We’re diving into tactical ways to get out of a dinner rut in this episode from our three-part series all about focusing on how you want to feel related to eating.

It’s been, and continues to be, a really difficult time for all of us.

Sometimes, even the idea of planning dinner becomes a dreaded task, whether you just don’t feel like it or feel like you’ve run out of ideas and are stuck in a rut.

Listen in as we breakdown how to overcome decision fatigue to simplify your dinner routine, add variety (without the overwhelm), get out of the rut, and feel good about your meals!

here’s a glance at this episode

  • [03:40] Learn about decision fatigue when it comes to food. Including what it is and how it may be impacting your life.
  • [05:27] Find out how to feel-good-effect your dinner rut. Starting with thinking about how to close the gap between how you feel and how you want to feel in a compassionate way.
  • Robyn walks you through some solutions, including:
    • [07:04] Solution #1: Capsule Meal Planning
    • [08:57] Solution #2: Family Choice Day
    • [10:41] Solution #3: Write down your go-to list, then find a variation
    • [13:03] Solution #4: One new recipe a week from your favorite blog or favorite cookbook
    • [13:51] Solution #5: Pick a seasonal ingredient, then a recipe

real food whole life recipes:

more episodes on meal planning

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read the transcript

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:01)

You’re listening to the feel-good effect, stuck in a dinner rut? Here is exactly how to get out of it. Let’s make it happen

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:12)

Radically simple and ridiculously doable. The feel-good effect will help you redefine wellness on your terms. Hi, I’m your host, Robyn Conley Downs. And I believe that wellness isn’t about achieving another set of impossible standards, but instead finding what works for you, drawing from cutting-edge science on mindfulness habit and behavior change. This podcast offers a collection of small mindset shifts that allow for more calm, clarity, and joy in everyday life and allows you to embrace the idea that gentle is the new perfect. I invite you to listen in. As we cut through the clutter and find the small shifts that create huge changes in your life. Less striving, more ease. It’s time to feel good.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:00)

Well, Hey, feel good, fam. I am so glad you’re here. We are talking about how to get out of a dinner rut. This is part of a three-part capsule on meals. We talk all about meals, mind, and movement here on the field, and helping you feel good in your everyday life. And Hey, part of meals is getting dinner on the table, whether that’s for you, whether that’s for other people, whether that’s for your family. And let’s be honest, the dinner rut can be real. And, uh, I think it’s affecting a lot of us these days. So we’re going to talk about how to get out of that today. This episode is from a popular request. I have been hearing across the board from our community at real food, whole life on Instagram, on the website, www.realfoodwholelife.com and elsewhere that people just feel like they’re in this cooking rut.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:54)

And so what I want to say first is you are not alone. So if you’re feeling like that, let me just tell you, there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of other people who are right there with you. And I, I just want to acknowledge, you know, what a difficult time this has been the last year and a half or whatever number of months it’s been. I think because we have to keep going. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s easy to almost forget what we’ve been through. And I don’t want to go into the details of what we’ve been through, but I also want to acknowledge it because I think it’s really important. Yes. I’m going to talk about how to get out of a dinner, right. but I think from my self-compassion perspective, we need to acknowledge how difficult, how hard and how challenging the last, so many, how many months it’s been since March of 2020 and how that can affect everything from your mood to your motivation, to your interest, right.

Robyn Conley Downs: (02:50)

In cooking another meal, one, because of the sort of difficult mental health aspect of all of this, but also just if you’ve been cooking more and you’ve been going out less, of course, you’re in a dinner rut and you’re not alone. I cook for a living and I’m like, oh my gosh, what are we going to have for dinner? I don’t feel like it. I don’t have any new ideas. And so if anything, just know you’re not alone, this is pretty normal. And I think the confluence of all of these things, the mental health load of the last several months, the, the just drudgery of having to cook every single night, the lack of routine and the lack of, you know, being able to go out and do the things that we normally do are going to affect that. And so just know that that’s very normal and you’re not alone in it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (03:40)

Um, but there’s probably some things we can do about it. Not probably there are some things we can do about it. So let’s talk about those now. So beyond everything I mentioned, another reason we get into dinner rut is decision fatigue, which is something I write about in my book, The Feel Good Effect, which you can get anywhere books are sold. So decision fatigue, and really impacts everything from our willpower to our discipline. When we, when we make, have to make too many decisions that affect our energy and our interest, right? So the more decisions you have to make, the more decision fatigue comes into play and decision fatigue happens all the time around food, which is probably affecting you, causing one of the reasons that you’re having this dinner rut. So sometimes knowing why it’s happening, the context of what, the history that we’ve been living through.

Robyn Conley Downs: (04:29)

Also the probably number of decisions you’ve been making is really helpful to know. So one coming up with some decision templates or ways out of the decision fatigue can be helpful. Um, I always start with asking the feel-good effect question, which is how do you feel and how do you want to feel? So before you run out and start to make lists of new recipes that you want to try, I actually want you to just take a step back and say, when it comes to dinner or like meals in general, how do you feel and how do you want to feel? And you might find when you I’m, I’m telling, I’m asking, I’m suggesting and coaching you to actually write this down to say, you know, whether you’re walking right now or, or driving or working out, you’re probably not in front of a piece of paper, but if you can take a few minutes to really ask yourself when it comes to dinner, when it comes to meals, how do I feel about dinner, about getting dinner on the table and then how do I want to feel?

Robyn Conley Downs: (05:27)

And whether you’re the primary person that’s in charge of dinner, or you’re just like a participant in dinner, I think you could do this either way. And then how do you, like I said, how do you want to feel? And what’s the gap there. And so you might feel the dinner might be happening when you identify how you feel about dinner, how you want to feel. You might find that the dinner read is happening. The gap is because, you know, there’s not enough variety or maybe it’s too complicated. There might be a number of factors that’s causing that gap. But when you can see it, clearly it will actually help you make some of your own decisions. I’m going to give you tons of ideas here, but you might, um, actually suddenly realize like, oh, the dinner rut is happening because you know, maybe you were someone that used to go to the grocery store and you switched over to grocery delivery in the last year.

Robyn Conley Downs: (06:19)

That’s one example. And maybe in the past, like walking around the store and looking at the food gave you ideas and that’s missing now, I’m not saying that that would mean you would stop doing grocery delivery, but it might be helpful to understand like, oh, I used to get these visual cues from like being physically in the store and I’m not getting that anymore. So does it make sense either to like go back there or maybe to spend more time on Pinterest, where if I’m a visual person and I get ideas visually, then I needed to bring that back somehow into my life. So that very powerful, simple exercise. How do I feel? How do I want to feel? And then how do I close the gap that could really just change things when it comes to your dinner rut and you don’t need any of these other ideas, but if you’re someone that’s like, Nope, it’s decision fatigue.

Robyn Conley Downs: (07:04)

That’s got me down. I cannot be constantly meal planning. Then my next suggestion is to capsule meal plan. We have several episodes on capsule meal planning. We have a very specific capsule meal plan episode for fall from last year that you could download and listen to. And we’ll put that link in the show notes. I also would recommend our fall capsule meal plan on www.realfoodwholelife.com, which has all the recipes for this season and a capsule meal plan. If you’re new to the concept, it is just picking one meal type or category for each night of the week. And then when you have that framework, you’re not making so many decisions. It might give you more variety, more creativity and more freedom. So for example, the fall capsule meal plan, this season that we have on www.realfoodwholelife.com is Monday is chicken slow cooker, Tuesday taco Tuesday, Wednesday is chili, Thursday soup night.

Robyn Conley Downs: (07:58)

Oh, I got those out of order. And then there’s a pasta night. So those are the five, but each week it’s a totally different chicken crockpot recipes. So you wouldn’t feel like you were eating the same thing and it would, it’s a totally different taco recipe. I find this helps people get out of a dinner rut whether you want to use those categories or something completely different because you might, you might use the categories of what you’re eating over and over all ready, but it kind of gives you this extra push to change things up just slightly. So if you’ve been doing casserole every single week, maybe you make a casserole night, but that gives you a little inspiration to like try a few different types of casserole recipes. So you’re not using all of your brain power and all of your thinking for a million decisions, because you’ve already decided it’s casserole night, but then you get to kind of explore and find something, maybe something new to try, maybe some different flavor profile or new recipe website, a new cookbook.

Robyn Conley Downs: (08:57)

So definitely a capsule meal plan. Not just because I teach it not to speak because we have learned, but because it truly will help you get out of a dinner rep by keeping kind of one thing constant. So you’re not making a million decisions, but then you, you will find when you create those boundaries, you get more creative. The next one, and then there’s variations on a capsule meal plan. So you, instead of different categories of recipes, you could also do like a method. So you could do slow cooker Monday, Instant pot Tuesday, Air Fryer Wednesday. If you have like every possible appliance or sheet pan or one pan, again, you’re keeping one thing constant, but then it gives you some creativity within that limitation. Another fun idea is if you have, uh, if you live with a family or if you live with roommates is to have each person kind of be in charge of choosing dinner for the week.

Robyn Conley Downs: (09:51)

So each person can have one night where they choose dinner and ideally also cook dinner. So depending on how old people are and how capable people are in your family, and this is really fun way to get, if you have kids or older kids into the kitchen, or if you have roommates or whatever your living situation is, maybe you have a partner who isn’t as involved in the kitchen, but maybe this would be a good way to get them in. I am always surprised by what people choose. It’s like always things I would not have thought. So if I give Andrew like, you know, meal planning is two nights lately, Elle is nine. So she definitely will skew toward the kid palette, but that’s okay. And it gives them some ownership in what’s being made. Maybe they’re, you know, depending on how people are, they can also grocery shop and prepare.

Robyn Conley Downs: (10:41)

But one, it kind of helps ease the battle of, or what’s for dinner because it’s like everyone gets to choose. And then everyone eats what that person chooses. So I have found this to be a great way out of a dinner rut. It takes the responsibility off of your shoulders, but it also opens up ideas too. You know, everyone has different pallets and they may be thinking about things that you had not had not considered before. So it’s a very simple way to go and everyone can have their own night, or maybe you kind of rotate, you choose two to three, and then you rotate a person to choose the remaining nights. So we have a capsule meal plan and we have family choice day. The third idea for how to get out of a dinner read is to write down your go-to list. So what are you making over and over again?

Robyn Conley Downs: (11:28)

Maybe it’s five things. Maybe it’s 10 things. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with that either. That’s just the season of life you’re in. I think it’s okay to say, we’re just going to eat this, and this is what we’re doing right now. And everybody can just be okay with it. But if you want it to maybe take one step away from those same five to 10 is like, let’s say you have five recipes. Could you pick something like a variation, a new version? So let’s say your five are, you’re always making, I’ll just use our five examples from the capsule. Let’s say you’re making the same pasta every night, every week you’re making, um, as the same star fry, you’re making the same soup in the same chili. You could use that same capsule idea to just pick one slightly different version of the same pasta you’re making every night.

Robyn Conley Downs: (12:21)

So if you’re doing pasta with red sauce, maybe you just find a different jar of pasta sauce, or you try making a pasta sauce. That’s slightly different. So you’re still kind of doing the same thing. You’re just getting a little bit of a different flavor profile, which will help you out of that rut and that feeling like, you know, we’re doing the same thing over and over. The fourth idea is to just choose one, like, just do your, what you’re doing and then choose one new thing to try each week. So instead of trying to meal plan all five nights with new recipes, just trying to add, try one new recipe a week. So maybe you go to your favorite blog, www.realfoodwholelife.com or any other of your favorite blogs and just pick one new thing to try each week.

Robyn Conley Downs: (13:03)

The rest can be kind of the same things that you make all the time, or maybe pull out your cookbooks. And instead again, resist the urge to meal plan five different recipes, just pick one new recipe, literally one new thing to try each week and then do that the next week and do that the next week. So you’re never trying to get to where you’re doing five new recipes every week, but each week you pick one thing and then maybe over time, some of those become part of your, you know, rotation, your, the things that you eat all the time, but it gives you just enough, something to look forward to, to feel like you’re getting out of that rut. And then the last one would be instead of picking a recipe that you pick an ingredient, like a seasonal ingredient or just a new ingredient, and then find a recipe that goes with that ingredient.

Robyn Conley Downs: (13:51)

It’s a variation. What I just talked about, but for example, this time a year, maybe you love apples. And so you could do a search. I’m just going to keep plugging www.realfoodwholelife.com because it’s an awesome, awesome resource for you. You could go on any site and do a search for apple and find what kind of recipes there are. So for example, like we have, you know, an apple muffin, we have quite a few, um, sweet apple recipes, but there’s also like, um, an apple sweet potato soup and there’s an apple sweet potato soup, an apple turkey chili, a turkey taco with apple salsa. And so if you just kind of pick a seasonal ingredient and then you find one new recipe, that would be a really fun way to be creative and to try something new or just try some favorite thing. Another obvious example is pumpkin.

Robyn Conley Downs: (14:42)

So let’s say you think like this week, let’s try one new recipe with pumpkin. We’ve got a really easy, beautiful pumpkin soup, we’ve got a Tuscan pumpkin pasta sauce, which is just basically like a marinara pasta sauce, but it has a little bit of pumpkin in it. So it adds that kind of fall flavor. It’s really good. I actually really liked that. Maybe I’ll make that tonight. And so by starting with the ingredient first and then finding the recipe or adding kind of one new thing in that’s getting you out of that rut, and maybe that becomes part of your regular rotation and maybe it doesn’t, but either way, you’ve kind of added some variety. So I hope this gave you some ideas to try. Um, I’m, I’m going to be better about posting about the podcast on Instagram @realfoodwholelife because I want it to be a community resource for you.

Robyn Conley Downs: (15:30)

It’s interesting. I will mention this. Like when I post about the podcast on Instagram, I get very low engagement, meaning very few comments, few saves. And so that means that it just doesn’t show up for that many people. That’s the way the algorithm works. Um, so makes me not want to post about it as much because I’m like, well, no, one’s seen this, so I’m not sure if anybody wants to see it. So if you want, if you want a place to kind of talk about what’s what you’re hearing on the podcast, share ideas, engage with posts. This is true for all creators out there. It doesn’t like make me money. It just makes it so that people see it so that it knows, I know that it’s worth doing so if you see something about the podcast, I’d love to hear for this episode, um, how you’re getting out of a dinner rut.

Robyn Conley Downs: (16:16)

So whether you’re using any of these ideas, or I know that you all have such amazing ideas as well, you can use that as a place to share ideas, get new ideas and engage with the feel-good effect podcast community. So I definitely look forward to seeing you there. So again, pretty simple. I think sometimes we overthink and over-complicate meals. I’ve mentioned that before, so this one isn’t going to be an all or nothing situation. It’s really just like making these small shifts that will make big changes in your life. So one, I want you to know you’re not alone. The food rut, dinner rut is real. I think it’s very pandemic related. So giving yourself some self-compassion knowing that this isn’t a flaw on your part. It’s just, it is the way the world is right now, but there are some simple ways out of it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (17:04)

And then to ask the feel good effect question. How do you feel and how do you want to feel when it comes to getting dinner on the table? When it comes to eating, I want to, when it comes to that process of planning, what’s the gap and then know that there’s some ways to close the gap. So here are some ideas, the capsule meal plan, One more plug for the fall capsule. Again, it’s a free resource we provide. So take advantage of that family choice day, write down your go-to list and then find a little bit of variation within that list. Just choose one new recipe a week, whether it’s from your favorite blog or your favorite cookbook, or pick a seasonal ingredient and then pick a new recipe to try. So those are your easy, simple ways out of a dinner, right? If you give it a try, let us know realfoodwholelife.com or @realfoodwholelife on Instagram as always. I’m going to thank you so much for listening for being part of this feel-good movement. I appreciate you. Thanks again for listening until next time here’s to feeling good.

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