Same old, same old? Get out of that cooking rut!

If your usual rotation of meals has you feeling ho-hum about cooking, it’s time to shake things up. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s a way to help ensure that you get a wide array of nutrients, thus improving your overall nutritional status.

Climbing out of your cooking rut isn’t all that difficult, but you’ll need inspiration and few ideas. Banish boredom from your kitchen and give yourself and your family a break from the usual Sunday spaghetti or taco Tuesday. Here are a few ideas I came up with…

Banana Bread Pancakes

Peruse your cookbook collection.

There is nothing like beautiful pictures and ideas from a pro to get me in the mood to try something new in the kitchen. Maybe opt for a seasonal cookbook, a cookbook by a local author or a book that focuses on a certain technique—maybe something that’s new to you (think pressure cooking or braising, for example).

Take a cue from your travels.

Maybe you picked up a cookbook on a recent trip, or perhaps you’re planning a trip in the future. Researching recipes and cooking techniques from other locales (be they far-flung and exotic or closer to home) can be a fun way to get yourself inspired again. Plus, you’ll be ready to order from the menus if you have an upcoming trip planned.

Try to recreate a restaurant dish.

Love that risotto from your local Italian restaurant? Challenge yourself to recreate it at home. Search for a recipe online that seems similar, and then give it a personal tweak of your own.

Make a new food commitment.

Aim to sample and cook with a new food once or twice a month. Getting kids involved in this endeavor is a fun idea and may open your eyes to things you frequently pass over when shopping. Of course, being reluctant to try new things is not unique to children—lots of adults get in food ruts, too. The produce department is a good place to start with this idea, but also consider trying a grain you’ve never used before (freekah or farro anyone?), a new seasoning or a fresh herb you’ve never cooked with before.

Subscribe to a food/cooking magazine.

Both print and online versions of cooking and food magazines can be wonderful sources of information and inspiration. I subscribe to several and the dog-earred pages of them indicate that usually I can find at least three or four recipes I’d like to try in each issue. At the end of the year I go through all my print copies of food magazines and remove those recipes that I want to keep (and may not yet have tried) and file them in folders in a file box I keep specifically for this purpose. That file box started when I was in high school and it’s been with me ever since. Yes, I’ve lugged that same file box around for 30 years.

Look to the seasons for inspiration.

Farmer’s markets and seasonal produce stands are a great source of inspiration for using local foods. Cooking seasonally is something that many of us haven’t learned the way that people used to because we now have so many foods available year ‘round at the supermarket. It can be fun to challenge yourself to fix seasonal produce only, or to try and find several appealing new ways to fix seasonal favorites that have fallen off your radar. Think about squash, apples and pears and late-season veggies in the fall, root vegetables, nuts and citrus in the winter, spring greens, new potatoes and young onions in the spring, and berries, stone fruit and all manner of ripe vegetables in the summer. Of course, this all depends on where you live. Not sure what’s in season in your area? Check out this site that provides you with a list specific to your state. Focusing on produce selection is a nice way to mark the passage of time and nature’s seasonal progression; it can be very satisfying.

Check out Pinterest.

Going online for recipe ideas is nothing new, but if you’re not a Pinterest user, you might be surprised at how inspirational it can be to see a bevvy of beautiful food pictures flood your computer screen.  The Food and Drink board on Pinterest is a good place to start, but you can also narrow your search to boards that focus on a particular food, season or dish.