The problem with finding recipes we love is that we tend to tire them out.
We make them over and over again until we can’t stand to eat it anymore, thus, a cooking rut is born. No bueno!
Getting out of a cooking rut is tough because it means you have to *actually* try new things.
Taking a risk on a new recipe or ingredient or flavor you’re not familiar with is what’s standing between you and getting out of your cooking rut.
I get it!
You don’t want to waste your time and money on cooking something that might not turn out great.
You want to love it.
I’m lucky I have an audience that never fails to provide meal ideas for me. Because of this food blog, I RARELY cook the same meal twice outside of recipe testing.
Yup. I’m an exception. MOST of us have to fend for ourselves, wading through millions of recipes online. Even when using a database like Pinterest or Yummly, it can be so overwhelming.
In this post, I’m going to share my top tips for getting out of that stinky old cooking rut and into an inspired, tasty cooking regimen.
1. Choose an ingredient you love and run with it
Sweet potato is one of my favorite ingredients. I could eat it every week, but using one ingredient every week can definitely get boring.
So, what I normally do is hit Pinterest and search “sweet potato” or another one of my favorite ingredients (like shrimp, chickpeas and asparagus).
In seconds, you’ll get a TON of ideas and recipes to make with an ingredient you already love and are familiar with.
See the photo below for how much variety you can find when just looking up one of your favorite ingredients.
If theres at least one ingredient you LOVE in a new recipe, you’re much more likely to try it (and enjoy it).
2. Choose a NEW ingredient and cook something simple with it
I’m still exploring lots of different ingredients as a former picky eater (I only tried chickpeas last year, no joke).
Once in a while, I’ll pick up a new ingredient at the supermarket and incorporate it into a very familiar meal.
This way you’re getting the best of both worlds, bringing something old and new together.
For example, I recently cooked with jicama for the first time. Instead of trying something completely new, I cooked something I already know how to make: baked fries!
Unless you’re competing on MasterChef, making mistakes while cooking is no biggie. Unlike baking, it’s pretty forgiving.
Try using a familiar cooking method with a different ingredient.
Do you cook chicken really well? Try cooking tofu, tempeh, fish, etc in the same way you’d cook chicken — even if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, chances are you’ll figure it out.
3. Scroll through your favorite food Instagram for ideas
Everyone has their favorite food Instagram account. Choose an account that you really trust the person behind or have used recipes from before and get scrolling!
If this isn’t inspiring I don’t know what is! (here’s a screenshot of @halfbakedharvest’s feed)
Sometimes just scrolling and looking at photos of food that other people make can spark inspiration.
If I see a photo of a dish I’m really drawn to, I’ll Google some of the ingredients in that dish and find new recipes.
4. Get inspiration from your favorite restaurants
This is my favorite place to get inspiration to get myself out of a rut.
Restaurant menus are an endless, overlooked resource for ideas! Read the description of items that sound good to you to learn about different ways to combine flavors and prepare ingredients.
Look at these vegan appetizers from Watercourse, a vegan restaurant based in Denver.
I would have never thought to make a cake or fritter out of jackfruit! And tempeh chorizo? That sounds like something I could definitely try making at home.
Take photos of menus or just look them up online when you get home.
The restaurants you draw inspiration from don’t have to be sit-down fancy places. They can be fast-casual places.
I look to places like Bareburger, Chipotle and Panera for ideas. And we can’t forget Dig Inn, which inspired me to make one of my most popular recipes and favorite meal prep dishes: Salmon, veggies and sweet potato.
View this post on Instagram
😴This is the EASIEST way to prep meals for work: a one-sheet pan meal with a protein, veggie and carb. . 🍤🍗You could switch the salmon (my fave) out for tofu, tempeh, chicken, shrimp, another kind of fish… whatever you’re into when you feel the need to be lazy and productive at the same time. . 🙏🏼Even though meal prep takes work up front… the less time we spend in the kitchen every night the MORE time we have to sit around and chill. Amirite? . 👩🏻💻The recipe for this prep is in my profile!! Just note the recipe is slightly different than what I made here but it will guide you through the process. I change that link once a day so if you’re seeing this in the future, search “salmon prep” on workweeklunch.com.
5. Get inspiration from your favorite childhood meals
Even if your diet was very basic as a kid (like mine was) you can draw ideas from your childhood favorites, then elevate them for adulthood.
Eggs, mac and cheese, casseroles, pasta dishes — even the most simple meals can be transformed into something interesting!
Did you love pancakes as a kid? Make a savory version for a meal prep.
Think nuggets are just for children? Nope. There are so many elevated and more sophisticated takes on the nugget you could try.
Take pizza, meatloaf, breaded chicken, lasagna and all the other basic meals you used to eat, find recipes for the adult version online and get cooking.
6. Pick up an ingredient you love but haven’t cooked with in a while
Out of these ten tips, this is the first thing I think of when trying to cook something new-ish.
The more ingredients that you become comfortable cooking with, the more you’ll be able to come up with varied meals.
When I started meal prepping, I only used tofu, chicken and salmon for protein.
I’d get bored of these options pretty quick, so when I started branching out to shrimp, legumes, ground turkey, tempeh and more, it became a lot easier to think of ingredients I hadn’t used in awhile.
Most of the time, that ingredient for me is shrimp. Shrimp tends to be on the more expensive side, but when I buy it, I feel like I’m not in danger of falling into a cooking rut.
This stir-fry meal (which I make probably three times a month) below could use ANY protein and still work. Tofu, chicken, salmon, tempeh, beef… but using shrimp livened it up so I wouldn’t feel bored.
7. Put a flavor twist on one of your favorite “overused” recipes
Most recipes can be completely transformed if you keep the method the same, but change the flavors, spices and aromatics.
I know going “off book” is scary, but it’s really hard to screw up meals if the only thing you change are the spices and flavors. I believe in you!
Using this as a resource can definitely help you break out of a cooking rut!
Remember that any basic template meal can be transformed by just changing the flavors, not the main ingredients. You can make a basic meal Thai, Italian, Indian, Mexican etc just by adding a few more elements. It doesn’t have to be complicated!
8. Pick up a new spice to add to your spice cabinet
If you look at recipes frequently, I’m sure there are some spices you see over and over that you don’t currently have in your cabinet (and then you end up not using those recipes).
I encourage you to hit the grocery store and pick up some familiar ones that you don’t own yet.
For me, this was curry powder and garam masala, both which appear in many Indian dishes. Turns out they’re not intimidating at all! It took me over a year of cooking to finally pick them up and I’m so glad I did.
By adding a spice to your collection, you’ll be inspired to look up new recipes that include it. Boom! Rut broken.
9. Raid your pantry and freezer for forgotten ingredients
Pastas, grains, canned goods, frozen veggies and meats — these could all be the inspiration for your next meal.
And! There’s the added bonus of saving money by not having to buy something new.
Pick an ingredient from your pantry and then search for recipes that include it.
That’s usually where I start when I have an ingredient that’s been sitting in my kitchen for months. The possibilities are honestly endless!
10. Watch cooking shows for motivation
Lately, I’ve been really into MasterChef, Chef’s Table on Netflix and other cooking shows.
It completely inspired me to get in the kitchen, be creative and take my cooking up a notch!
I’m no chef, but the way that these competitions showcase different ways to combine ingredients and flavors is super inspiring to me.
Try it and see what happens!
Real talk and other tips for getting out of a cooking rut:
Avoid being a perfectionist. It’s just cooking! Very low stakes here.
You’re not a gourmet chef here. Instead of going for perfection, go for good enough to eat. (That’s what I go for, and it’s really working!)
Get in the mindset of trying something new. Yeah, you might fail. You might not like it… but instead of THAT kind of thinking, turn it around.
What if it works? What if you nail it?
You’ll only get better if you practice (and branch out). I started cooking during my senior year of college and I sucked at first. But I kept at it and now I feel so confident and comfortable in the kitchen that trying new things is exciting instead of daunting.
And you know the quote from Albert Einstein…
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
If you want something to change, you have to change up what you’re doing. No one is going to do it for you!