8 ways to shake up a boring food repertoire
Ever felt that your stomach as well as your mind can experience déjà vu?
In the last few months, I’ve been having this sensation regularly.
And while dinner is the one meal that’s different each evening, my husband and I seem to have a rotation of only 10 dishes.
It means that with amazing regularity, I’m faced with a plate of food that looks exactly the same as the meal we enjoyed perhaps last week – and the week before, and the week before that.
Before you say anything, let me explain. I started falling into this rut about six months after my youngest child was born. He’s now two and a half.
At first, I really enjoyed these meals. But then they became a habit that I haven’t managed to break.
Fridge to dish within 30 minutes
At the weekends, our family lunches and dinners are sacrosanct. But during the week, I’m not back from work in time to eat with the kids.
So by the time all three are tucked up in bed, it’s 8pm and I’m starving and tired. Unless my husband or I have pre-cooked something like a casserole or fish pie at the weekend, chances are the meal has to be prepared from scratch.
My aim is to get meal on the plate within 30 minutes flat.
And so that’s meant reaching for the same old fail-safe options – they’re fast to make, healthy to eat and I can prepare them almost without thinking.
The same goes for breakfast and lunch too.
Plus, crucially, the ingredients are safely logged into my online supermarket order, meaning I can shop using only half a brain, while changing a nappy at the same time.
But it’s boring food because it’s so familiar.
Eating a rainbow of foods is healthy
OK, so I know that it’s not good for us to eat a rollcall of the same food every day.
‘It’s important to eat a varied diet to ensure we have all the essential nutrients our bodies demand,’ says lead specialist dietitian Sioned Quirke. ‘In terms of fruit and veg, you should eat a rainbow – fruit and veg are different colours owing to their different vitamin and mineral content.’
Eating a monotonous diet can also be bad for you in other ways. I’ve recently started snacking more after dinner, and Sioned thinks it might be because of my repeat meal rut.
‘It’s great to have a few go-to meals, but if they leave you uninspired, you may be tempted to have a sweet treat later for a bit of food pleasure,’ she says.
Here’s how I’ve decided to shake up my unsatisfying diet:
1. Try two new 30-minute recipes a week – once at the weekend and once mid-week
This sounds doable – I really don’t think I could manage a new recipe every day. Ideally, I’ll find dishes that all three children will eat, and which can be frozen and eaten mid-week too. I’ve bought myself a new cookery book for ideas.
2. Source inspiration from a food mag subscription
I asked for a food mag subscription for one of my Christmas presents, and hope that it will be a monthly reminder (okay, nag) to soak up different recipes and ideas, and learn about new ingredients.
3. Find new ways to tweak breakfast
I need to swap in another easy breakfast and try different toppings for my porridge, so I don’t feel quite so controlled by the first meal of the day.
4. Shake up lunch
My bagel is fine occasionally, but not every day. I work part-time so I’m looking for speedy dishes that I can make at home to save money, but that will give me enough energy to keep going all day.
5. Eat different veg
I love all types of vegetables but it’s amazing how many times mid-week I end up with frozen broad beans and peas, just because I like them, they take zero preparation and, oh look, there they are in my freezer. I’ve been stocking up on other easy-to-prepare veg for the children since writing 10 ways to get your child to eat vegetables so I need to make sure I tuck in to a range of veg, even when the kids aren’t looking.
6. Sign up for a cooking class
I think I’ve lost some confidence in my cooking since my youngest was born. I’m hoping a class or two will expand my skills and give me new ideas to transfer to my kitchen at home.
7. Hit the supermarket
‘Ditch online food shopping and visit the supermarkets for inspiration,’ says Sioned. ‘You may be tempted by an ingredient that you’ve not tried before. Try walking down different aisles for new ideas.’
8. Splash out on a new kitchen tool
A slow cooker, mini chopper or other cooking machine that could make dinner preparation easier could be another way to inject some magic into the kitchen again.
I’ll let you know how I get on next week. In the meantime, please do send me your tips – I need as much inspiration as possible.
I’d also be interested in hearing if any of you has stuck in a meal rut since having children too.