For the cook in the family, “What’s for dinner?” is often among the most dreaded questions faced on a daily basis. When you’re trying to meet work and family demands, getting dinner on the table — and keeping it interesting — can be a challenge.
Even if you’re only cooking for one, finding easy-to-prep recipes that don’t involve eating leftovers all week can be tough. Add it all together and you have a recipe for falling into a dinner rut. The good news: Serving up nutritious and inspired meals doesn’t have to be difficult.
“The key is to be open to exploring new recipes,” says Halle Saperstein, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health.
Five Ways to Keep Dinner Interesting
Even inspired foodies tend to repeat meals each week. And for good reason: Humans are creatures of habit. We’re comfortable with the same daily routine. But even the most comforting meal line up can start to feel like a dinner rut after a while. Here, Saperstein offers five tips for switching it up when you don’t know what to make for dinner.
- Plan ahead: Set aside part of your weekend to plan meals for the week. Look at your family calendar and figure out which days you’re going to be running at full speed and which days are a little more leisurely. Then plan your meals accordingly. Embrace themes like “Meatless Monday” and “Taco Tuesday” to make meal planning fun and engaging. Kids can be fond of family-style dining like “make your own pizza” and buffet-style potato or taco bars.
- Look online: From Pinterest and Instagram to Food Network and Allrecipes.com, there’s no shortage of sources of inspiration. Watching your fat intake? Try sites like WeightWatchers.com and CookingLight.com. Trying to boost your fiber intake or prep low-sodium meals? Google those terms followed by the word “recipes” and see what pops up. And, of course, don’t forget to browse Henry Ford’s repository of recipes for quick and simple dinner ideas.
- Get the kids involved: There’s no reason meal planning should fall on one person. Instead, make meal planning and preparation a family affair. Sit down together and decide the week’s menu in advance so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Then enlist your children to play an active role in the cooking process. Have them grate cheese, peel carrots and layer casseroles.
- Stock your kitchen: Fill your refrigerator with healthy staples like hummus, salsa, lean meats and pre-washed, ready-to-eat veggies. Stash pizza dough, veggies, rice and “flexible fillings” like taco meat, grilled or roasted chicken and premade burgers in the freezer. Keeping a stocked freezer is especially helpful when you’re cooking for only one or two people. Prepping meals this way can be faster and more enjoyable, too.
- Think outside the box: Instead of making traditional pasta or rice, get creative with more exotic ingredients. Spiralize zucchini or carrots for a fresh take on pasta, use a cauliflower crust for pizza and consider substituting ancient grains like amaranth and barley for plain long-grain or wild rice.
Inspired Meal Planning
Planning nightly meals can be fun if you experiment with new ingredients and present foods in new, inspired ways. Make whole-grain pancakes or muffins and use berries, dried fruit and nuts to create faces. Serve smoothies with creative garnishes. Dress up salads with colorful berries.
“Be adventurous, try new recipes and have fun with cooking,” Saperstein says. Need more recipe ideas? Here are a few favorites to get you started:
Halle Saperstein, RD, is a clinical dietitian at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and enjoys teaching the importance and benefits of a healthy diet.