How to Add Variety to Your Meal Planning

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Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Add Variety to Your Meal Planning - Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Meal planning can be a joy or a chore. Everybody plans meals; it’s just a difference of doing it a week in advance at your kitchen table or five minutes before you pull up to the drive through window.

You meal plan. You just might not be doing it very effectively.

Whether you love it or hate it, meal planning can be a great tool for saving money on groceries, eating more healthfully, and managing your time better. If you like to be creative in the kitchen and/or love to eat, creating a meal plan can be the ultimate wish list that becomes reality. That’s probably the clincher for me. I’m just eager to eat again.

I’ve written pretty extensively about meal planning in the Meal Planning 101 series. I tried to cover all the basics. I’ve also posted 40 printable meal plans over at Life as MOM to give folks a boost as well as provide example meal plans. And the Meal Planning archives both on Good Cheap Eats and Life as MOM are pretty extensive. (I told you; I like to eat.)

A few weeks ago, though, I asked you if you had any specific quandaries as concerns meal planning. Submit your question if you haven’t already; I’ll be doing my best to answer them. Your questions were many and numerous. Here’s one of them:

I fall back on a few staple meals and need a way to easily and cheaply add more variety. How can I do that?

How to Add Variety to Your Meal Planning

Add Variety to Your Meal Planning - Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Try new recipes.

Ask a friend.

Consider which friends of yours have similar tastes in food and ask for a recommendation of something that her family has enjoyed recently. In this world of Pinterest and Facebook, we forget the time-honored tradition of swapping recipes with real life friends.

Usually, these are great recipes and come with the added benefit of shared history as well as shopping tips. I remember in my newlywed years, my friend Georgina would share her favorite recipes and then offer tips on where to buy certain ingredients for the best prices. This was so helpful to a new home cook! Jessika and my sister Janel are great at pointing me in the right direction. I love it that they text me new flavor combinations that they’ve tried and loved.

Walk down Memory Lane.

I started jotting down recipes when I was about seven years old. That means I have over 30 years’ worth of recipes stashed in different hidey holes. Many haven’t seen the light of day in quite awhile. But, I always enjoy browsing the collection. It sparks memories of past meals and gives me inspiration to recreate something or to remake it in a new way.

Add Variety to Your Meal Planning - Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Buy a new cooking magazine.

I’ve learned a ton about cooking by reading magazines for the last 20 years or so. My favorites include Bon AppetitFine Cooking, and Cook’s Country. I don’t often make the recipes, but they inspire me to try new techniques or food pairings. Your library carries an abundance of magazines that you can access for free.

Read through a favorite cookbook for new ideas.

I’ve got a small collection of cookbooks that I love. I don’t often cook out of them, but I love to read them and be inspired. Sometimes reading a cookbook gives me new ideas for which side dishes to pair with main dishes or a different way to prepare an old family favorite.

Again, for free you can access a wealth of cookbooks from your library. How’s that for a cheap way to add variety?

Tweak your favorites.

Add Variety to Your Meal Planning - Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Try a new sauce or topping.

Sometimes all we need to do to make things a little more exciting is dress them up a bit. Do you normally make tacos? Serve a new salsa or make homemade guacamole. Drizzle on the sour cream by squeezing it out a plastic bag with a corner cut off instead of that spoon blob that is always too generous.

Do you always make red sauce for pasta? Try an alfredo or pesto instead. Is pizza a regular for Friday nights? Choose some new toppings this week. Try an herbed butter on grilled meats to add some flavor without a lot of effort or cash.

There are plenty of simple and inexpensive sauces or toppings to try.

Build on a different base.

Those regular meals like pizza, pasta, and tacos can be easily switched up by changing the base of the dish. Ditch the pasta  and serve spaghetti squash or polenta instead. I have actually come to prefer both these alternatives to noodles.

If pizza is your game, forego traditional crust once in awhile and trade it for French bread or tortillas. These are quick alternatives that are just as tasty for Friday pizza night.

Tacos are great on crunchy shells, but there are plenty of other alternatives, including taco-size flour tortillas, homemade corn tortillas, or even lettuce leaves. You’ve got familiar flavors with a new little twist.

Add Variety to Your Meal Planning - Tired of the same old, same old? Try these easy and economical tips for spicing up your meals.

Add some new side dishes.

If you regularly grill chicken breast, cook a roast, or fry up pork chops that your family loves, keep it up. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. But dish up some more exotic side dishes. Try quinoa or couscous. Browse the stands at the farmer’s market or the produce aisle and choose some new vegetables.

Years ago my only side dish vegetables were canned green beans and salad. After an education through our weekly produce box, my family has come to love Brussels sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, chard, and spinach, things that were really foreign to us a decade ago.

There are lots of ways to add small tweaks to your meals without reworking your entire cooking repertoire. You can do it inexpensively, yet eat well.

What’s YOUR favorite way to switch up your meal planning?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Melissa W says

    If you’re in a rut like using ground beef for everything, try assigning a different protein to each day of the week. That makes me think a bit more and gives a direction to my searches for recipes. Something like Mon- beef, Tue- chicken, Wed- pork, Thu- beans, Fri- fish, Sat- leftovers, Sun- free day.

  2. Janet says

    First I always ask myself, is the family bored with eating this dish or am I tired of cooking it? I have learned there are some meals my family never gets tired of so I save those meals for the nights when I am out of inspiration. Second, a homemade dessert always makes the most ho hum meal a little special. The power of cookies and brownies 😉 Third, I try to add new items to an otherwise familiar meal. The first time my children tried star fruit I served it along side spaghetti and meatballs.

  3. Lizzy says

    One way you could break out of a rut is to take a Saturday or Sunday and switch the order of the meals. Chicken for breakfast and pancakes for dinner? OK. One thing that doesn’t work well for me now, but I look forward to when kids are older, is to have hors d’oeuvres for dinner. I like to get inspiration to try new things from the books I read (or the occasional movie). Reading from the Anne of Green Gables series has me wanting to try a meal described as a modest tea. It sounds like a feast to me! And last, but not least, is to try recreating a restaurant favorite at home. During summer we love homemade Hibachi vegetables with fried rice.

    • Love your ideas!

    • Sandi says

      My son doesn’t care one way or the other if we do breakfast for dinner, but it always cracks him up when there is a chance to do dinner for breakfast. Leftover pizza is of course the easiest, but we’ve done other dinner foods as well (rice bowls, burritos, chicken, etc).

      Someone at work mentioned that she and her husband do the “snacky hors d’oeuvres” for dinner once a week. That seemed a bit much to me, but I’ve done it once a month for a few months now, and that also falls under his “fun dinner night” label even if what is eaten is not on his “my favorite foods” list.

  4. Sandi says

    I would suggest that when switching things up and trying new recipes or even completely different types of meals than your usual fare, that you do not make *everything* for the meal part of the experiment. Have at least one thing you know people like to go along with what you hope they will like. What sounds good on paper/website does not always taste good when it is sitting on your plate…

  5. My husband gave me the idea at the beginning of the year to make every Tuesday “new-sday”. Since it’s the one day a week where we rarely have events in the evening, and if I work it’s only a half day, this was a great chance to try something new. Often it’s going to my cookbooks or Pinterest for the things I’ve marked and just picking one based on what ingredients I have. We’d gotten stuck in a rut of most-often-used-meals, and have now added a few new favorites!

  6. Angela says

    My favorite way to add to my recipes is pinterest and cozi meal planner. I use the meal planner to a record of my menus. Pinterest become my online then cook book. If I am stumped then I google an idea or type of cuisine to find recipes then I pin them to keep track of them

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