Pulling Yourself Out of a Dinner Rut

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I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I love the flavors, the nutrition behind them, and creating something I can share with others. But lately, with three growing kids with three different palates, my love of cooking had turned into dinnertime dread. I scroll through my recipes on my online planner and nothing sounds appealing. I’m in a dinner rut. And as much as I would love to do take-out and convenience foods, those just won’t work long term. So I’m working my way out of the rut with a few strategies.

1. Try a meal kit service (even if it’s just for a week)

We had one particularly busy week this summer that came right after a vacation. I knew in advance grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking would be a challenge, so I signed up for a weeks worth of meals from a meal delivery service. What I love about these meal kit services is that the meal planning is simplified – you simply look at the options and choose the few that sound appealing to you. The prep is done for you and the cooking is simple. Also, the fresh menu was just what our family needed to get a taste of something different and inspire us to find new recipes.

2. Transfer the responsibility

I know this isn’t the case for all families, but my husband loves to cook, he just never does. Before kids, we split the responsibility. But now that we are ten years into parenting, the cooking responsibility falls mostly on me. While complaining about my dinner rut (and a streak of serving more than one unappetizing meal), he suggested that he take over weekend meals. And while this typically ends up being Sunday only, that one meal a week where I don’t have to think about anything is the best break.

3. Enlist meal-planning help

As I mentioned, my kids have different palates, which is a nice way of saying they don’t all eat the same things. And it drives me bananas. Since I refuse to be a short-order cook, there tends to be a lot of negotiating at the dinner table. To circumvent the dinner table tension, I ask my kids to list out one or two meals they would like me to cook each week. I love having certain meals decided for me and it gives them something to look forward to. And while I would love to say I enlist their help in the meal prep, I don’t. There are plenty of studies and resources that point to the benefits of kids helping in the kitchen, but in this particular season, I prefer to cook alone. But if having a little sous chef sounds fun to you, I say go for it! 

4. Try a new kitchen gadget

Meal planning should really start with what sounds appetizing and satisfying to you and your family. I started to think through the restaurants I loved to eat from and one I kept coming back to was Verde – I loved the ingredient combinations but mostly I loved they way they chop their salads all together for one magical concoction. Lo and behold I learned you can buy those fancy salad choppers and create your own version of Verde salads. So I picked one up from the local kitchen store and I’ve been recreating these perfectly chopped salads as a hefty side (or even main) dish for a lot of our dinners. Sometimes a new gadget can add in a fresh twist to cooking that will keep you going. 

5. Cycle in new recipes

When all else fails, try some new recipes. I go crazy going through websites such as Pinch of Yum and Against All Grain and Instagram accounts that share recipes. I bring them all into my online planner and try something new and delete the old recipes that no longer appeal to us. The time invested in collecting new recipes is always worth it.

If you’ve ever pulled yourself out of a dinner rut, I’d love to hear about what worked best for you!

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