In a Dinner Rut? Some Quick Fixes

Are you tired of eating – and cooking – the same exact meals night after night, week after week?  Does it feel like you could cook each night with your eyes closed?

Here are some easy solutions:

 (1)  Re-create your restaurant favorites

Let’s face it.  We often eat out because need a break from cooking.  But, we also eat out because we like the food.  Yesterday, I had no idea what to make for dinner and thought about some favorite meals when I go out.  I really enjoy a lot of restaurant salads and decided to re-create Barbecued Chicken Salad, a meal I have ordered at several different restaurants.  It’s always on a base of regular house salad – lettuce, cucumber, tomato, shredded cheese.  Then, there’s usually corn and black beans, so I open up a can of each of those (and rinsed the beans).  Then, I coated 2 chicken breasts with a favorite barbecue sauce and grilled them on the George Foreman grill.  To top it off, I put a little barbecue sauce in to a bowl with ranch dressing.  Voila!  I had barbecue ranch dressing without having to buy an entire specialty bottle.  I also made my version of California Pizza Kitchen’s BLT pizza a couple weeks ago.  It was just as tasty, a ton cheaper, and added some variety to our dinner menu.

Try re-creating some of your favorite restaurant meals at home.  Think about the different toppings you have had on pizzas, the different ways you have seen pasta prepared, and the restaurant sandwiches you really enjoy.  Bring those in to your own kitchen.

(2)  Flip through those cookbooks

If you’re anything like me, you have a huge stack of cookbooks.  Open one of them, and flip through it.   You don’t have to make anything in it, but I find it tends to help me generate a lot of ideas to help mix things up.  I may see 2 ingredients combined in a way I never would have thought of, such as a pork and nectarine stir fry I came across.  Sometimes, I also come across a recipe that will remind me of a dish I used to make, before I entered my current rut.

(3)  Turn on the TV

I can’t watch the Food Network for a half hour without seeing some new technique or cooking method that I have never tried.  I have picked up such ideas as roasting cherry tomatoes to put on salads or pasta and boiling green beans with my pasta (same water at the same time) and then tossing them both with pesto.  (Although mine comes from a jar, not a food processor.  Sorry, Rachael!)

(4)  Take matters in to your own hands

I have a friend who recognized she was in a rut and asked for help.  She sent out a note to several of her mom friends on Facebook and asked us what we have been cooking lately.  She asked us to send her recipes for favorites in our own rotations that she could add to hers.  Not only did we help her out, but we also got to read what everyone else was making to expand our own cooking repertoire.

I also subscribe to daily emails from

These recipes have been posted by home cooks, and many of them are reviewed.  They feature a recipe each day, and at least half of them seem worth trying.  I love having new recipes to try, and I love it even more when they’re tried and true successes.

These methods certainly work for me!  Have your own tips or methods?  Please feel free to share them here! 

Organized Activities Are Cramping My Style

I always swore I wasn’t going to be one of those mothers whose children are in 50,000 different activities a day and who spend all of their time driving their children from place to place. So for a long time, I resisted organized weekly activities for Mouse.

Also, I’m kind of cheap.

We go to the library for storytime every Tuesday (free!) and we also have a swimming lesson (not free) on Tuesday nights. Those used to be our only activities, but then Mouse started exhibiting some speech delays so we had his evaluated and were recommended speech therapy twice a week. And because he was a late walker (17 months), they also recommended a “mommy and me-type gym class” for his “emerging skills.”

So off we went to speech therapy and…

Where I am now known as “Grandma.”

Sheesh.

So now our week is:

Monday: Speech therapy (morning)

Tuesday: Library (morning) and swimming (evening)

Wednesday: Gymboree with Grandma–I mean me (morning)

Thursday: Speech therapy (morning)

I know it doesn’t seem like much to most people, but I am very unused to having 4 mornings taken up right off the bat. Plus it’s been very hard to go to playdates because many of them are at the same time as our above activities.

But mostly it’s just cramping my style. I liked being able to lounge around the house eating bon bons at my leisure. Now we have a schedule to stick to. And it’s only going to get worse from here. *sigh*