Practical Tips for Getting Out of a Food Rut

November 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Greasy Pepperoni Pizza in a BoxQuick, name your family’s five favorite meals that you cook at home. Easy, right? Now, name another five favorites. Not so easy, is it?

The reality is, most of us only have a small collection of recipes that really work for our families, and by really work I mean:

  • Everyone likes them, from the toddler to Dad and the teenagers in between.
  • They can be made on a weeknight between practices and projects.
  • Most of the ingredients for them are on hand and the rest are automatic buys at the grocery store each week.

But, too much of a good thing makes it, well, not a good thing. Even so, trying to find and try new recipes that really work is sometimes a very bad thing. Spaghetti and meat sauce that is a sure winner still trumps a new chicken recipe that’s an unknown quantity. Wondering what others do to tackle this problem, I went on a hunt through the blogosphere in search of advice on how to add a little variety to the five faves. I’m happy to report that I found some really great ideas.

  • Patricia at Cooking Any Style suggests making simple changes by experimenting with new herb, spices, and seasoning combinations. This is a fast and easy way to make a small change to a family favorite. I’ve found that if I’m not quite comfortable putting my own spice combinations together, particularly because herbs and spices can be expensive, one of the many blends in the spice aisle can be a great starting point. If you always use Italian seasoning with your chicken, try Asian or Cajun instead and serve it up with rice instead of pasta. Montreal steak seasoning is a nice change from salt and pepper but isn’t so different that your family will revolt.
  • Melissa from Frugalissa recommends changing up the presentation to make something old new again. In her post she recommends putting things on a stick, because really, what’s more fun than food on a stick. Cavemen ate that way! The skewer trick is particularly great for little ones, but the general approach will work even if you’re feeding teenagers. Instead of making one big meatloaf, make individual meat loaves in muffin tins (they cook faster too). Serve chili in bread bowls or carrots as ribbons instead of slices.
  • The Aussies at babbleAustralia have some practical advice for getting kids to try new flavors. They remind us all that we’ve survived on less-than-optimal diets and that a table shouldn’t be a battleground. They also really encourage the use of flavors like olive oil, garlic, and soy sauce to really give the food punch. The one thing to remember is to keep trying. Don’t give up just because your family (or one member of it) didn’t like a new dish. Even if you only try something new once a month, that’s a 1-in-12 chance you’ll find a winner in a year and have one more recipe in your go-to collection.
  • Finally, if you’re feeling really adventurous, Michele at ChefMom suggests trying novel items like fresh figs and heirloom tomatoes. When I’ve tried this with my own family, I usually offer a little taste of something new in addition to our standard dinner fare so that if they don’t like it, everyone still has a full belly and the complaints are kept to a minimum. You might even have one night a month set aside as “experiment night” and get the family to help you choose what new ingredient you’ll try out so you’re not the only one invested in trying something new.

Hopefully some of these ideas will be useful as you work to change up your family’s routine a bit. Let me know if any of these work. And, if you have any great advice of your own for how to add variety into your meals, please share.

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Entry filed under: Avoiding Food Ruts, Tips & Tricks.

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