Having your go-to meals dialed in can simplify healthy home cooking. Classic combos like grilled chicken over kale salad and roast salmon with broccoli may always be in your rotation, but sometimes, the dinners you could make blindfolded suddenly lose their appeal. You’ve fallen into a healthy food rut, and the boredom is enough to make you call for pepperoni pizza. But put down the phone — there are better ways to bring some excitement back into your kitchen. Wesley McWhorter, RD, a trained chef and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, shares his best tips for busting a healthy food rut.
1. Try a New Supermarket
Adding interest to your meals starts with the groceries you’ve got in the refrigerator. If you go to the same store with the same shopping list week after week, things are bound to get dull after a while.
“When I worked as a private chef, there was a Korean market nearby with a huge produce section,” recalls McWhorter. At that store he first encountered kohlrabi. The bulbous plant is related to cauliflower and cabbage, and it brings all the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables. Today, he counts it as among his favorite vegetables.
You can get inspired and maybe even find your next favorite vegetable by changing up where you shop, too. Farmers markets, which often carry heirloom varieties of fruits and veggies you can’t find at the supermarket, are particularly great places to find a fun, new-to-you ingredient that can reinvigorate your cooking.
Try It: Kohlrabi Slaw
Peel the tough exterior from a kohlrabi bulb and cut the bulb into matchsticks. Season with salt and toss with olive oil, rice vinegar, and a little agave. If you have parsley, cilantro, dill, or another tender herb handy, chop and add just before serving. Garnish with chopped toasted nuts.
RELATED: These Farmers Market Favorites Help Fight Inflammation
2. Explore International Flavors
Most people default to the flavors and recipes of their own families and cultures. McWhorter suggests choosing an international cuisine from a part of the world you’re less familiar with. He grew up in the American South and enjoys cooking Mexican dishes. “It’s not just chips and salsa,” he says. He also suggests Indian and Moroccan cuisines for their spectacular use of spices.
An unfamiliar cooking style doesn’t have to be intimidating. You could sign up for a beginner cooking class for whichever type you’d like to learn more about. (Many are now given online.) YouTube also brims passionate home cooks from around the world teaching their personal recipes.
Try It: Pinto Bean Tacos
Warm a little olive oil in a cast-iron skillet and add canned or cooked pinto beans. Season with cumin and Mexican oregano. Use a potato masher to partially mash the beans. Fold into a warm corn tortilla with fresh cilantro leaves, chopped radish, and a dollop of guacamole.
3. Sign Up for a CSA
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs are everywhere today. They usually require a subscription. You sign up before the growing season, then receive a box of fresh produce each week from a farm in your area. You don’t know what will be in your box from week to week, and it varies depending on what’s in season.
“It’s almost like Chopped,” says McWhorter. There’s definitely a game show element to opening your box each week. It’s a race against the clock to figure out how to cook with sometimes unfamiliar ingredients before they spoil.
Over the 12 or so weeks of a typical growing season, you’ll likely discover many new ingredients, learn new recipes, get cooking ideas from your fellow members, and enjoy guaranteed protection from any cooking ruts. “You’ll probably get a lot of stuff you wouldn’t typically buy. It can be scary. But it’s a lot of fun, too,” says McWhorter.
Try It: Crispy Okra
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the okra in half lengthwise and toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast until brown and crisp.
4. Mix Up Your Greens
If you have even a passing interest in health and nutrition, a big bunch of kale is likely the first thing in your basket during a typical grocery run. But the world of green leafy vegetables goes far beyond kale. If it’s the only leafy green you’re eating regularly, you’re really missing out, according to McWhorter. “I don’t even like kale,” he says. “I really prefer collard greens, but there’s also Swiss chard, mustard greens, dandelion greens, broccoli rabe, and more.”
All these leafy greens are nutrient–packed superfoods, but each has a different flavor profile and texture. There are classic recipes for each, but most can be enjoyed cooked or raw. Tasting as many kinds of greens as you can is one of the healthiest ways to keep it interesting in the kitchen.
Try It: Garlicky Collard Greens
Slice a bunch of collard greens (tough stems removed) into thin strips. Add olive oil to a large pot set over medium heat and add a few sliced garlic cloves. Cook until you smell the garlic. Add the greens, a couple of splashes of broth or water, and cover until the greens wilt. Uncover, then continue cooking until the water has evaporated and the greens are tender. Squeeze lemon juice over them before enjoying.
RELATED: 10 Great Cookbooks for Anyone on a Plant-Based Diet
5. Dust Off Your Library Card
Most libraries have a whole section dedicated to books about food and cooking. Take an hour to browse the stacks and borrow whatever catches your eye. Of course, you’ll find traditional cookbooks, which can be extremely useful for rut-breaking ideas. But there are many other food books that can get your ideas flowing.
“One of my favorites is called The Flavor Bible. It is full of information about how to combine different flavors,” says McWhorter. It spells out which foods taste best together. You may find combos you wouldn’t have considered, like fennel and orange. With a few other ingredients, this pairing makes an exciting and flavorful salad — a far cry from the standard chopped romaine with oil and vinegar.
Just remember that you don’t have to follow recipes you find in books exactly, says McWhorter: “It’s a good way to get inspired and get excited about cooking again.”
Try It: Fennel and Orange Salad
Halve a fennel bulb and slice it very thinly. Cut an orange into segments. Slice a small shallot thinly. Combine the fennel, orange, and shallot in a bowl and toss with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Add slivers of green olive. Spoon over baby arugula.
RELATED: The Best Meal Kit Delivery Services in 2021 for Healthy Meals at Home
6. Try a Meal Kit
There’s no shame in ordering a few meal kits when you’re flat out of ideas for what to make for dinner. Several brands focus on healthy food. Not only do these services take care of the shopping and send you just what you need for that recipe but they are also a treasure trove of fresh ideas.
“I was sent one as a gift, and I liked how different it was from what I usually cook. It’s a great way to get ideas,” says McWhorter.