Stuck in a Recipe Rut


Anyone who’s ever followed any sort of mean plan probably knows what I’m talking about with the recipe rut.

Several years ago we were subscribers of a recipe service. There were definite upsides as it totally took care of the “what’s for dinner” quandary each night and, depending on which track you subscribed to, could help you adjust your eating habits to be a little more healthy. We subscribed for quite some time, saved our weekly pdfs, and were pretty happy with the convenience it provided, all-in all.

We stopped using the weekly recipes for a while but noticed, eventually, that we were picking up some tasty, but not quite as healthy, habits again, so at the beginning of the year we dusted off the archives and started cooking from them once again. And it was about that time I stopped going to the farmers market because it was easier to shop all at once from her list, than my current habit of shopping the farmers market and building a menu from that.

This time it only took 8 months (instead of 2+ years) to reach that feeling of recipe rut.

Even though each week’s menus were slightly different, there were a lot of similarities and it just started to get to me: every week there was at least 1 pork dish, 1 fish dish, a chicken dish or two, and something would go into the crock pot. There’d be a rash of the same core flavoring ingredients (I may never be able to stand soy sauce in a fish marinade again, folks), the same side dishes, the same rhythm each week. And it’s like that part of your brain atrophies that can think up creative substitutions.

You’re locked into the list.

That perceived stuck-ness took the fun out of cooking. I rolled my eyes and thought of picking up take-out many times (but I still cooked because I’m a so-called responsible adult). Even on the weeks it was Todd’s turn I’d mentally pout when I’d see what was on the menu that week.

It was just. so. boring.

So this week I went rogue. Played the rebel. Struck out somewhat on my own.

Since we’re still aiming for healthy, I reached for a stash of old Cooking Light recipes I’d kept around. And cobbled together a menu I’m actually looking forward to for a change. I didn’t make it out to the farmers market this weekend, but with fall around the corner I’m thinking I might be able to get back into that habit again as well.

I’m sure there will be weeks when I’m just totally uninspired that I’ll go back to the recipe service archives and pull one out for conveniences sake, but it won’t be any time soon, I’m thinking.

So whether your habit is Meatloaf Mondays or Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Fridays, consider shaking things up every now and then just to keep things interesting. Maybe even before you, too, get stuck in the recipe rut.

Variety is the spice of life, after all.

E-Mealz: a Menu Service Alternative


I’ve often recommended the Menu Mailer by Saving Dinner to folks who have trouble answering the ‘What’s for dinner’ question from week to week. It’s convenient, inexpensive, offers of variety of menu options and takes the weight off your shoulders.

But it’s not the only option.

(And, yes, I still sometimes kick myself for not being more entrepreneurial-minded back in ’98 when I started doing this myself every week for my husband and I.)

From a blog ad I saw several weeks ago I pointed my browser to (don’t forget the hyphen or the z), just out of curiosity. What I found was a site that touted money-saving, healthy menus for a mere $5 a month. They even match their menus to specific stores! Taking advantage of the weekly advertised specials without actually having the comb the flyers yourself? Nice!

Sadly, I found that you can’t just try the service for a single month–at least not without paying for 2 more. That was a little disappointing (I like to give things a trial before I commit, don’t you?) but I went ahead and signed up for a 3-month subscription. And all those store/menu-style options? Yeah, you have to pick one to subscribe to. No hopping between menus if you feel like shopping the best option each week.

As much as it pains us some days, Wal-Mart is the most cost-effective store local to us (though we frequently stop by Publix for specialty items) so we opted for the Low-Carb Wal-Mart meal plan for 4-6. The recipes (7 per week) cover 2 pages and are written sparingly. Side dishes are also included. The shopping list is also presented as a grid, with staples broken out so that it’s easy to mark out those you probably already have on hand but also can remember to pick up if you’re running low. It’s broken out by sections and has a column for checking items off.

What wasn’t so hot? Meal 3 of our first week was a Toasted Pecan and Strawberry Salad. Sounds great! Guess what wasn’t on the shopping list: strawberries. Oops. Kind of a big oversight (which we, thankfully, caught before leaving for the store). Also it’s great that they recommend so many side salads–5 out of the 7 days on our first week–but when you look closer you see they’ve specified the store-brand bagged iceberg lettuce. Why bother? Iceberg has very low nutritional value–it’s barely even green! We substituted some romaine hearts and a package of spring mix and spent a little more for a more satisfying end result. (Future weeks proved this to be somewhat of an aberration–though a recommended side dish of Pork Rinds seems quite out of place.)

But the recipes were tasty! We were especially pleased with the Hot Taco Salad which ground turkey in a chili-like layer with lots of toppings. And the salad recommendations (once you ditch the iceberg) were inventive–Greek-style one day, Mexican another, with a couple of dinner salads thrown in. We certainly didn’t lack for taste or variety.

How does it compare to the Menu Mailer? MM offers 6 recipes a week, e-mealz 7. Both include side dish recommendations and itemized shopping lists. Both also provide for a variety of primary proteins and seem to use 1 slow-cooker recipe a week. Menu Mailer allows you access to all 3 of their menu types each week, available as downloadable pdf files that you can save for later, a bit of an advantage over the locked-in e-mealz but MM wasn’t always all-access, either.

Menu Mailer administers it’s subscriptions through Big Tent–numerous hoops and clicks required to get to your weekly menu download. I understand that it probably makes things easier on the admins to do it this way but it was a change I was not happy to see happen. E-mealz–either due to a smaller size or just preference–still takes a single click from their homepage to the Members Area when there’s a link to this week’s and last week’s menus. The simplicity is nice.

Sure, the simplicity of their recipes may get to us after a while and we may not renew past our first 3 months, but it’s a nice change of pace for now.

Have you ever tried a menu service? Which one(s) and what did you think?