As a food and nutrition editor, I own a lot of cookbooks. Yet, I always resorted to the same meals – until now.
When I make New Year’s resolutions, I try to be realistic about what’s actually sustainable. I generally eat healthfully, and I have no desire to cut out my favourite treats like ice cream. But as healthfully as my husband and I eat, we often get stuck in a rut: veggie fried rice, turkey burgers, baked salmon, chilli beans. So at the turn of the year, I eyed our two shelves full of cookbooks and decided we should finally take advantage of them.
The resolution? Choose one to two new recipes to make every week. Repeat, indefinitely.
We’re still going strong, and now that our little one is starting to eat what we eat, it should make selecting recipes a little more exciting and interesting. Over the past two months, trying new recipes each week has taught us a few important lessons about the importance of mixing things up in the kitchen. Read on to find out what we learned and why dietitian Lisa Bruno says those lessons are important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Thumbing Through Cookbooks Is Exciting
When you’re looking through the right cookbook, you should be drooling every time you turn the page. So it’s best not to choose a recipe right before you head out to do the weekly shop because you’re not giving yourself (or the recipes) the time meal-selection deserves. I want to spend a few minutes on each recipe to determine what I’m in the mood for, what would be a fun challenge, and what would expand my palate. Plus, the prospect of trying something new is exciting.
Long Ingredients Lists Are Daunting, But Manageable
On the flip side, looking at long ingredients lists can be overwhelming. But what I learned is not to breeze past a recipe with a ton of ingredients: it’s worth taking stock of what you actually have in the house and ultimately realising, you may not need to buy that many more and that the prep is pretty easy.
“When you start something new it’s easy to get super aggressive about it,” says dietitian Lisa Bruno of Work It Out Nutrition. “It’s good to get a cookbook, but don’t overwhelm yourself and try to do everything at once. Don’t make five days of new recipes and buy 65 different ingredients you may only use once per recipe.” Instead, she says, try one or two recipes a week, or choose a handful of recipes that have similar ingredients so you can buy once and cook all week.
That Unusual Ingredient Actually Isn’t That Hard to Find
I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve disregarded in the past because I assume there’s no way I can find nigella seeds or miso paste. But if you have access to a decently sized supermarket, or a delivery service, you will find said ingredient, and voila! You’ve unlocked a trove of new recipes.
Variety Really is the Spice of Life
People pushing healthy foods always say, “Healthy doesn’t have to be boring!” And it’s true. But eat those same not-boring-healthy meals week after week, and it does become monotonous. Choosing a new recipe every week forced us to think (somewhat) outside the box. For example, we usually make turkey burgers every week. But once we tapped into the Bob’s Burgers Cookbook (which I’d been harbouring for over a year and totally forgot about), we upped our burger game with Sweet Home Avocado Burger and The Six Scallion Dollar Man Burger.
“You get used to eating healthy and then you end up circulating the same foods, and that runs the risk of boredom,” says Bruno. “As soon as you get bored, you no longer like that food and you may start craving foods that aren’t the most healthy. Using a cookbook or finding new recipes gives you the opportunity to be exposed to new taste profiles and textures.”
Yes, we still have our trusted go-tos (looking at you, veggie fried rice), but adding just one new recipe a week has made us excited to get in the kitchen
We Look Forward to Leftovers
This goes hand-in-hand with mixing things up: Cooking with new recipes makes our lunches more interesting. In some cases, for example, when I made the Run Fast Eat Slow kale and radicchio salad with lemon miso dressing, I doubled the recipe knowing I’d want to bring leftovers as lunch.
You Expand Your Skill Set
My husband and I know the basics of cooking. Confession: He probably knows more than I do, and I’m the one coming out with The Runner’s World Vegetarian Cookbook (October 2018). But trying new recipes has taught us both about new ingredients and cooking methods (Swiss chard is a decent substitute for bok choy if you can’t find the latter; you can steam veggies in the microwave – a trick I learned at university and taught my husband; miso paste isn’t as intimidating as it sounds).
“When you cook with a cookbook or new recipes, it will often force you to use fresh herbs, and that will help you experience new flavors without relying on unhealthier foods, like cream-based sauces,” says Bruno.
Cookbooks Still Have a Place in This Digital World
When I decided to pursue this resolution, it was two-fold: try new foods and make a dent in the one million cookbooks we own. A few times my husband and I talked about finding a recipe online, but decided we liked to thumb through our books instead. Just like e-books failed at making print books obsolete, I think cookbooks still have a very strong place in this world. I love that my Run Fast Eat Slow book is filled with crumbs and oil stains – your phone would be in trouble if it looked like that. And I love that the pages don’t go dark when you take too long to mix ingredients (guilty!). And in this experiment, we’ve found a way to merge both digital and print: we take photos of the recipe to bring to the store when we buy ingredients – a win-win, really