Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cooking Rut

A while back I posted about the dinner rut - when you keep making the same few dishes for dinner, until you're so sick of these dishes that you just want to scream. Well - I've lately found myself in something similar: The Cooking Rut. I come home from work, and I just Don't. Want. To. Cook. At all.

Now - this is due to a lot of things. Some of them:
  • Work. I feel blessed to have a job that I love (and a husband that understands my geeky tendencies), especially when I have something really cool to work on - which has lately been the case. But the fact is, sometimes I'm much more interested in what I get to play with at the office than cooking tonight's dinner - especially if it's something boring from the dinner rut.
  • Grad school. Even with a partially online class, I have to set aside so many hours each week for reading and schoolwork, which is draining. Sometimes I just want to relax with a glass of vino afterward and not worry about dinner.
  • Other commitments. My weeks lately have been insanely hectic. Between work functions, appointments, last-minute vet visits, and social plans I sometimes have two days in any given week when I'm actually home. That catches up to a person.
  • I ballooned up over the holidays and since I already ordered a bridesmaid dress for this summer, I want to be sure not to rip the seams. I've been pretty good, but focusing on healthy meals tends to go into the dinner rut danger zone.
But.... wah, wah, this is the real world and everyone has to deal with that stuff, right? Unfortunately neither my budget or waistline will allow for eating out at every single meal, so that means sucking it up and cooking.

First - here are the convenience tips NOT to do:
  • Don't rely on convenience food! I've been guilty of this in the past and I'm trying to be much better about it. It's very tempting to just pull out a box of Bell and Evans chicken or a box of Starfish Cod with a bag of tater tots or fries, nuke a frozen veggie, and call it dinner. And once in a great while, that's fine. Once every other week, though... that's just asking to gain weight. Especially if you're like us and break out the deep fryer for fries. It gets pricey too - I love Bell and Evans, but 8.50 for a box of chicken tenders that the two of us put away in one sitting...
  • Similarly, don't rely on takeout! When Cheesecake Factory and other restaurants started putting calorie counts on their menus, I was shocked. I always order fish dishes - and my favorite salmon dish there was over 1600 calories! It's not worth it.
  • Don't get over-ambitious. Buying $20 worth of produce intending to make a stir fry that takes an hour in the middle of the week? Not gonna happen. Don't even try.

So - here are the tips that I'm trying on for size to get out of the cooking rut:
  • Make ahead, make ahead, make ahead! There are a ton of really good dishes that make good leftovers - and freeze well. Sure, you can get sick of a crock pot full of chili day in and day out, but we have some containers in the freezer to pull out for an emergency. Same goes for rice and beans, risotto, jambalaya, stew, etc. Heating something up in the microwave or on the stove top isn't that time consuming.
  • Have a few "emergency" staples on hand. For me this tends to be frozen fish fillets or frozen shrimp (thaw for a quick thrown-together meal), tons of frozen veggies (easy to add to any dish), and carbs.
  • Have a go-to ingredient that you love, and can add to any meal as a motivation to cook. For me this is Frank's Red Hot. I can put this on everything (fried rice, popcorn, pizza, you name it). It might just be my favorite food. I promise myself hot/buffalo sauce on something, I'm more likely to cook.
  • If possible try to offload and have someone else cook once in a while. If we do breakfast for dinner my husband's all over that - and I get a day off.
What are your tips to throw together a quick meal when you Just. Don't. Feel. Like. Cooking?

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