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Spice it up

Stuck in a food rut? Here are some ways to get out of it


Ever feel like you’re stuck in a food rut?

It happens — even to the most adventurous home cooks and eaters. For some, it come down to time, since it’s easier to fall back on a tried-and-true recipe you can practically do in your sleep than to add a new meal to the rotation, which takes planning and research. Before you know it, though, every weeknight is devoted to the same five quick fixes.

Toronto nutrition expert and registered dietitian Stefania Palmeri says food ruts are pretty common and that many clients are in search of quick and easy meal ideas to shake up their routine.

“Getting to the bottom of a food rut isn’t as simple as finding new recipes or trying the latest TikTok trend, though,” said Palmeri. “The first thing is to understand why a behaviour is happening.”

Although time is a factor for many of us, for others, it’s about not feeling confident in the kitchen, preferring predictability and/or dealing with a family full of picky eaters.

“There’s also an increasing number of external restrictions that can limit a family’s choice including food allergies,” Palmeri added. “I’ve seen families that need gluten free diets for one individual with Celiac disease, but also need a nut-free lunch option for a little one and a vegan substitute for their teen.”

She noted, too, that some clients complain of being overwhelmed with mixed messages about nutrition and this can lead to a feeling of paralysis.

Even those without kids, plenty of time, confidence and solid grounding in healthy eating, though, have problems planning out a diet that’s rich in variety — and, of course, healthy.

“I get stuck in food ruts because I’m by myself and cooking for one is definitely a challenge,” said Christine Hooper, RD, a Toronto dietitian who founded the Butterfly Effect, a website with resources for people who also suffer from IBS.

She suggests asking friends what their favourite dishes are, grabbing free food magazines at grocery and liquor stores and flipping through for ideas and, most importantly, switching up your shopping routine.

“I’ll go to a different grocery store or, if I have time, I’ll go to Kensington or St. Lawrence Market and wander around to see if I’m inspired just by different ingredients,” said Hooper.

When a new grocery store opened near me last year, I was able to add several new things to the rotation. I’m aware this is a privilege not everyone enjoys, but I regularly shop at one of five different grocery stores — three of which are independent and, as a result, tend to offer entirely different things from the bigger stores.

One independent grocer near me sources a lot from local farmers and, as such, offers up things you don’t see elsewhere, like the locally grown baby artichokes I scooped up last week — delighted to see them so late in the season. At the cash, someone asked me how I cooked them. It occurred to me that striking up conversations with people about what’s in their cart is another good habit to get into. Being a curious eater is a good way to guard against a food rut.

Palmeri says that a certain amount of flexible thinking also helps when it comes to changing things up.

“Who defined waffles and cereal as ‘breakfast foods?’ ” Palmeri said. “Food marketing has largely influenced what we define as meals and snacks, but food is food. There’s nothing wrong with having leftovers from dinner as a breakfast meal to shake things up.”

Or, for that matter, breakfast foods like omelettes or scrambled eggs for dinner. And, although “girl dinner” is a punch line at this point, it’s possible to take inspiration from that social media trend, too.

“Provided a meal is balanced according to the plate method, most whole foods are fair game,” said Palmeri. “Whole grain crackers, hard boiled eggs, cucumber slices and fruit is just as much a dinner meal as a formal entree of potato, chicken and salad.”

(The “plate method” involves filling a plate halfway with produce and the other half evenly split between protein and starch.)

Finally, if you can afford it, Palmeri suggests trying out a meal kit delivery service.

“Some of my clients have used a meal kit delivery service for a couple of weeks to help explore new ideas and build confidence in the kitchen,” she explained.

Finding fresh inspiration may be daunting, but it isn’t impossible. It may be as simple as giving it a little advance thought and trying to make the most of this fall’s fleeting cauliflower season.

‘‘ Food is food. There’s nothing wrong with having leftovers from dinner as a breakfast meal to shake things up. STEFANIA PALMERI REGISTERED DIETITIAN





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