It is easy to get into a rut of buying the same old foods and making the same old meals. Most of us tend to maintain a set routine rather than find new recipes and search for unfamiliar ingredients in the grocery store. When we find something that satisfies our time budget, cooking skills, and the taste preferences of multiple family members, we stick to it. However, by limiting ourselves to the same foods week after week, we risk boredom and lack of nutrient diversity.
There are benefits to routine and sometimes we need to be on autopilot in order to keep our morning on track, but shaking things up with some new recipes is well worth the effort. This does not have to be an overwhelming task. First, find the windows in your week when you can invest a little extra time into shopping and cooking. Next, determine a realistic weekly goal. Can you incorporate one new meal per week? Two? Three? Now, start collecting recipes that suit your taste, goals, cooking skills, time, and budget. Consider doubling or tripling a recipe in order to create leftovers and reap dividends on your efforts. For example, Sunday night's dinner can be lunch on Monday and dinner again on Tuesday.
When looking at a recipe, take note of a few key items. Notice both prep time and cooking time. Sometimes prep time can be relatively quick, while the cooking time is rather long. Does the cooking time require you to be home, or can you leave it unattended in the slow cooker? The longer the prep time, the more labor intensive the recipe will be. The longer the cooking time, the more you have to plan ahead (however, while the oven is doing it's work, you will be free to do other things). Look to see if you will need to marinate or prepare anything a day ahead, or if any special kitchen equipment is needed. Choose recipes that are appropriate for the season so the ingredients will be available and at peak flavor and freshness. Get the family involved by inviting each member to choose one new recipe per month (for a family of four, this averages one family selected meal per week). This takes some pressure off the main chef and allows others have creative influence.
Before you go to the grocery store, prepare a shopping list that covers the next three days of eating. I've found this to be the ideal planning period for both efficiency and optimal freshness. This means you will go grocery shopping two days per week for six of your seven dinners, which leaves one night for eating out. Take inventory on what ingredients you already have so you don't buy duplicates or overlook purchasing an ingredient you thought you had. Categorize your shopping list by sections of the grocery store to avoid backtracking or forgetting items. When shopping with children, give them a short list of things to collect in a basket. To save time on prep, you can purchase pre-washed, trimmed, chopped, or spiralized veggies. The people working the meat and fish counters will often chop or trim your purchase, and even add a rub or marinade. Use shortcuts where appropriate, but be sure to always use fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Today is the day– start thumbing through those dusty cookbooks and incorporating some new meals into your routine. Enjoy the excitement of trying something new. Celebrate your victories and don't get discouraged when something does not work out. Exploring new foods and recipes is a delicious journey, leading you to discovering your next new favorite meal.