Thursday, January 10, 2013

Getting inspiration on what to make for dinner

When we’re stuck in a rut, sometimes we just need ideas.  There are several sources we can go to for ideas on what to make for dinner—grocery stores, restaurants, and recipe books, aps, magazines, and recipes online.

Grocery stores are good for inspiration because of all the different foods that are available on the shelves, in the produce section, and in the frozen food section.  You can look at the food or the food pictures, get ideas of what you want to make, and then just buy it.   But… if you care a little more about fresh food and nutrition, you’ll write down the foods that inspire you so you can find the recipes later.  (Actually, if you have a smart phone with internet access, you could probably look up the recipe right there and add to your grocery list and meal plan!)  If you are coming up with ideas as you shop, help your plans stick by writing them down so you can refer to them later. 

Restaurants with buffets are good for inspiration because you can see a bunch of different prepared food entrees and try them.  If you try it and like it, you can write down what it is, and probably find a recipe online.   There’s an internet site called CopyKat Recipes ( that is dedicated to helping you recreate restaurant favorites at home.  (Author Stephanie Manley notes restaurant food tends to be higher in fat, salt, and calories, but you can always experiment with the recipes to modify the ingredients.)

Recipe books are good for inspiration also because of all the beautiful pictures that are usually included and the way they pull together a collection of recipes.  (Confession: I hardly ever use recipe books that come without pictures.  I suppose since I have realized this I will need to get rid of the picture-less ones, huh?)  Recipe books can help you more quickly meet your nutritional goals or interests.  For instance, my husband got me a recipe book for Christmas called 500 Salads, since my goal is to include more vegetables in my diet.  You can find recipe books focused on a particular culture’s cooking, like Asian or Hispanic or African.  There are recipe books focused on quick meals, crock pot meals, or meals with few ingredients.  There are recipe books focused on vegan or vegetarian cooking.  There are recipe books focused on losing weight, or avoiding gluten.  Browsing recipe books for dishes to try makes planning exciting!

If you happen to have an iPad or iPod touch, you can get recipe aps that can help you figure out what to put on your menu.  Other users submit their own recipes, often with yummy-looking pictures and you can collect your favorites and submit reviews of recipes.  The ap I use is called Big Oven.  You can search for a recipe by name, or you can even search by ingredient.  I discovered the marvels of searching by ingredient when I found myself with a large jar of pickled jalepenos to use up.  I found some really great recipes that used jalepenos and now pickled jalepenos are practically a staple food!

Magazines are a good place to look for food ideas.  Magazines tend to publish recipes that are particularly fitting for that issue’s month of the year.  You’ll find recipes for the different holidays, light, cool meals for summer and heavy, warm meals for winter.  A subscription may help you with monthly planning, since it would come at the beginning of the month.  Just don’t obligate yourself to keep the whole magazine; tear out the pages of recipes you’ve tried and like!    You can check out Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple, Everyday Foods, Cooks Illustrated, Food Network Magazine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Country, and Fine Cooking. 

Finding recipes online is a quick way to brighten up a menu.  Bloggers can be particularly passionate about new recipes, and some will include pictures about the process of making the food and rhapsodize about how it tastes.  If you find a recipe you want, you can copy and paste the recipe into a file along with the picture and print it out.  If you try it and like it, you can add the recipe to your other tried-and-true recipes.

When you’re working on a meal plan for the week and the usual fare doesn’t excite you, or if you’re trying to change your diet to something more healthy and you need foods that fit with it, it is time to try something new and you need ideas.   You’re not without resources.  Grocery stores, restaurants, recipe books, recipe aps, magazines, and recipes online each have something that can help add interest and anticipation to meal times.
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