bored woman on couch eating chips and soda

Beating the Meal-Time Blues


Tired of eating mealy apples, over-priced cucumbers and tasteless tomatoes?

Feel like you’re filling your shopping cart with the same twelve bags of groceries week after week?

Do you dread another meal featuring chicken, broccoli and pasta?

You’re not alone.

In fact, you are suffering from a dilemma that goes back to the days of our pioneer ancestors. They had to get through the long, dreary months of winter making meals out of the foods put by after the last harvest in November. Root cellars were filled with potatoes, turnips and parsnips. Pantries were stocked with sauerkraut, tomatoes and applesauce. Salted or cured beef and venison had to be cooked into stews, and with any luck, traps would provide an occasional rabbit.

Given the winter menu, an orange in a Christmas stocking was a truly sumptuous treat!

But in our global marketplace, there really is no reason to let our meals become boring. Advances in jet travel, climate-controlled storage and high-tech packaging, as well as the wonders of things like hydroponic farming and bioengineered plants have made a greater variety of foods available to us all year round. There are even more options for organically grown produce and farm-raised chicken and beef than ever before.

So why are we in a rut? Because we are creatures of habit. Habits are a very important way we streamline our lives. Instead of getting up every morning and having to think about what we’ll do first, and then what to do next, we fall into routines: shower, get dressed, apply make-up, dry hair, make bed, pack lunch, drink coffee.

Just like putting the car on cruise control when speeding up the Interstate, we put our brains on cruise control to get though many of the tasks we have to perform each day – like planning menus, shopping for food, preparing meals. It’s just a matter of time before we fall into a rut.

Added to the monotony of eating the same foods for months on end is the physical confinement of winter – especially this year! There are no back yard barbecues, picnics in a park or lunches on the beach to break up the mealtime routines. All of which makes us much more vulnerable to uncontrollable cravings and spontaneous splurges to bring some excitement back into our mouths. There are some urges a caramel coated rice cake just cannot satisfy.

But all is not hopeless. Let me show you how you can end your diet doldrums and put some magic back into your meals!

1. REVITALIZE YOUR KITCHEN – Give your eyes a break from the same old scenery; anything can taste good when eaten with the right view. Check the Winter White sales and treat yourself to a new view in your kitchen.

  • Tablecloth or place mats and cloth napkins
  • Kitchen towels and pot holders
  • Slip covers or cushions for kitchen chairs
  • Window curtain or shade
  • Area rug
  • Silk flower arrangement centerpiece

I took down a balloon valance from my kitchen window last month to wash it and never put it back up again. The extra light that streamed into the room without it made it seem a lot brighter and more cheerful. The point is, make your kitchen an oasis, a welcome and comforting place to come home to.

2. REORGANIZE YOUR CUPBOARDS – You may not realize how many options you have for preparing food if you continually use the same cookware over and over. Surprises await you in the deep recesses of your kitchen closet.
  • Make the soup tureen accessible and keep parfait glasses handy for yogurt sundaes
  • Dust off little-used appliances and read the user manuals for inspiration – blenders, woks, pressure cooker, bread machine
  • Find the power cords for electric griddles and frying pans and attach labels so they’re ready to use any time

3. WELCOME SIGNS OF SPRING – You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws to enjoy the bounty of summer.

  • Force some flowering bulbs in a vase
  • Plant window sill herb pots for instant flavor in a pinch
  • Sprout beans for added crunch on sandwiches and salads
  • Splurge on fresh raspberries and make shortcake for dessert
  • Buy a soft, ripe mango to cut-up and freeze for a quick sorbet
  • Halve a pineapple, carve the fruit out and refill with a tropical fruit mixture – cubed pineapple, sliced papaya, and banana

4. PLAN A PICNIC – Duplicate the foods, even if you can’t capture the atmosphere. Picnic basket and cooler are optional!

  • Make potato salad with red skinned potatoes
  • Rub herb-infused spread on frozen ears of corn then microwave
  • Toss shredded red and green cabbage with seedless grapes for a tangy coleslaw
  • Squeeze lemons for fresh lemonade
  • Spread a checkered cloth on the living room floor and gather round!

5. EXPAND YOUR RECIPE REPERTOIRE – A widely quoted statistic says most households use the same ten recipes over and over again in a cycle. No wonder we’ve got the blues.

  • Browse through your cookbooks, recipe files, magazines or the weekly paper for new ideas
  • Pick ONE new recipe a week to sample at a meal. It could be a muffin for Saturday morning, a salad dressing for Sunday dinner, a different crumb coating for the chicken cutlets, a seasoning blend for string beans, or a new topping for the apple crisp. Just make a point to try something new every week.
  • At the end of one year you will have tried 52 new dishes. Even if half were losers, you’ll still have 26 new ones to incorporate into your menu cycle again.

6. INDULGE IN THE UNKNOWN – With over 50,000 items on your grocery store shelves there are sure to be some that you haven’t tried yet!

  • Start off with something new from the many varieties of fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle. How many varieties of mushrooms have you tried or Asian vegetables?
  • There are grains galore to choose from, all with cooking instructions right on the package from couscous to quinoa.
  • Don’t forget the dried peas, beans and lentils and many new meat substitutes

7. CHALLENGE YOUR TASTE BUDS – Intensely flavored food is more memorable and more satisfying than one-dimensional tastes in food.

  • Instead of a sweet, syrupy prepared salad dressing, use balsamic vinegar or an herb-infused vinegar mixed with a fruity olive or aromatic nut oil
  • Don’t be afraid to use a little real cheese to boost flavor without a lot of fat. Buy a wedge of Parmesan and grate over your pasta or soup, keep some pungent Roquefort on hand to crumble onto salad, get the sharpest Cheddar you can to shave on to your chili.
  • Fill the pepper mill with assorted whole peppercorns then be sure to pass it round the table at meals–you welcome it when dining out, so why not in your own home?
  • Are sun dried tomatoes a staple in your cupboard yet, and how many types of chilies do you keep on hand?

8. KEEP YOUR JAW BUSY – My biggest complaint about fast food is that is has no texture, and I like to chew. Here are some ways to make your meals more crunchy and chewy.

  • Use multigrain breads and rolls with kernels and seeds and thick hearty crusts.
  • Add dried fruit bits to cereal, rice dishes, stuffings, muffins
  • Snack on corn nuts, roasted chick peas, Dutch pretzels
  • Sprinkle some Grape Nuts® cereal into your yogurt or salad

9. REDISCOVER THE BOUNTY OF BREAKFAST – All the non-breakfast eaters I know are breakfast fans when on vacation or invited to brunch. By keeping more interesting selections available every day of the week breakfast can become your favorite meal of the day.

  • Omelets filled with salsa and served with warm corn tortillas
  • Frozen Belgium waffles topped with sliced strawberries
  • French toast prepared in a baking dish the night before so it can soak up the batter, then baked in the oven and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon in the morning

10. FILL THE FREEZER WITH QUICK BREADS – Fruit and nut breads freeze well and are a great way to use up over ripe bananas. Make double batches to enjoy as a healthy snack or simple dessert when smeared with cream cheese.

  • Jack up the cinnamon, cloves and ginger to tempt the taste buds with the flavors of homemade apple pie!
  • Wrap individual slices before freezing for a portable snack

Enjoying our food is our most human quality after language. Like good conversation, eating should be stimulating, thoughtful and entertaining. I hope you found a few ideas to help make the remaining weeks of this miserably snowy winter more enjoyable!

Posted in Eating Habits, Eating Right, Food Preparation, Healthy Lifestyle, Meal Patterns and tagged , , , , , .

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