You guys, I've just come off the longest, most arduous cooking rut of the year and it's only January! The holidays did a number on my cooking motivation and sent me into the classic tailspin of ordering too much takeout, making any excuse for dinner away from home, and eating way too much Annie's mac and cheese. Luckily, as an avid meal planner I know exactly how to get out of these ruts when I'm ready. And don't worry — they don't all involve meal planning. These five tips never fail to get me back in the kitchen whenever a cooking rut strikes.
1. Make a list of your favorite recipes.
Maybe this sounds silly, but sometimes I forget how much I love Marcella Hazen's famous pasta sauce and that, oh yeah, I probably have all the ingredients on hand right now. The smell of it simmering on the stove is just the kind of soul-reviving we need when cooking ruts are running their course. Making the list, whether it's three or 15 recipes, will dust off their flavor memories and get you craving food that only well-loved comfort meals can supply.
2. Batch cook one thing.
Raise your hand if there are a few bags of dried beans, barley, or pasta just hanging out in your pantry right now. Yup, me too. Pick one bag and cook it. You probably only need water and a pot, and the act will make you feel incredibly industrious. Look at you making hard chickpeas tender and supple even though you didn't want to cook! Now, you have an obligation to these beans and you need to come home to them instead of eating out this week. You can quick turn these into a warm salad to eat right away and munch on leftovers all week.
3. Clean out the pantry.
Oh, remember that bar of chocolate you brought back from vacation? And the olive oil you got at Christmas is just waiting for you to finally put it to good use. Cleaning out the pantry or fridge not only inspires you, but it also forces you to come face to face with all the possibilities that have been sitting in your kitchen all the days you spent order takeout or eating cold cereal.
4. Make a small but mighty meal plan.
Whenever anyone asks me for meal planning advice, I suggest they pick just three dinner recipes to start with. After all, few of us have the gumption to go from no cooking to cooking every meal at home. Three dinner recipes will make you buy enough groceries to suss out a few breakfasts and maybe some leftovers for lunch and give you time to eat up the leftover takeout from the previous cooking rut-induced Chinese takeout order.
5. Invite friends over for dinner.
Nothing beats any kind of rut like a deadline! So, create accountability for yourself by inviting a few close friends for dinner or offer to host your book club. Don't plan a fancy menu — stick with basics like soup or a big batch of tacos in the slow cooker and give yourself some leeway to buy store-bought rolls or guacamole to fill out the table. That warm, fuzzy feeling you'll have at the end of dinner isn't just the wine your friend brought — it's the feeling of your cooking rut lifted.