Show of hands: Who here has fallen into a cooking rut at some point in the past year? You're on top of your game, planning, shopping, and cooking like a champ, and then suddenly, you find yourself bored. You look into the fridge and shrug. Chicken. Again? Wait, what day is it? Hey, a pandemic will do that to you.
Curious about solutions, I called Victoria Albina, a holistic life coach and nurse practitioner in Brooklyn, to ask how to rekindle some cooking passion once fatigue takes hold. "If you feed your brain with thoughts like 'I'm so bored of dinner,' then that will be the narrative," she told me. Her advice: Change the story. "Focus on what's easy and doable. You strengthen what you feed. Your brain will respond to the story you tell by reminding you what you say."
Given that counsel, I thought, who better to ask for specific solutions and sparks of inspiration than our F&W team? I canvassed our editors and got a host of suggestions for steering yourself out of any dinner troubles on the road ahead.
Lower the bar. Make a hot, crispy-edged sandwich pressed between two heavy skillets with this simple formula: Something green, a creamy condiment, good cheese, and a pickle.
Takeout is not a cop-out. It's our civic duty to help #SaveRestaurants. Buy directly from your favorite restaurants at least once a week if you can afford to. Skip the delivery app, and call them on the phone. And tell them how much you love them while you're at it.
Get back to the basics. With a twist, like Mushroom Cuban Quesadillas!
Focus on Process. Albina suggested this, adding, "You're a home cook learning how to do the things; don't expect expert-level quality. Start small."
Throw yourself a party. Pick the most random night of the week for a festive outdoor meal like a shrimp boil, and scale it down to size for the stovetop. (Bonus: Cold peel-and-eat shrimp will make lunch the next day even better.)
Ask for help. Got a family member who's happy to comment on your food but won't lift a finger? They're now setting the table or on dish duty five nights a week.
Step up your condiment game. Bitchin' Sauce, a garlicky almond spread sold at Whole Foods, is my current obsession and a great place to start. Senior Food Editor Mary-Frances Heck swears by Brooklyn Delhi's tomato achaar, an Indian tomato-chile sauce we call for in this tomato gravy recipe. ($12, brooklyndelhi.com)
Start a new curriculum. Cook five recipes a week from a random cookbook to shake up the humdrum and learn something new. "Last year, I had a lot of fun cooking from Andrea Nguyen's Vietnamese Food Any Day," Executive Editor Karen Shimizu says. "The book gave me new go-to recipes."
Snack-ify dinner. Do as my friend Ann Taylor Pittman does: Arrange dips, spreads, crudités, and cured meat on a platter or sheet pan, and call it Snack Dinner. It's fun and easy, and cleanup's a cinch.
Chill. Trust us—frozen peas are actually better than fresh ones.
Treat yourself. "Nothing makes having dinner at home feel more like going out than splurging on the kind of bottle of wine you'd normally only order at a restaurant," says Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle.
Take a win. Associate Food Editor Kelsey Youngman says, "If I'm finding my confidence missing in the kitchen, I'll bake a tried-and-true recipe to remind myself that I really do know how to cook. And I get rewarded with a delicious treat."
Make bird the word again. Still bored with chicken? The five recipes in "Life-Changing Chicken," are a great place to start shaking up your poultry routine.
Finally, use your F&W lifeline. If all else fails and you still feel stuck, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm setting up an old-fashioned hotline March 1–5. Put "Cooking Rut" in the subject line of your email, and send me a list of vegetables and proteins in your fridge or freezer, what you like to eat, if you have any food allergies, and how many people you're feeding. I'll consult with our food team to send you links to three recipe ideas within 24 hours.