Nutrition Articles

Break Out of Your Food Rut!

5 Ways to Make Happier Meals

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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

Member Comments

    Perhaps one small step to breaking out of a food rut a bit is to try selecting food that is fresh in season. Strawberries in June, asparagus in April through mid-June. Kale and kohl crops in the Fall. Best sources are local Farmers' Markets (or your own garden if you have space and inclination). - 5/15/2016 5:04:48 AM
  • CookieBee54 - doesn't subscribing to that cost a fortune? - 4/26/2016 6:34:19 PM
  • I subscribe to Blue Apron. Each week I receive a box filled with fresh vegetables and meat or seafood, spices, and easy to follow recipe cards. My meals are now healthy and interesting. - 3/28/2016 10:24:45 AM
  • When I plan ahead, I love to cook. Most of the time I do, however when I feel physically drained I don't like to cook. It is nice to have meals ready to go on those days I can't cook. - 2/1/2016 10:36:31 AM
  • I love to cook and enjoy magazines with good recipes. "Canadian Living" is a good option in Canada. The ethnic recipes are especially fun to try.
    But when I am especially busy or just tired of cooking, a tried and true favorite is fine with all of us.
    An easy meal for us is an "all in the oven" meal, with roast chicken or beef or pork or fish, potatoes and a vegetable that can all be put in the oven. A simple salad can be added to this meal and the protein and vegetable options are numerous, so it is not boring. - 1/29/2016 12:38:19 PM
  • It seems that I'm always in a rut because I have arthritis so bad in my hands and wrists and the prepping and carrying and all that goes into cooking, hurts. My husband will help when he can (we dairy farm), but it would be nice to have the meals ready when he comes in! Buying prepped food is sooo expensive. So I just do the best I can, but I sure would like to have a full-time cook in the house! - 12/6/2015 9:52:56 AM
  • I love to cook but that takes time and right now, as a student, I don't have that. So I'm LOOKING for a food rut, something quick, easy and nutritious that I can just grab and go and if it's the same thing everyday that's just a bonus for someone who needs to calculate carbos to dose with insulin. Gimmee that rut! - 11/7/2015 11:33:12 AM
  • I love to cook and try new recipes - I do agree with the " rut syndrome " as well as not enjoying preparing - when preparing meals becomes a chore opposed what used to be to me a fun activity of creating meals .
    I am back to creating once again and its liberating . - 7/9/2015 11:49:29 AM
  • After years of planning and cooking meals I was definitely on auto-pilot. Now that I've become a vegan I had to research new ways to eat. Every week I make new recipes and cooking is fun again. It helps that my family will eat anything. - 7/9/2015 8:35:15 AM
  • I enjoy cooking. I'm pretty good at it. What I hate is the cleaning up after! Now, if you can find me an easy solution for that, then I will love you forever! lol - 5/31/2015 7:56:46 PM
  • My husband & I both cook. It's whoever gets home from work first! Through the week we usually have fairly easy meals but on Sundays I try to fix a good meal. For example through the week may be a soup & sandwhich or spaghetti & salad. On Sunday it may be turkey, homemade mashed potatos & veggie casserole or chicken enchlidas & rice with veggies. - 1/13/2015 5:20:35 PM
  • Great article! I have felt like being stuck in a rut recently and decided to see a dietitian to solve this problem... My reason is I have odd food habits: I don't eat meat, I eat fish only if it's perfectly clean (and only some kinds), I don't eat most kinds of cheese...So I tend to eat the same things day after day. - 9/4/2014 10:17:47 AM
    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 -- 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

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