Joni Sare, cooking instructor

How to: 29 Ways to Get Out of a Cooking Rut

Tactics on how to get out of a cooking rut are many and here is the most comprehensive list available. If you need inspiration — you’ll find answers here. In addition, if you’ve run out of ideas — you’ll find plenty here. Moreover, if you have limited time or a limited diet –I’ve got that covered, too. Equally important is if you’re not motivated to cook because your food lacks flavor — I also share ways to help you with that.

Imagine this. It’s Tuesday, and it’s dinner time. Instead of ordering from Uber Eats again, or making the same tacos as last Tuesday, or eating tasteless chicken, why not spice it up? Even if you’ve never learned to be creative in the kitchen, it’s never too late to find ways for fast, simple, and tasty meals.

In this post, I outline the most common cooking ruts and give 29 ways to help make your dinner feel like a party every night.

Identify your cooking rut:

When you get bored with your own cooking it's time to mimic what others are doing.

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Recipes are other's ideas and they are easy to find but don't stop there — build on what you know or get ideas from other sources.

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Here are shortcuts to minimize time in the kitchen, and maintain the nutritional value of your meals.

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The ratio of sweet, sour and umami — with a touch of saltiness — is the foundation of all dishes. Be sure that at least one of those is the prominent flavor.

Jump to "Get out of a cooking rut with putting more flavor in your food"

Eating a limited diet is a challenge. Meal planning is the key to successfully managing a healthy diet and avoiding anxiety.

Jump to "Solutions to get out of a cooking rut when you have limited food choices"

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How to get inspired with cooking something new

1. Look at what other people are making:
  • Talk with your friends, find out what they made for dinner last night.
  • Ask coworkers for their favorite recipe.
  • Think back to a yummy potluck item you encountered.
2. Watch food shows online or on TV:
  • Find a celebrity chef who makes food that looks good to you, but more importantly find one who has a cooking style you can mimic.
  • Not only watch shows of the food you love and that you’ll make, but also watch shows that have food you will never make. Because someday you will be motivated to try a dish that you thought you’d never make.
3. Cook from photos in cookbooks and magazines:
  • Find a recipe that looks enticing to you but only look at the ingredients –skip their cooking method!— and cook the dish with a method that you already know.
  • Take photos or screenshots of food images that look good to you. Additionally, save them in an Album, a Note, or in a Reminder on your cell phone. As a matter of fact, you can send the photo to me and I will give ideas on how to make it.
4. Use restaurant menus:
  • Go to a restaurant’s website and look at their photos, read the ingredients, and then search for the recipe online.
  • Look up your favorite restaurant dish and try to recreate it.
  • Find online a restaurant you patronized while traveling, look for that dish you loved and try to recreate it.
  • If you enjoy Italian food, then search online for a city in Italy, find a restaurant and look at their menu. Find a dish that is appealing and search for the recipe. 
5. Focus on one ingredient:
  • If you have many tomatoes, then search online with this phrase:  best recipe for tomatoes.
  • If you have a unique food item, then search online with this phrase:  recipe for riced cauliflower.
6. Relive childhood meals:
  • Get recipes from your elders, cook what they made for you.
7. Use meal kits:
  • Chose a meal kit company and get a couple of their deliveries in order to make recipes that are new to you.
  • Or, just look at their websites, read their menus and then create the meals that look good to you.
8. Check out a local specialty store or market:
  • farmer’s markets
  • international markets
  • cooking equipment retail shops
  • bookstores
9. Focus on gadgets or small appliances:
  • slow cooker
  • pressure cooker
  • air fryer
  • food processor
  • immersion blender
  • grater, mandoline
10. Watch your local store for specials and sales:
  • plan your meal based on the food that is on sale.
  • in like manner, plan your week based on the food that is on sale.
11. Eat with the seasons:
12. Get to know flavors and seasonings:
  • Using fresh herbs or a little bit of lemon juice will change the tone of a dish.
  • Search online for a spice or herb that you love, use this phrase:  What dishes is xxxxxxx good in?
  • “Spicely” is an organic herb company in the Bay Area that can be found at Whole Foods and a few other local grocers. Their spices are in small green boxes. They have many spice blends, and individual spices. Comparatively, I found the price is lower at local grocery stores than on their website and on Amazon. 
  • “Penzey’s” is a national herb company that has many unique blends. They have a store locator on their website, but you can purchase from their website, too.
13. Use different garnish or condiments:
  • Capers, olives, pickles
  • Sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, cream cheese
14. Capitalize on frozen veggies and canned beans:
  • Green beans, okra, pearl onions — have these unusual veggies on hand.
  • Canned beans can add a special touch to a meal. Use just a few, or blend them to make a sauce.
15. Investigate the international aisle in your local grocery store, you will find:
  • Pad Thai kits
  • Taco kits
  • Simmer sauces, such as: Biriani, Chana Dal, Coconut Curry, Red Thai Curry, Enchiladas, Fajitas, Pasilla Chili, as well as Mushroom Medleys
16. Look at –but don’t buy– frozen meals:
  • Go to the frozen food aisle in your local grocery store, read the ingredients on a box of a frozen meal, and then go buy those items to create your own meal.
17. Watch this video to learn cooking secrets:

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perfect-eight-braised-chicken-thighs-bone-in-crispy-skin-shown-in-a-dutch-oven-with-lemon-wheels-mediterranean-cooking-class

Use cooking methods to make different meals, but cooked the same way

18. Build on what you already know:
  • use the same ingredients, but use different sizes, different shapes and different ratios.
  • use the same ingredients but use the oven instead of the usual stovetop.
  • use the same ingredients —except ADD ONE new item, or TWO new items.
  • use the same cooking method but use different seasonings and or condiments.
  • Use the same COOKING METHOD that you are familiar with but change one thing: different meat, different veggies or different seasonings.
19. Learn a new cooking method:
  • Order a couple of meal kits that look intriguing to you, the meal will come already sliced, diced and measured —so you skip all the shopping and prepping and can put your focus on following the directions and learn a new cooking method.
  • Watch cooking videos that focus on a cooking method.
  • Follow Chef Todd, a chef who teaches cooking methods.   
20. Learn a new technique:
Here are links to help you get to know different cooking methods:

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Use these time-saving steps for cooking ideas

21. Plan ahead:
  • Make a plan! Click here to learn how to create a menu plan.
  • Have a specific cuisine on a specific day such as Mexican every Thursday, and pizza every Friday.
  • Have a specific meat or fish on specific days such as beef on Mondays, chicken on Tuesdays, fish on Fridays.
  • Use a specific cooking method on specific days such as braising on Sundays, saute on
22. Buy prepared foods:
  • pre-chopped veggies (fresh or frozen)
  • pre-cooked rice, quinoa, lentils (fresh or frozen)
  • frozen veggies
  • frozen meat
  • frozen fish
23. Watch this video for more short cuts:
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cropped-Mexican-Asian-fusion-orange-ginger-stir-fry-shrimp-in-taco-bowl-garnish-sesame-seeds-online-cooking-class

Focus on flavors for cooking inspiration

24. Explore different flavor profiles:
  • umami
  • bold and complex
  • salty sour
  • sweet sour
  • fresh, which is al dente veggies with bright flavors
25. Here are worthy blog posts to help you get more flavor:

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chef-joni-sare-online-conversation-with-five-people-qanda-q&a-answering-questions-talking-about-food-and-cooking

Solutions to get out of a cooking rut when you have limited food choices

If you have dietary restrictions or particular tastes, sometimes it might feel like you just have the same meals on repeat. And the good news is there are tactics to help introduce new meals without even changing the ingredients from your tried and true weekly dishes.

26. Find others who eat the same foods you do:
  • Do a Zoom call with me and others who are doing the same diet plan.
  • Go to health experts’ websites who tout the diet that works for you.
  • Find bloggers who have the same restrictions as you do.

27. Make a complete list of the foods you can eat:
  • Download my “Likes & Dislikes Form,” this is a comprehensive list of all food items. Check the ones you can eat and then mix and match. I can show you how.
  • Include foods you don’t particularly like. Because you can minimize them or use specific cooking methods to minimize their flavors and textures.  
28. Search for recipes with two foods that you eat:
  • See what other people are making with those same two foods.
29. Get familiar with substitutions:
  • Search online with this phrase:  Substitutions for xxxxx
  • Substitutions can be a similar food but there are also substitutions for flavor and texture. 

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Images to give you ideas to get out of a cooking rut

seared-flank-steak-stuffed-with-roasted-julienne-bell-peppers-onions-broccoli-onions-red-and-yellow-bell-peppers-catering

Serve your steak rolled and stuffed with veggies. Use a different cooking method than you normally would for the sides.

beautiful-baked-fritatta-zucchini-blossoms-baked-into-the-fritatta-with-toasted croutons-joni-sare-meal-prep-personal-chef

Make a frittata using zucchini that still has the blossoms on the ends.

crinkle-cutter-wavy-cutter-cutting-board-knife-crinkle-cut-carrots-knife-skills-cooking-class

Use a "crinkle cutter" to add new shapes to your dish.

incredible-green-colors-of-lightly-sauteed-pea-salad-with-whole-snap-peas-wilted-spinach-fresh-green-peas-catering

Select similar colors, but different shapes.

deconstructed-salad-chicken-couscous-tomatoes-spinach-grated-cheese-toasted-pumpkin-seeds-raisins-corn-meal-prep

Serve a salad in sections and let each person toss and mix it themselves.

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