Whether we methodically plan our menus out each and every week before heading to the grocery store with our list in hand, or choose to fly by the seat of our pants and just figure it out at the end of the day, we get to the point where we've been making the same old, same old stuff for more meals in a row than we'd care to count. Symptoms of the dinner rut include:
- Opening a moderately-stocked fridge and woefully exclaiming "There's no food!"
- Having a discussion with significant other/friends along the lines of "What do you want to eat?" "I don't know, what do you want to eat?" ... ad nauseum.
- Throwing your hands up in the air and making poor food decisions - usually involving going out for high-calorie, fat-ridden foods... or, as my husband and I sometimes do, having a "screw the diet" night and eating something like cheese and crackers or queso dip and chips for dinner. Not always a terrible thing if it only happens a couple times a year, but when you're in a dinner rut it can happen enough to pack a few pounds on.
When I've found myself in dinner ruts before, it's usually been super-busy weeks when I'm only home to sleep or scarf something down really quickly before running another errand - and by the time I realize I'm in a dinner rut, it's usually bad enough that my foodie creativity is zapped and I listlessly flip the pages of the weekly grocery ads saying "nothing looks good!"
So, then, how to get out of the dinner rut? Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
- Buy a new cookbook and resolve to try one new recipe from the cookbook each week. I am in the process of doing that now -- and hey, while some of the meals are flops (like the pork tacos I made a couple of weeks ago), others are really good. And still others are OK, but I can think of how I would modify them to suit my tastes more. Usually that involves adding/modifying seasonings - I'm a spice and salt junkie.
- Switch up your typical grocery store. I like to shop at the Asian Market occasionally to pick up veggies that I might not see elsewhere.
- Set aside a certain portion of your grocery budget each week for interesting stuff. I have a pantry stocked full of stuff I can use when I feel like it - and looking at it will sometimes spark a creative dinner idea. Some of the stuff I like to keep on hand:
- Sushi rice, wasabi powder and seaweed for sushi rolls. Spur of the moment cucumber, shrimp, or gluten free crabstick rolls, anyone?
- Rice paper wrappers. Useful for summer rolls if you have vermicelli on hand, or if you want to be bad fill them with cream-cheese based rangoon filling and fry 'em up for poor mans' rangoons.
- Risotto. I'm not talking instant, pre-packaged stuff, but high-quality rice that can be used to make an awesome Italian dish.
- Different pasta than usual. I just bought some Pasta Mia! lasagna noodles and plan to try a lasagna one of these days.
- Pick a new veggie that you haven't cooked a lot with. Say, kale, eggplant, cauliflower... something that if you make at all, you only know a handful of ways to make it. Look up the veggie online to find new ways to make it. One of my favorites? Mashed cauliflower - you can't tell the difference between that and mashed potatoes.
- Take advantage of coupons and specials. See that monkfish is on sale but never tried it? Well, now's a good time to do so!
- On a day off, pick one of your favorite recipes that you never make because it takes too long. For me, this is my mom's shrimp creole recipe. It's unbelievably yummy, and pretty healthy for you - there's a bit of olive oil in it but the rest is just shrimp, veggies, and tomato over rice. Nothing bad there! It always takes a few hours to simmer everything down, but it's worth it in the end -- a lot of the times I forget how much I really do love it once I take the time to make it.