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Bust Out of a Food Rut

While it’s a good idea to have a handful of go-to meals we can rely on in a time crunch, preparing the same repasts week after week as if on autopilot can bring on a serious case of food burnout.

It may start with an appetite for easy, quick and reliable-to-prepare meals, or it may result from a food restriction brought on by a desire to shed weight. In any case, clients who become blasé about mealtime can be tempted by nutritionally corrupt food as they try to bring more pleasure back to eating—a scenario that can sabotage weight loss efforts or fitness goals.

Since it’s almost always healthier (and cheaper!) for people to prepare most of their own meals at home, it’s important to develop a game plan that keeps meal-time exciting and ensures that a diet derailing food rut doesn’t set in. Take the blahs out of eating by using these methods to reinvigorate a bored palate.

Usher in the New

As the old saw goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” And this is particularly true of the foods we toss into our grocery cart and slap on the dinner plate. Simply put, consuming a narrow range of overdone staples all the time will sour anyone’s interest in a healthy diet. That can lure people back to poor foods, like greasy pizza, and rekindle an urge to make surreptitious midnight Dairy Queen runs for the sake of change.

Our palates are designed to appreciate culinary variety, and our senses can be more completely satisfied when we enjoy a wider diversity of novel textures, colors and flavors. Improved food variety makes it much less likely for people to feel deprived when following a calorie-controlled diet for healthy weight management.

Furthermore, eating the same handful of edibles every day makes us less likely to obtain a full arsenal of nutrients. A diet rich in variety—Swiss chard or collard greens instead of just romaine; faro, amaranth and teff instead of only rice— provides a much broader range of the necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and amino acids needed for good health and optimal fitness gains. Some nutritionists also believe that dietary diversity may lessen food intolerances by reducing the constant stimulation of the body’s digestive and immune system from staples such as wheat and soy.

Picture the Irresistible

Not sure what to do with teff or a pomelo? Consider spending some quality Web time surfing for new recipe ideas on gastronomic visual-potluck websites like these:

For all the kitchen inspiration you can stomach, go to www.foodgawker.com. Search for a particular ingredient and click on any one of a huge collection of standout food photos—you’ll then be whisked to a page of mouthwatering recipes. For instance, a search for quinoa calls up a tasty-looking recipe for quinoa avocado spring rolls. Just keep in mind that not all the recipes are wonderfully healthy, so forage for ones with an abundance of nutrient-rich whole foods.

Get Your Passport to Flavor

Stepping outside a supermarket comfort zone and strolling through an ethnic food market can encourage experimentation in the kitchen and provide a dazzling assault on the taste buds. Several varieties of ethnic cuisine such as Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, North African, Mediterranean and Latin have a number of pantry staples such as zaatar and soba noodles that can instantly enliven a stale diet.

Best of all, many of these items deliver significant health perks. Case in point: Mexican chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which features dry-smoked jalapeños packed in a lively red sauce and infuses dishes with smoky heat and capsaicin, a phytochemical that gives chili peppers their fiery kick. Research suggests that consuming more capsaicin may aid in weight management, potentially by revving up metabolism and reducing appetite (Ludy, Moore & Mattes 2012; Ludy & Mattes 2011; Whiting, Derbyshire & Tiwari 2012).

Japanese miso, a savory paste made from fermented soybeans, can breathe new life into soups and salad dressing. A study published in the journal Nutrition Research suggests that fermented soy products can help slash the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Kwon et al. 2010). Readily available in Indian markets is tamarind pulp, which bolsters dietary levels of B vitamins, potassium and magnesium. A large 2013 Harvard study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher intakes of magnesium can cut heart-disease risk by up to 30% (Del Gobbo et al. 2013). Tamarind pulp adds a nice touch of tangy sweetness to glazes, soups, vinaigrettes and chutneys. Again, don’t hesitate to go online for help making good use of these “new” ingredients.

Suffering from wanderlust? The next time a vacation is in the works, consider choosing a destination with a strong culinary culture. Think Thailand, France or India. You will come home rested and ready to whip up inspiring new dishes.

Change Your Style

As with food choices, using the same cooking methods all the time can drive us into a rut. Mixing up styles can add new flavor and texture to a regular menu rotation.

Always pan-fry chicken? Try poaching it. Want to coax out more flavor and better texture from inexpensive cuts of meat? Braise them instead. Always roast veggies? Throw them on a grill. Wishing you could make truly moist and delicate fish? Try steaming fillets in parchment paper packets (en papillote, in French parlance). Also, consider treating yourself to a new kitchen gadget like an immersion blender, cast-iron skillet or pizza stone to get those creative juices flowing.

Making meal prep more fun gets your clients more interested in their healthy-eating plans. If you don’t know a mandolin from a mandoline, be sure to mine cookbooks, live cooking demonstrations and food blogs for all the necessary tips and tricks needed to master these exciting cooking techniques. Sous vide, anyone?

Learn From the Pros

Cities and towns across the nation are sprouting cooking classes that can turn average cooks and stove-a-phobes into seemingly culinary geniuses. This is an ideal way to learn diferent cooking skills and become aware of new foods and what to do with them in the kitchen. It’s also a place to meet new foodie friends who can keep home cooking exciting.

When searching out a cooking class, it’s important to choose one with a healthy theme, such as salad makeovers or whole grains. Some chefs who instruct classes can be too liberal with cream and butter. Community colleges, university extension programs and even churches can be great places to locate low-cost classes.

Gather a Crowd

Hosting a monthly potluck is an excellent way to fuel your drive to eat better and shake your taste buds out of a coma. There’s nothing like trying to impress friends and family to inspire you to put together an interesting new dish. You can also give these gatherings a nutritious theme—such as winter soups, tropical fruits or low-sugar desserts. Best of all, potlucks provide an opportunity to gather new recipes from other cooks. Keep in mind it’s best to test-run recipes before serving them to guests.

Hug a Farmer

Stoke your fire for culinary creativity by frequenting a farmers’ market for your weekly grocery haul. More often than not, there is something new and exciting to discover on those wood-hewn tables. All you need is a willing palate. Many times, the farmers who grow the orange cauliflower and Honeycrisp apples can suggest ways to make them shine in the kitchen. Besides, much of what is available is harvested at peak ripeness and doesn’t suffer from the nutritional losses that may occur when supermarket fare travels great distances from farm to store and sits on shelves for days. To find a farmers’ market close to home, check out www.local harvest.org and search in your zip code.

Taste the Season

Why eat imported asparagus in February or butternut squash during a July heat wave? Eating with the seasons is almost always cheaper, healthier and far more delicious. It also adds variety to a humdrum diet, since seasonal eating frequently changes what gets dropped in that shopping basket.

Learn when certain items are in season and then focus on using them in fun and enticing new ways. During the winter months, for example, use nutty-tasting spaghetti squash as a whimsical replacement for regular spaghetti. Embrace hearty root vegetables by caramelizing them in the oven. Winter fruits like citrus are abundant in the vitamin C we need to boost immunity. Chop up some blood oranges and toss with Greek yogurt for a healthy snack. When spring blooms, think green in the form of peas, asparagus and tender spinach.

Joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program can also force you to get creative with new seasonal foods, since you’re never really sure what will show up in the weekly box. With a CSA, you buy “shares” of a local farm. The return on your investment is a bounty of fresh, seasonal produce from the farm every week or two. Sometimes a CSA also includes dairy and meat items.

Slow Down

How often do we shovel food in our mouths while driving, watching television or working at the office? This habit disconnects us further from the food we eat. By taking the time to appreciate the flavors and textures that different foods provide, you’ll garner a whole new excitement for mealtime.

Slowing down the pace of eating may help in the battle of bulge as well A study in the journal Appetite discovered that people who chewed each bite of their midday meal for at least 30 seconds consumed half as many snacks later in the day as people who ate at a more furious pace (Higgs & Jones 2013). The researchers surmised that chewing at more of a snail’s pace may delay hunger signals.

Also, consider livening up the kitchen and dining area at home in simple ways to reduce the urge to speed-eat. For example, place flowers or ornamental gourds on the table; play your favorite music in the background during meal prep; and put out healthy appetizers before the main meal.

Update the Usual Suspects

It’s not always necessary to rustle up brand-new recipes to break out of the food blahs. Instead, you can take recipes you’re accustomed to and make them over with new ingredients. For example, if you typically serve pasta with meat sauce, consider serving pasta with steamed mussels instead. Make over meatloaf to include half beef and half mushrooms. Swap out deli turkey in your lunch sandwich with smoked salmon. Making just a few updates to your usual recipes can really help in sending that food rut packing. Happy cooking!

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