Over the last few months — okay maybe more — my family has fallen into a dinner rut. Does this sound familiar? The three or four go-to meals I’d make in constant rotation were once major crowd-pleasers, but now everyone was just a little bit sick of them. The dreaded “what should we have for dinner” conversation had become all too real — it was time to mix things up.
With the ongoing pandemic keeping us at home and cooking more often, I’m sure you can relate to my predicament. But maybe also like my family, yours is one of picky, not-so-adventurous eaters who might complain about trying a new dish just as much as eating the same old mac and cheese for another night. Even so, I decided it was time to introduce some new foods, flavors, and maybe even some new traditions to our dinner routine — lest we all stay stuck in the land of unexcited taste buds.
Now here’s the caveat — I didn’t want dinner to turn into a long or over-involved process. I’ve also always played it a little safe in the kitchen because knowing a recipe and having all the ingredients already in my cupboard is convenient. So, I set out to find easy dishes that would excite my family without creating more work for me.
Below are some of the things I tried to spice up our meals, which may work for your family, too. I’m happy to report I haven’t heard a before-dinner groan yet!
Make a fun appetizer.
We tend to think of appetizers as something you get at restaurants, not make at home. But adding a pre-dinner app can really help rejuvenate your dinner routine. Plus, if you miss eating out like I do, this fun extra course helps bring that festive eating-out atmosphere into your home. One of my recent favorites is baked Brie cheese topped with some Patak’s Sweet Mango Chutney that I picked up at Walmart. You just pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, and it comes out melty, gooey, and ready for crackers and a sweet topping (see below for the recipe). Making the app is a great job to give a kid, spouse, or friend to get them involved in dinner prep.
Take turns picking dishes.
At my house, we’ve been trying to have Sunday dinners where we all sit down together and have a meal that’s a little more involved. Every week a different family member gets to pick the meal — ideally something we haven’t made before. This new tradition really makes us dig deep to find unique dishes to try, and it’s great that everyone gets a turn choosing.
Try new-to-you meals.
You don’t have to get a bunch of obscure ingredients or attempt an intricate recipe to try something new. Take the Indian dish tikka masala. It sounds complicated, right? It’s not at all — plus it’s really delicious. Once I discovered Patak’s Tikka Masala Curry Simmer Sauce at Walmart it really changed how I see this dish. The sauce is so flavorful and makes a fast and simple dinner option. Now I can get tikka masala on the table in under 20 minutes, and it’s become a part of our regular rotation. Check out the recipe for 20-Minute Tikka Masala from Patak’s at the end of this article and see for yourself how easy it is.
Turn any meal into a mini buffet.
Build-your-own pizza is always a popular dinner, so why not apply that concept to other foods? Give your family the freedom to create exactly what they want with build-your-own tacos, baked potatoes, and even tikka masala. For instance, the Patak’s 20-Minute Tikka Masala recipe below has options to add cilantro (which my daughter doesn’t love) and lemon juice (which I like lots of). By putting out different toppings, it gives us more things to choose from at dinner and more to look forward to.
Do a meal exchange with a friend.
Both myself and a friend will make a favorite dish, doubling or tripling the recipe. We save a portion for our own families, then package up the rest and do a driveway exchange. The meals are usually heat-and-go, so it’s a good way to try new foods and cook less overall.
Baked Brie with Mango Chutney
Start to finish, 20 minutes
Up to 9 servings
1 wheel (8 ounces) Brie or Camembert cheese
1/2 clove garlic, sliced thinly
6 ounces Patak’s Sweet Mango Chutney
1/2 cup chopped cashews
Plain naan or crackers
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an oven tray with parchment paper.
- Place Brie on a tray; using a small knife, cut small holes in the top of the cheese.
- Press garlic slices into holes. Spread top of Brie with chutney and sprinkle with nuts.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until warm and so.
- Serve with naan or crackers.
20-Minute Tikka Masala
Start to finish, 20 minutes
Up to 6 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 red onion or 2 shallots, finely sliced
3 cups (1 pound) diced rotisserie or leftover chicken, skin, and bones removed
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 medium red or green bell pepper, chopped
1 jar (15 ounces) Patak’s Tikka Masala Curry Simmer Sauce
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon, optional
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Prepared Basmati rice, to serve
- Heat the vegetable oil in a pan and add the red onions or shallots.
- Add the chicken, tomatoes, pepper, and the simmer sauce. Cover and leave to cook through for 15 minutes.
- Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, sugar, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with Basmati rice.
This story was sponsored by AB World Foods.