Ever find yourself relying on the same recipes week after week? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to fall into a monotonous rut when cooking dinner at home, and over time this can lead to boredom at the dinner table and make cooking at home not quite as appealing. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to spice things up.
The more variety and color you bring to your home-cooked meals, the more likely you and your family are going to enjoy them (and continue doing so). Here are some easy tips on how to amp up your meals — without adding a lot of extra calories, time or money!
1. Use herbs and spices to add flavor without calories. Nothing fancies up a meal better than a few freshly chopped herbs and spices, and the flavor of fresh herbs over dried can’t be beat! On top of that, chopping a few herbs takes minimal effort. Some great fresh herbs to have on hand are cilantro, parsley, basil and chives. Check out these ideas for more tips on incorporating fresh herbs.
2. Spiralize your veggies. There are few things more fun in the kitchen than turning a zucchini into a big mess of noodles! You’re not limited to just zucchini, though — sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets and even apples are all great (and maybe even better) in noodle form. If you don’t have a spiralizer, try making thin strips with a vegetable peeler.
3. Plate your food with pizzazz. Get inspiration from your favorite food Instagram account and add some style to your dish. Plate salad toppings in symmetrical lines, add a fun drizzle of sauce or maybe even learn how to cut an avocado into a rose!
4. Add a touch of citrus. Lemon, lime, orange juice or a little zest can add a lot of flavor to a meal without adding unneeded calories. A touch of vinegar can also pack a big punch of flavor when balanced with a little oil.
5. Have theme nights. When we do actually have the chance to make anything for dinner, we usually end up making the same old recipes. Having a framework for what category of food you’re going to make can help you get really creative. Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday and Meatless Monday are all fun ideas to mix up your routine. Another idea to ease the workload? Assign family members one night to plan and cook, so all the work doesn’t fall on one person.
6. Roast vegetables. Roasting is almost as easy as steaming — just preheat your oven, add some oil to your veggies, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss them in. Caramelization adds a sweet, nutty flavor that will help you fall in love with vegetables all over again (or maybe for the first time).
7. Bump up the crunch. A sprinkle of crunch instantly steps a dish up by adding a super satisfying texture. Chopped or toasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, sunflower seeds and raw veggies (like carrots and cucumbers) are all great options to add crunch. A little crunch may also lead you to feel full faster. Interestingly, research suggests that people who can hear themselves chewing actually eat less than those who are eating foods with no sound.
8. Cut your veggies in a different way. Slice the vegetables round, julienned, half moon or whatever shape you please! If you have kids (or even if you don’t), use a cookie cutter to slice veggies into fun shapes, like hearts and stars. Small changes like this can make a big impact on presentation.
9. Grow your own ingredients. Even if you can’t keep a cactus alive, you can still start small by trying to grow fresh herbs. Yes, it still counts if you buy plants that are ready to use. Think of how fun it would be to make meals with something you’ve actually grown!
10. Marinate proteins. There are endless flavor options with marinades — teriyaki, lemon herb, Jamaican jerk … the list goes on. Marinating adds tons of flavor to your protein, allows less fat to be used for flavor when cooking and is a great way to explore new cuisines. Homemade marinades tend to be lower in sodium and only take a minute or two to whisk together.
11. Brighten it up with color. Add in peppers, shredded rainbow carrots, a sprinkle of fresh herbs or green onions, ripe berries and more. Not only does it brighten your meal, but it also adds nutrients from vibrant-colored produce. Look at your plate and identify any missing colors — is there any way I can add in greens, reds or purples?
12. Add a high-quality sauce or condiment. Stir pesto into cooked pasta, drizzle a balsamic glaze over vegetables or add a dollop of chutney, tapenade or salsa to cooked proteins. Keep a few flavor-packed condiments and sauces in the refrigerator and pantry, as well as an avocado since a quick guacamole makes almost anything better!
13. Try new twists on old recipes. Think about what you used to eat as a kid and try to make a “fancier” or healthier version. Try quinoa fried rice instead of takeout or baked buffalo cauliflower bites instead of fried buffalo wings.
14. Make a Chopped-style challenge. Add some fun into cleaning out your fridge and freezer by picking out some random ingredients and making them into a meal. Bonus points if you put the ingredients into a mystery basket.
15. Shop at your local market and buy what’s in season. You’ll get more flavor and color — plus, vendors usually have suggestions on what to do with it. It’s also pretty special to meet the person who actually grew your food.
16. Fire up the grill. Use the grill, griddle pan or other high-heat cooking methods strategically –— sear, brown or grill to add color and flavor and lock in juices. You’ll bump up the flavor of a wide range of foods from sirloin to corn on the cob to peaches.
17. Try foreign flavors. Step out of your comfort zone and try making a meal from a different culture. If a whole meal is too daunting, focus on one new-to-you flavor, like ginger or lemongrass. Trying a meal like Sizzling Hoisin Shrimp or Greek Salad Flatbreads from HelloFresh is also a great way to sample a new cuisine before investing in ingredients.
18. Stir in greens. Adding greens like baby spinach and kale to any dish instantly adds nutrients, but adding a few handfuls of fresh greens is also an easy way to add color and variety, as well as make dainty serving sizes more plentiful. Toss them into soups, stews, casseroles, fruit smoothies, stir-fries, pasta dishes, burritos, slow-cookers and more.
19. Designate a new recipe day. If you’re like most people, you pin, bookmark and save recipes for the future, but rarely ever make them. Pick a day each month to try out one of your new recipes. You can even conduct an official family taste test to see if it should be added to your rotation.
20. Make nachos. Before you get too excited, we’re talking about healthy nachos! You can go the sweet route by drizzling peanut butter and mini chocolate chips onto thin apple slices or go savory by roasting thin rounds of sweet potato and topping with black beans, guacamole, salsa and sautéed peppers.
Making dinner at home doesn’t have to be boring, so pick your favorite tip and dive in!