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Nutrition Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

Break Out of Your Food Rut!

5 Ways to Make Happier Meals

-- By Bryn Mooth, SparkPeople Contributor
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Sign #1: You Don’t Enjoy Cooking
For many folks, getting dinner on the table is a chore, not a pleasure. If you don’t love to cook, or you’re not confident in your culinary skills, then it's normal to feel like you're in a food rut for awhile—at least until you develop a few basic meals that you can prepare quickly and easily. Here’s how:
  • First, think about what you enjoy eating. Sandwiches? Burritos? Breakfast for dinner? Salads? Consider how you can make those into healthy dinner options.
     
  • Settle on three to five things you like, and find simple recipes for those meals. SparkRecipes is a great resource for quick and healthy meal ideas.
     
  • Get comfortable with the basics. Once you’ve mastered an essential technique like sautéing boneless chicken breasts, then you can move on to experiment with different sauces or add-ins to change things up over time and prevent yourself from getting bored.
     
  • Accept that you don’t love to cook, but don’t let that be your excuse for not eating healthy. If you master a few basic recipes, you’ll gain confidence—and you’ll be making a commitment to yourself.
Sign #2: You’re On Auto-Pilot
Even accomplished home cooks tend to get stuck in a rut preparing the same go-to dinners over and over. Katie, a mother of two, posted: ''[My son] calls me on my food ruts—I know I've got problems when my garbage disposal of a kid complains about what I'm cooking.''
 
Like many folks who commented on our question about food habits, Katie says she refers to cooking magazines (her favorite is Food and Wine) for inspiration when she’s stuck in a routine. Cooking Light magazine and the books ''Cook This, Not That'' by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, and ''Fast Food My Way'' by Chef Jacques Pepin were also recommended as great resources for quick and healthy meals.
 
David posted about different ways to find culinary inspiration: ''I realize [I’m in a food rut] when I’m on auto-pilot preparing a meal that usually gives me joy to cook. I break it up by shopping somewhere new for groceries, or getting a new cooking gadget, or sharpening my knives or getting a new spice.''
 
A simple strategy for busting out of the auto-pilot cooking rut is to find alternate ways to prepare those go-to meals—in particular, look to different ethnic cuisines for interesting takes on your standards. If spaghetti with meat sauce is in your repertoire, try linguine with spicy shrimp sauce instead. Not feeling that leftover chicken? Turn it into something new, like a tostada. Sometimes simply swapping a few ingredients within a go-to recipe can give you a whole new flavor and make your meals interesting again. Same with sides: If you're always steaming broccoli or brown rice, experiment with other healthy veggies or whole grains such as whole-wheat couscous, millet or quinoa instead.
 
Sign #3: You Always Eat the Same Meals
This food rut often shows up at the start of the day, when we’re so busy getting out the door that we neglect a healthy breakfast, or we choose convenience foods over healthy ones. SparkPeople member LINDSAYHENNIGAN commented that she found herself eating high-fiber breakfast cereal every day: ''I got too focused on how much fiber they added, and failed to notice the 40 grams of sugar I was consuming each morning. My trainer caught it, and switched me over to bread with 2 or less grams of sugar with peanut butter, and I feel so much better.''
 
SparkPeople member FLUTTEROFSTARS, a vegetarian, shared a bunch of great ideas she enjoys to start her day: ''I’m fighting to get out of my food rut! I’ve been 'Sparking' for two months now, and have come up with several winning mini-meals.'' Some of her favorites include:
  • Salad with Morningstar veggie crumbles and low-fat cheddar cheese
  • Omelets with frozen vegetable blend
  • Greek yogurt with strawberries and flaxseed
  • The ''one-minute microwave muffin'' recipes for breakfast sandwiches from SparkRecipes
We all go through busy periods in our lives—a hectic few weeks at work, an extra-busy sports season—and getting a healthy dinner on the table every evening is even more challenging. Creating a weekly meal plan and then shopping for all the ingredients you’ll need helps avoid the food rut. When you know in the morning what you’re making for dinner that night, you can avoid grabbing quick and not-so-healthy items on that emergency trip to the grocery.  And planning dinners that can be repurposed into lunches avoids brown-bag boredom.
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About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

Member Comments

  • MELISSABRILL
    Two things that work for me when I start getting bored with what I'm making -
    (1)as someone else said - browsing my cookbooks Saturday morning when I'm making my shopping list and deciding what I'm going to make during the week and

    (2)www.supercoo
    k.com -- it's pretty great because you enter what foods you have (or usually have) around the house and then it will develop a list of recipes that it pulls from all kinds of recipe websites that you can make with things you have. If you want to narrow the list to something that includes a specific food - you can search through the longer list for that food (or for a type of meal, cuisine, etc). It works best if you already have a well rounded stock of spices and different types of food - but it will bring up other things and just tell you what ingredients you don't have for that meal.

    When I'm feeling less than inspired (or when my fall back is pasta which I'm trying to avoid as much as possible) I go to supercook and randomly type in an ingredient in the search and see what comes up. I also try to think of something I used to like but am not eating now and see if I can figure out a way to make it healthier -- my latest success was egg "burritos" (they're in the sparkrecipe database) - basically thin omelets wrapped around refried beans, topped with salsa, guac and skim milk yogurt. Even my omnivore partner keeps requesting those. - 12/4/2013 2:18:00 AM
  • Lately I have been setting aside a few minutes on a Sunday morning to browse the cookbooks that have been gathering dust on my shelves. I choose one to three recipes, trying to match things that have some of the same ingredients, then I go shopping. I've never been great at planning meals for a whole week, but this is a way to mix it up without getting too complicated. - 11/14/2013 10:13:47 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 11/9/2013 5:56:03 AM
  • I have never believed in fixing two different meals for the family and/or me. I firmly believe that moderation is the name of the game. Of course it is usually difficult to do, for various reasons. However, in the long run, that will be the only thing that will consistently work.

    Eat what appeals to you, just less of it.

    Log everything so that you can see where you are being more successful and where you are being less successful.

    Of course there are things that should probably be cut out of our eating, such as sugary, salty, and deep fried foods, as being pretty unhealthy overall.

    So again, portion control is the name of the game. - 11/7/2013 10:15:06 PM
  • This post, as well as many of the comments, made me smile. While I must admit that I am guilty of some of these things, the one that best describes me is the last one - I TOTALLY EMBRACE MY RUT!!!

    Hubby teases me about how I eat the same things day after day after day - cereal & fruit & a coffee protein shake for breakfast and Greek yogurt & fruit & some almonds for lunch. But guess what? I love those foods - a lot! Besides, correct me if I'm wrong but isn't a rut when you're bored & tired of what you're eating? Which I'm not!

    Hubby's not like me though; he needs much more variety in his diet than I do & because we both work full days & are just simply too tired to cook when we get home, we typically make a couple of dishes on the weekend and just heat & eat those during the week. Most weeks, we're not eating the same thing for dinner more than twice, which gives hubby the variety he craves. - 11/6/2013 4:53:40 PM
  • I do enjoy cooking but I am still inexperienced at it and don't wanna mess a meal up so I play it safe..Unfortuneat
    ely, my husband is like CHICKEN AGAIN?? So this has motivated me to find new recipes and make something exciting for dinner!!! Thanks!! - 11/6/2013 8:18:38 AM
  • I love and enjoy cooking. With my son being a teenager, I sometimes will offer some of my healthy treats, but for the most part, it is me being creative and trying new flavors. - 10/18/2013 7:29:12 PM
  • My family refuses to eat "diet food" , love meat and carbs. I hate to cook so I refuse to cook 2 different meals. I tend to make a salad, and eat a small portion of the family's meal. - 10/18/2013 12:13:33 PM
  • Thanks for sharing. - 10/16/2013 7:38:19 AM
  • I think portion control is the most important thing in dieting or just losing weight.I have decided to just "cut back"on the amounts we are eating,both Hubby and me are trying to lose weight and he is almost at his goal,I still have a ways to go but we have both gained back a few pounds and we decided that portion control is the answer.Today and tonight we will try to eat a little less than what we usually eat which has been to much!We eat very healthy and get a good variety of foods to eat soooooo. - 10/10/2013 11:11:15 AM
  • Recently I decided to let Sparkpeople nutrition tracker plan my meals for me...I've never done this before and I"ve been using SP for a long, long time. By doing this, I have tried several new recipes that are simple to make and quite tasty! It has made meal planning easier, too. I simply print off the grocery list provided for the week to come, cross off anything I already have, and go from there. It's also saved me money by doing this..I don't buy anything extra that I don't really need. The nutrition tracker is very flexible, too. If i don't like the meal suggestion I can look for something else to eat or log food in manually. I also added a goal to try one new recipe a month. That's also been helping from getting bored with cooking. Luckily , it's just me and my husband and he will try anything! - 5/20/2013 11:43:15 AM
  • I love the Embrace the Rut idea. Being in a rut is not such a bad thing especially when there are minor things you can do to enhance these go to foods. Also, I find that stepping out of the rut is nice on occasion. I find that when I do so I look forward to getting back into the rut! - 5/19/2013 8:56:56 AM
  • Thanks for sharing! Good reminders. - 5/19/2013 7:19:36 AM
  • Get to know your spices - 'cause no matter how often you cook chicken (or in my case, tofu stir-fry) you can make it different with different spices. Nutritional yeast - yum! coconut, cardamom and cloves? fabulous. and hot pepper flakes - they can wake up anything. - 5/19/2013 5:50:09 AM
  • My husband cooks very good vegetable curries and they make the best omlette ingredient! - 2/20/2013 7:47:32 PM