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The dinner rut

YummyYears ago I saw this doctor or nutritionist on TV who said “The average family has a repertoire of ten dinners. That’s it. Ten dinners that they eat almost all the time. If I could replace your ten dinners with ten healthier dinners, I could add years to the lives of everybody in your family.”

He went on to say that his goal would be to find ten healthy, affordable dinners that we liked just as much, found just as convenient to prepare, and could easily keep the ingredients on hand to make.

I eat a lot healthier than I did when I was younger (piece of cake), but I’m not obsessive about it. Nor do I want to be. But I do like the idea that if there’s going to be a lot of repetition in my diet, it might as well be healthy tasty repetition rather than unhealthy tasty repetition.

I don’t even think I have ten meals in my current repertoire. I actually don’t cook all that often. Last night I had a bowl of Raisin Bran for dinner, with yogurt on top. I bet I eat that for dinner three times in the average ten-day stretch.

Turkey soup is in my repertoire too. I make a huge batch of turkey soup maybe three times a year, and freeze it. It keeps me going for months. I eat turkey soup for dinner probably twice in every ten-day period.

And pizza. I make good pizza. I make the dough in the breadmaker and I top it with lots of veggies and apples and pears and hot Italian sausage and four different cheeses.

Baguettes. I love baguettes. Sometimes I just eat half a baguette for dinner, with a little cheese or cold cuts or something if I’m feeling sophisticated. (I’m kicking this one out of my repertoire though, and banishing it to the ‘occasional treats’ list.)

Sunday night I cooked a real meal because I wanted protein. I made a filet mignon, fried onions, asparagus broiled with balsamic vinegar and parmesan, broccoli, and a hunk of a baguette. This meal was a rare treat, and probably not especially healthy, but I’m adding it to my ten-meal repertoire effective immediately. (It feels a little weird making a meal like that when you live alone, but I can’t think of any good reason not to.)

Hmmm….even with the filet mignon, I still only have four dinners in my repertoire: Raisin Bran, turkey soup, pizza and filet mignon.

Do you have a healthy, easy, yummy meal I can add to my ten-day repertoire?


28 comments to The dinner rut

  • Reagan

    I buy individually frozen fish fillets and season to taste (usually salt/red pepper/Italian spices) add yellow rice and black beans or a salad. It’s quick and simple since the fish is frozen until needed and the yellow rice and black beans come in a can or bag. If you do the salad thing, then you have more of a problem.

  • Gillian

    Try a salade ni├žoise. But you do have to think ahead as it’s easiest if the ingredients like eggs, potatoes and green beans are ready ahead. Serve it with a nice chunk of baguette.
    The turkey soup is a great idea.
    Try a bean & sausage soup as well. Protein, veggies etc. And you might like a ratatouille.

  • The only time I eat a “real dinner” is on the weekend when Dave is here. Raisin Bran makes a great dinner, I also like oatmeal.. but when I do cook for myself Chicken Fajitas are one of my mainstays… it’s easy to chop and fry up a chicken breast (with veggies if you like.. I don’t) I buy the fajita powder in the pouches and put it in my spice jar so I only have to use as much as I need. It’s great because tortillas will keep for about a monthor so if you keep them in the fridge. You can make as much or as little as you want.
    I’ve also found that the Uncle Ben’s Bistro express are great.. you can through some fried chicken (or shrimp if I’m feeling special) and veggies on top and it’s an easy entree… only 2 min in the mocrowave for the rice… and it has no sodium in it, unlike a lot of prepared foods

  • A very easy healthy dinner (in fact it came from a “heart-smart” cookbook that my FIL got from the hospital after his bypass surgery.

    1. Cook penne pasta (preferably whole wheat).
    2. Saute thinly sliced garlic, with fresh roma tomato wedges in olive oil.
    3. When both are done, combine pasta and saute mixture. Add chopped olives, crumbled feta cheese and roughly chopped fresh basil.

    I make this, or variations thereof, at least once every two weeks. I love cooking and make up for the fact that I’m only cooking for two by taking the leftovers to work for lunch the next day. However, even though I like making new recipes, this one is so simple and tasty that I always come back to it. As you might guess from the ingredients, however, this tastes best in the summer when tomatoes and basil are both in season. I still eat it year-round.

  • I have two for you, that have kept our family afloat for years.

    1) Lentil soup. Make sure it’s got potatoes, carrots, and celery in it. Sausage if you feel fancy. Goes well with a quesedilla, or toasted cheese sandwich, or bread, or anything. Keeps like a dream. We almost always have a pot in the works.

    2) Red beans and rice (or cornbread). Celery, chile powder, carrots, and any spices you like. Be sure and let it stew a little bit. (My mother’s tip for amazing cornbread: let the cornmeal soak in a little bit of boiling water before you mix it in. We usually don’t even cut any liquid out of the recipe, and it means you don’t chip your teeth.)

  • Re

    One of my favorite meals is one of the easiest – heat up canned fat free refried beans in a low carb/high fiber tortilla and then add a dollop of sour cream for a refried bean “taco”. I usually pair this with baby carrots because they provide a nice crispy crunchy contrast. Be forewarned – this is one very high fiber meal :)

  • Oma

    I like trying new recipes and find it hard when I am just cooking for myself. I make different kinds of hearty soups and pasta sauces and a stew that I do in the slow cooker. They are all easy to freeze as individual portions.

    You have received some wonderful suggestions, by the way, and I am going to add them to my repertoire.

  • kahh

    The best “single-person-who-hates-to-cook-for-one” meal is this: Arrange on plate from bottom up 1 medium potatoe microwaved and cut up, 1/2 can tuna (packed in water), couple tablespoons sunflower seeds and the low-cal salad dressing of your choice (ranch is my favourite) Fast, relatively good for you, yummy – ultimate comfort food. Try it.. you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Love the website.

  • Simple cheese quesadillas. No real recipe, just get the tortillas, a cheese (or mix) that appeals to you, the fillings you like (I like fresh diced tomato) and make it in a skillet. I treat the pan with a little olive oil first, but you could use butter or a spray. Top with your salsa or sour cream of choice (or not) and voila! When I’m feeling ambitious, I cook some onion and garlic first, then add precooked/preseasoned chicken breast strips to the mix, which I combine with the cheese as filling before toasting the whole darned thing. Yummy and quick.

  • The things that spring immeadiately to mind are spaghetti sauce (which becomes 3 meals – spaghetti one night, chili another with added beans and heat, and sloppy joes another)

    Roast chicken (again 3 meals roast chicken with rice and veggies one night, chicken salad sandwiches the next and chicken stock/soup with the carcass) I’ve perfected my roast chicken recipe and I really don’t deviate anymore – cut up a lemon into wedges and stuff it inside the chicken, rub the chicken with a mixture of salt ground up garlic, rosemary and olive oil. Pop it into a roasting pan up off the floor with a rack to sit on, start it off at 450 for 15 minutes, then 400 for 15 minutes then 375 til its done.

    Asian Chicken breasts – chicken breasts marinated then glazed in a mix of ginger, garlic, tamari, hoisin sauce, and rice vinegar. I do a ton at one time and freeze most of them. We have them with a big salad and rice one night, and then many other dishes with them – sliced thin they are great in salad roll up sandwiches,

    and I add them to brown rice salad – probably our healthiest staple dish – brown rice, all the veggies you can think of chopped up fine, chunks of asian chicken, then dressed in a bit of Braggs (or tamari), sesame oil, and rice vinegar. Its good hot or cold and rxcellent with green salad underneath it.

  • Deb

    We have chicken (bbq’d) at least three times a week. Add 2-3 veggies and you have a healthy dinner and don’t miss the carbs.

    Roast pork is easy and cheap and lasts for a couple of meals plus lunch sandwiches. Put oil and garlic in a frypan and sear the roast for about 10 minutes and then pop in the oven for 20 min per lb at 350.

    Twice baked potatoes have been added to my repetoire…we have had them twice in two weeks. Once, to try out, and because we loved them, a second time for guests. Filling.

    I also love rice mixed with black beans and cumin. I tried to make burgers out of them, but they fell apart (I forgot the ingredient that binds them) and we just ate it like a rice dish.

  • I have a roast chicken once a week (going to get one for tonight). I don’t do anything with it except untie the string and put it in a small roasting pan I finally got when my hand-me-down Pyrex cracked. 325F oven for 22 minutes per pound. Sometimes I scrub potatoes and put them around it. Sometimes I peel carrots and put them around it. Sometimes I don’t.

    I make chili in my crock pot and it lasts forever so I freeze batches of it in 2 person servings.

    I make broth with the chicken bones and soup with the broth using whatever is at hand – the key is to caramelize the onions first when making the soup.

    If I can’t think of anything, I nuke a potato and while it is nuking, I steam or boil any vegetables on hand and make a plate full of veg.

    Decorate any dishes as desired. I can’t wait for Summer when I can start adding fresh herbs to everything.

  • Ellen

    Peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat if you’re looking for healthy, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on white bread if you’re not. If I have to cook something, I like broiled salmon: I make a tin-foil pan to place on top of the broiler pan so there is no clean-up involved; broil 10 min per inch and let sit for 5 min before eating to let it finish cooking. Add salad or veg. The left-over salmon is used for a fish sandwich: mayo on a hamburger bun, add the salmon, top with bread and butter pickles. Yum.

  • After skimming all of the above, I’m hungry!!

    2 of my favorites:

    1) Chicken Thighs, sprinkle with salt and pepper
    Sear Chicken thighs until golden (use a drop of olive oil if you want, I’m prone to cooking spray..) Add 2 manderin oranges sliced into eights (soccer style?) and a cup of water. Simmer over medium heat until thighs cooked through (This also works with breasts, but I prefer dark meat.) and serve with longrain rice (or pasta) and a side of steamed broccoli/cauliflower. YUM!

    2) Mac & Cheese Caserole – Ok, so it’s not the healthies thing, but YUM. Take your favorite shape pasta, and cook enough to 3/4 way fill your favorite caserole dish. Make a cheese sauce. I use a mix of Old Cheddar and whatever cheeses are in the fridge (marble, brie, havarty, provalone, whatever), thickening with corn startch as required. Poor cheese sauce over noodles, sprinkle top with Garlic Salt & Pepper, and add breadcrumbs to cover. Bake until breadcrumbs turn brown and sauce bubbles (about 30 minutes @ 350) Remove, Serve. Yum.

    I do a weekly menu, and try not to repeat the things on last weeks menu. It’s hard when we have a meat rotation of beef, chicken, pork, fish, sausages, but some nights I’ve been known to do soup for dinner, or just pierogies in large amounts, (or a plate of nachos, cheese and salsa if the kids are out..) and if I’ve done chicken thighs last week, maybe I’ll do drums this week in some fake-n-bake, or roast a chicken on Sunday. *shrug* I wish I was more comfortable with vegetarian recipies. I’d like to have a meat free meal at least once a week. Happy Cooking?

  • 1. Risotto. Usually with leftover rotisserie chicken. Not a quick meal but easy. Plus you can drink some of the wine you’re cooking with while cooking.

    2. Chicken breasts with wine, lemon and capers. Pound the chicken breasts til thin, dredge w/ flour, salt & pepper, lightly fry/saute in olive olive, then add the wine, lemon juice & capers and cook til done

    3. Chili. I like ground bison, onions, LOTS of ground chili pepper, salt, and those green peppers you use for chile rellenos (drawing a blank on their name). I also add kidney beans, tomatoes (canned & fresh) and occasionally tomatilloes.

    4. Beef stew. Dredge the chunks of beef in flour, salt, pepper, brown in olive oil, then toss in some bay leaves, water, onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, whatever else sounds good, some red wine (whatever was opened the night before).

    5. Frittata. Eggs, milk, salt, pepper, whatever veggies are handy (I saute the veggies before adding the eggs), maybe some lowfat cottage cheese, maybe some cheese on top, bake til done.

    6. Soft tacos — canned lowfat refried beans, ranchero cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, fresh salsa, fresh guacamole, sour cream.

    That’s it off the top of my head for things I cook w/o needing a recipe!

  • Demae

    I make stir fries. No real recipe,I just use what’s around: green and red peppers, brocolli, carrots, onions, a piece of chicken breast or pork tenderloin. I use a bottled teriyaky sauce or just soy sauce. I make a big batch of rice to eat with it. Then freeze leftovers.

    I also make shepards pie in two-person servings, that I then freeze. I like them because you can just put one in the oven to heat while you do other things. Pretty forgiving if you lose track of time.

    My husband is a picky eater, so I often make foil pack dinners (I hate to admit that this is a Kraft idea) His is a burger patty, surrounded by sliced potatoes and carrots with a bit of butter, lemon pepper. I put rice, a chicken breast or salmon fillet, brocolli/carrots/snow peas with a bit of Italian salad dressing on top in mine. Lots of these recipes at, search for “foil pack”.

    I cook even when I am alone. Its my chance to have something special just for me.

  • Deb

    Forgot a new favorite:

    Take a piece of tin foil and spread some marinara sauce on it. Place some salmon on top. Put a lemon wedge and maybe some shallots on top of the salmon. Tent the tin foil closed and cook on the bbq for about ten minutes…delicious and easy

  • Get a rice cooker with a steamer basket. Cook as much rice as it will hold. Freeze rice in 1 cup servings. When you need a quick nutritious meal, stir fry whatever veggies you have on hand, add some cheese, and serve with rice.

    Use your rice cooker to cook arborio rice in the bottom, brocolli in the steamer. When done, stir together with parmesan cheese. This is usually good for 2-3 meals.

    Egg burrito – scramble a couple of eggs, grate some cheese, and roll up in a tortilla.

    Quesadillas – smear one tortilla with refried beans, top with chopped green chilis and cheese, cover with a second tortilla, heat in non-stick skillet until brown on both sides. Serve with salsa.

    Popcorn, cooked on top of the stove, sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

    These are my current mainstays!

  • Kelsey

    These are great suggestions, I’m getting hungry too. My suggestion (frittata) was already taken, but really all these are great. Also try cutting up raw veggies and leaving them in the fridge in plastic containers–good for ingredients or snacking on, if they’re there I find we usually eat them. Another thing we do is buy the pre-washed salad leaves and have salads with most of our dinners…just the leaves and some dressing, usually, but healthy if you get the darker green leaves!

  • I don’t repeat a lot of meals. You know I have a food blog right? I always want new inspiration tho. I have 2 picky eaters, the cat and the man.

  • AndrewZrx

    Enough lentils, beans and wheat already!

    Here’s the bees knees:

    Boiled hot dog. In a steamed bun. Lots of cream cheese. Top with a generous portion of smoked salmon. Add diced onions if that’s your thing.


  • Hey, how do I email you if I don’t have the right default mail server on my thingie? I can’t see your address… maybe you could email me at cinnamonfemail (@) gmail (dot) com? I want to know how your new blog series of interviewing street people is going…

  • Excellent stuff, yummy, delicious, I can’t wait to go shopping. Thank you all very much, you’re the best!

    Pearl, I didn’t know about your food blog! Andrew – I used to have a cookbook called 365 Ways to Serve Hotdogs – it even had hotdogs in lime jello.

    CG – soozoom at yahoo dot com. (Funny you should mention that – I just met a friend for coffee tonight to discuss that very thing.)

    Thanks again for all the meal ideas, and keep ’em coming if you have more.

  • Chicken thighs marinated for up to 2 days in half soy sauce and half vinegar. Pat dry, sprinkle with garlic salt and grill. So good! Serve with mashed sweet potatoes and salad.

  • Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy

    Slice chicken breast(s) for stir-frying. In about a Tbsp of Toasted Sesame oil, stir-fry broccoli, cabbage, snow peas, sugar snap peas, or other-veg-of-choice — just until crisp-tender. Set aside the veg; re-oil the pan and stir-fry the chicken. When chicken is done, re-add the veg and warm back up. Stir in 1-2 T of hoisin sauce. Serve on (brown) rice. Feeds three comfortably, leftovers are yummy (though less crisp).

    Fat: 2T sesame oil
    Carb: close to 0
    Sodium: depends on the sauce, oil &c

    Prep time for me runs about 10 min (including cooking), but I use most of the following Expensive Tips:

    Quick (expensive) tips: Buy skinless, boneless chicken; ask the butcher to slice for stir-fry; get lots when it’s on sale, then freeze in ready-to-cook sizes. Buy veg-in-the-bag (broccoli slaw is an EXCELLENT cheat, and cooks up very quickly). Minute-type rice comes in brown. Sesame oil, Hoisin, Golden Plum, Thai Peanut and other Asian-style sauces are available in a jar at the supermarket.


  • Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy

    Oh, I forgot: the above works well with hamburger, too. Drain off the fat or it comes out a bit greasy-feeling. Yummy, just not as overtly healthy. :-)

  • I make beans a lot (especially in the winter) using either canned beans or beans cooked for 20 minutes in the pressure cooker and then backed for an hour or two with diced carrots, onions and garlic. Add some liquid — broth or water from time to time. Almost any meat could be added if you liked.

    I make the same kind of thing on the stove top with fresh saurkraut or cabbage. Saute diced carrots, onions, garlic, add a little wine, put in the saurkraut or cabbage, and a little more liquid. Top with sausage, pork chops, hot dogs if you feel like it.

    It’s all sort of pot roast style cooking — start with the carrots, onions, garlic (and celery if you like it), add meat that’s been seared, then put in the oven. Almost any vegetable can be used with it in the oven: beans, green beans, cabbage, more carrots, kale. I use bay leaf and thyme. Rosemary would also be good.

    Then there’s southern style greens — cut up some bacon or salt pork into quarter inch slices and cook slowly so it releases some fat (if you don’t like the idea of fat, use smoked turkey instead and just add it at the end.) Wash at least one bunch of greens for each person – these can be kale, collards, mustard, turnip, beet, escarole, chicory or anything else you can find at the store. Spinach is a little too soft for this method.
    Pull the leaves off the stalks and rip them into chunks a little smaller than the palm of your hand. If you insist, you can use a knife and chop them.

    Put into a big pot with one or two chopped onions, some smashed garlic and some water. I often add a fresh hot pepper, jalapeno or serrano. You need enough water that they won’t go dry, but you don’t need to cover the greens. Maybe two or three inches. Cook until the greens are really soft and tender. Serve with roasted sweet potatoes (I cook them in the microwave, just like white potatoes.) Corn bread is a traditional side.

  • !! I just made this for lunch, and wanted to add it here for you!

    Baby Spinach – Fresh is better, but frozen works
    1 lb Lean Ground Beef
    8-10 Cubes Marble/Cheddar Cheese.

    Pan Fry Ground beef until cooked, and drain all fat.
    Add Spinach, and cook until just wilted.
    Turn off heat, and add cubes of cheese (they’ll melt slightly.)

    Devour. Yum!