mixed results, but in the end, it’s not going to kill them to take a chance.  We learned that even eating borscht is a lot more fun when you’re doing it with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, talking about the color, swirling it around with spoons, smelling and tasting and evaluating like a team of pint-sized scientists. 

In short, who cares if they liked the borscht?  We had a real, priceless family dinner experience. And L. is already looking forward to the next few nights of “his” Backyardigans dinners.  (Truth be told…so are J. and I.)  I’m sure some of the things we make will be hit or miss, just like tonight’s menu; but we’ll expand our palates and our thinking, and probably have a pretty good time doing it.  No matter what ends up in the tummies this week, I think I’d call that a dinnertime success.

Our first "Backyardigans" dinner: Chicken Kiev, borscht, wheat bread and spinach salad