See, here's the thing.
Nobody in this house is insanely picky. Nobody has only four foods that they can or will eat. But everyone has several things that they can't eat, or just won't touch. And they're all different things. So it just doesn't seem fair to me to say to anyone "Sorry, even though the only thing you don't like/can't eat is X, you're getting it because it's what everyone else wants." It doesn't sit well with me. I mean, the only things I don't like are green peppers, kasha, oatmeal and tongue. And I REALLY wouldn't appreciate it if someone handed me a plate of green peppers, kasha, oatmeal and tongue and said, "Sorry, I know you don't like it, but that's dinner."
But I also don't want anyone to be malnourished or made sick by the wrong food. And I want my kids to eat a variety of foods so that they grow up healthy and with a reasonably varied palate. And the problem with offering alternatives every night is that Barak, for one, will ALWAYS eat Cheerios if offered Cheerios. They need to be eating other things.
Last night, I ran out to the Other Produce Market (with the tastier produce and the narrow aisles) and bought a heavy backpack full of good tomatoes, fresh basil, apples, plums, red peppers, strawberries and mushrooms. I came home and packed lunches, consisting of:
Barak: sun nut butter sandwich, a cheese stick, strawberries, an apple, a small bag of soy crackers
Iyyar: sun nut butter sandwich, strawberries, a plum, a small bag of cinnamon cereal (he is out of school at 1, so although he eats the same quantities as Barak, he needs a smaller lunch bag)
Everyone had Cheerios and cow/rice milk for breakfast.
Dropped off Barak. Dropped off Iyyar. Came home to work. Midmorning, I took a break, chopped a couple of onions and put them in a pot on very low heat. When I was done working, but while Avtalyon was still napping, I washed and sliced some mushrooms and put those in there too, along with the cold baked sweet potato I had from yesterday (peeled, of course). Put up brown rice in the rice cooker. Halved an eggplant and a red pepper and put them in the oven to roast. Cleaned up from breakfast, and right before it was time to go get Iyyar, added some ginger, salt, pepper and soy milk to the pot and pureed the whole thing in the immersion blender.
At one, I woke up Avtalyon and went and got Iyyar. Abba called at around 1:30 to say he was coming home for lunch; I gave him a bowl of mushroom/sweet potato soup concoction and brown rice, and a bowl of the same to Avtalyon. Both were very happy. Iyyar wanted a snack too, so he had a plum. While they were eating, I scooped out the insides of the eggplant and pepper and mashed those with some olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil and put that back in the fridge; I also found a can of chickpeas and turned that into hummous. Iyyar squeezed the lemon for me.
At this point everyone was a mess so Iyyar and Avtalyon went into the bathroom for a nice long splashing session, even though I'd heard Asnat give Avtalyon a bath that morning. We played for a while, read a couple of books, cut everyone's fingernails and toenails and then at 3:45 it was time to go get Barak at the bus stop. We retrieved him without incident and came home, spotting the FedEx truck in front of our house with the replacement gaskets for my Bosch bread bowl. Aha! In the house, Barak and Iyyar sat down at the table with crayons to draw, Avtalyon went back in the high chair with some toys (much to his resentment) and I put the Bosch bowl together and quickly mixed an inauthentic but nevertheless delicious baguette dough. By the time this was done with it was around 5 PM; while the dough rose I cleaned up a little, pulled out the leftover soup from lunch and added some pureed carrots I had left from yesterday's soup. With the rice, it was enough for Abba. Sliced some red peppers and tomatoes and put those on the table with a bowl of hummous. Warmed up Abba's soup. Abba came home and about ten minutes later the bread was baked.
The kids noshed on red peppers while I got the food out; we had sliced peppers and tomatoes, the hummous, the eggplant/basil/pepper dip, the leftover soup, and two hot baguettes.
I had an eggplant and tomato sandwich on bread.
Abba had leftover soup and rice.
Barak ate a ton of bread, a slice of tomato and a few slices of pepper.
Iyyar ate a ton of bread, a slice of pepper and some hummous.
Avtalyon ate a ton of bread, some peppers and some hummous.
And everybody was happy. We all sat down together to eat, which is practically unheard of on a Tuesday night, and everyone finished up well fed and in a good mood. I checked the lunch bags later; they were both empty.
Nobody ate anything complicated. Homemade bread you could charge with being excessive for a weeknight meal but seriously, if you have a good mixer that takes almost no prep time. It was pretty simple food. And it made everyone happy.
But it still took me every spare minute of the whole day to put it together, and more patience than Avtalyon really has.
There has to be a better way. I think much larger batches is going to be part of it. This is a pointless thing to wish for right now but I really wish our apartment had a better layout--one of the families we visited in Maale Adumim had this awesome setup where the living room and kitchen were divided by half-height walls--too high for the kids to reach over on the living room side, counter-height on the kitchen side, so that you could cook AND supervise the kids. That'd be amazing, but I don't have it right now. I can only cook while Avtalyon is napping or trapped in the high chair.
And part of keeping everyone happy with simple food is good ingredients--good tomatoes, for example. Barak usually won't touch them but the real tomatoes I get at Produce Market #2 he really likes. Since I started going there for produce, he's started eating red peppers, too. And fruit, which is in season now, but won't be for long. I need to get them started eating root vegetables, I guess.