food rut

14 May

I have been in a food rut, for – I feel like – going on two years.

Lately, though, I’ve been trying to eat a little healthier (smaller portions, more veggies, less breads/pastas) – nothing revolutionary, just trying to instill some better habits. But I keep coming up against the fact that I eat the same three or four things over and over and over again – not only does it get old, but also none of those things fulfills the aforementioned “eating healthier” kick I’m on. Here is what I eat (over and over again) on a regular basis:

Frozen ravioli or tortellini with either brown butter and parmesan or canned meat sauce.

Noodles with butter and seasonings. Occasionally alio e oilo (spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and red chiles).

Frozen entrees (usually pastas again, or Pot Pies)

Note that almost all of these revolve around pasta – note also that there are no veggies to be seen. Note, thirdly, that all of them are quick and easy to prepare. I like to cook, but working six days a week plus being broke does not always lend itself well to that endeavor. I’m about to – finally- be back at five days a week at work, and I’ve been out of school for over a month now, so I am hoping to get into a more regular cooking routine. Still, even when I cook more involved meals, I generally cook one of these 6 things:

Ground beef and onion gravy over mashed potatoes

Chicken enchiladas with mexican rice

Bacon-wrapped mock filets with mashed potatoes

Breakfast (fried eggs, bacon, toast)

Chicken tettrazini or pasta w/cream sauce casserole

Spaghetti Carbonara

Again, note the preponderance of pasta/bread-y carb-y-ness and complete lack of veggies. As many people before me have found, it’s hard to eat healthy when you want it to be a.) quick, and b.) inexpensive – but then for me, I feel like you have to also add on c.) like anything you would normally eat. And that makes it even harder. So eating healthier, for me, is not just about changing habits like how much I eat at one sitting, but it’s also about trying new things, branching out and adding more variety into my diet.

Things I’ve tried lately (and loved!):

Thinly-sliced apple on top of a toasted bagel with cream cheese – drizzled with honey. Or the same thing but with Feta instead of cream cheese.

Orange slices and chopped pear, mixed with fresh mint crushed with equal parts sugar. Last night I added some mixed greens and a balsamic vinegarette to take it from snack to salad.

Quiche with cheat’s frozen pie crusts. Broccoli, cheddar, onion, heavy cream, eggs – cook up the broccoli and onion a bit, add everything together, pour into pie crust, pop in oven and wait 40 minutes. So easy, and so filling, and I can’t wait to try it with different ingredients! This is especially great for someone like me, with eating habits still somewhat resembling those of a nine-year-old who has to be forced to eat vegetables by hiding them/slathering them in butter or other bad stuff.

All three of those new-to-me recipes came from Offbeathome’s Cooking Challenge. Because I read regularly, they were just kind of thrown in my lap, which I think it what made the difference. They looked like interesting things to eat, so I tried them. When I’m usually looking for new ideas for things to cook, it’s hard to think outside my own little cooking box – so even just finding a recipe that is appealing but different from what I normally would gravitate to is challenging.

Initially I told Trevor that my attempts to eat healthier would probably require grocery trips every few days, which was exhausting even just to talk about much less actually do. I do think the days of once-every-three-weeks grocery trips need to go the way of the dodo, since that always means great meals the first couple days and then shit for the rest of the three weeks since freshness is a factor. But the idea of going to the grocery store every other day is also just…ugh. So if I can be a little more creative about what we eat and how we use different ingredients hopefully I can get away with a once a week trip. I think this is definitely going to require meal planning, though, and that has always been a challenge.

I’ve heard of services where they send you a recipe a day or a weeks worth of meal plans, and I’m seriously starting to think maybe this is a worthwhile idea. I’ve always scoffed at this idea, like, jeez, I don’t need someone to tell me what to eat. But actually, I think that’s EXACTLY what I need at this juncture in my life.

One of the things that really impresses me is when people make a grocery list wherein they use several of the same ingredients in multiple dishes throughout the week – without the dishes being the SAME dish or even overly similar. This is a skill I really have not been able to grasp. I eat leftovers, so I almost never cut a recipe in half even if it’s for 8 people and I’m just feeding my husband and me – we will (usually) get to it all in the course of a week, although then I don’t make that dish again for a few months because we’re so over it at that point. The idea of being able to eat something different every night without having to go to the grocery store 3 or 4 times a week is really appealing, so I feel like this would be a useful skill to have – I think it just requires a lot more creativity than I currently possess in terms of repurposing different foods in different ways AND  making sure a leftover doesn’t feel like one.

Clearly I’m familiar with the idea of staples – mine are just bad for you: pasta, rice, etc. And I think it’s helpful to kind of rethink the idea of a staple – I’ve always thought of it as something on hand all the time, which necessitates that it needs to be packaged/processed/frozen food, which also is not good for you. If I can start to reimagine the staple as something that is just on hand for a bit, that might go a long way. For example, I used apples 3 different ways in 3 different recipes this last week – clearly, an apple won’t stay good forever, I can’t just have them in the shelves at all times, but I sort of made it my staple-of-the-week by using the same batch from the same grocery trip in multiple ways. I just need to get better at doing this more often.

Lastly, I read an article in the NYT the other day profiling Peter Kaminsky’s efforts to “eat well by focusing on healthy items that deliver maximum flavor” that has also kind of inspired me. I am not a big fan of overpowering herbs, curries, seasonings, etc. – but I do think there is something to the idea that if you focus on the flavors you like (in my case, tarragon, thyme, mint, onion, garlic) and use them more liberally, you kind of get more bang for your buck, which might help you to eat less food over all. As the writer of the article explains, “the idea is that by amping up the taste, you can satisfy your cravings with smaller portions”.

I am by no means espousing covering everything I eat in mint or using WAY too much garlic – but I do think that if I choose foods that are more flavorful and make smart decisions re: adding flavor where needed, it will probably help me to feel more satisfied with what I’m eating and therefore eat less of it.

Anyway, to all these various ends, I’m on the lookout for new-to-me, flavorful, non-pasta recipes and if you have a meal planning service or tool that you love – or even just some tricks of the trade you’d like to share – I would appreciate it greatly if you would send it my way!

2 Responses to “food rut”

  1. Emilie May 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    You can do all kinds of things with that quiche recipe. Might I suggest Quiche Lorraine (bacon, swiss and spinach), or Bacon Green Chile Quiche with sharp cheddar.

    Meals I make when I have less than 20 minutes:

    Asian Chicken Salad (romaine, rotisserie chicken, mandarin orange, green onion, sliced carrot, red cabbage and Newman’s Own Asian Salad Dressing)

    Cobb Salad

    Quinoa with cilantro, lime and scallions.

    Really basic soups– broth, some veggies, a serrano pepper, some rotisserie chicken

    Curried tuna salad- canned tuna, lots of curry powder, salt and pepper, yogurt, choped celery, yellow raisins, chopped whatever veggies are sitting in the fridge… serve in pita bread– or not

    Lemon asparagus pasta– pasta, lots of lemon juice, a little lemon rind, a touch of olive or grapeseed oil, chicken, apsaragus> Boil pasta, add asparagus in last 3 minutes of pasta boil, in a pan– oil and chopped chicken– cook chicken, then deglaze pan with white wine. Cook down. Mix everything together. Add lemon.


    Ground beef sauteed with chopped green pepper and onion. Combine with rice.

    I could keep going… I will eat anything that doesn’t have mayonnaise, sour cream or jello in it. I know you have some veggie issues, but these are all pretty unscary meals I think.


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