Tired of the same old, same old at dinner time?
Can you remember what you had for dinner two nights ago?
If the answer is no, you might be in a food rut.
By the time we hit middle age, many of us have narrowed our food menus, selecting the same tried-and-true recipes over and over. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with settling in with some comfort food.
But there’s something to be said for novelty, too. New experiences stand out in our minds more than repeated ones do. That’s why you can remember your first kiss and not your twenty-first.
This also helps explain why time seems to fly by as we get older. With fewer new experiences, one day is pretty indistinguishable from another. Adding more novelty to your life makes those moments stand out–and helps time slow down.
Neuroscientist Patricia Costello recommends adults look for opportunities to experience something new.
“How can we stop that feeling of things going too fast, of missing out on our own lives? It comes back to learning new things,” she said in an interview with NBC News.
And what easier way to introduce something new to your life than through food?
More than egg rolls
Americans have come a long way since the 1970s, when the most exotic cuisine available for many people was Chinese. Nowadays, sushi, curries, and pad Thais are pretty familiar fare.
But there’s an even bigger culinary world out there. If you’re looking to spice up your mealtime, here’s how to do it.
Go off the beaten path
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. (“Norm!”) But once in a while, seek out somewhere new. Maybe try that small place in the strip mall with the name you don’t know how to pronounce. You might feel strange walking in and not knowing what to order or even how to eat it. Just ask! The owners will probably be thrilled to introduce you to their native cuisine.
Get your Julia Child on
If there aren’t many restaurants near you, or if you just prefer to cook, you’re in luck. Many foreign ingredients and sauces can be found readily online–no need to go to an ethnic market (although those can be great fun!) Find a recipe online, too. International food blog GlobalTableAdventure.com is a good place to start, with its welcoming approach and easy-to-find ingredients. Simply click on the map to pick which region’s cuisine to explore.
Be bold with meal delivery services
It’s hard to beat the convenience of a meal delivery service. Get into the habit of ordering something unfamiliar every now and then, such as Blue Apron’s za’atar roasted chicken and farro salad. You’ll get to try labneh cheese without worrying about leftover labneh going bad in the back of your fridge–Blue Apron sends only the ¼ cup you need for the recipe.
Sign up for a cooking class
Many continuing education programs offer cooking classes for specific cuisines. They’ll usually provide you with the ingredients you need as part of the course fee. You’ll learn new culinary skills and meet other adventurous people in your community, too.
Do a “Little” travel
Going to Brazil to sample the food may not be in your budget. But many American cities have large ethnic concentrations–and the restaurants, markets, and food festivals to show for it. Get a taste of Somalian cuisine in Minneapolis’s Little Mogadishu area. Sample some shiro be kibbe in Little Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. For Vietnamese food, head to San Jose’s Little Saigon.
Tips for the less adventurous
Does all this sound good–in theory? Are you actually, secretly, kind of a picky eater?
Hey, no judgment. Ordering a meal, or going to the trouble of preparing it, and then not liking it is a bummer. If you’re a, let’s say, selective eater, you’ve probably had more than your share of those experiences. Over time, it can make you even less open to new food.
Here’s the good news, though. Our tastes keep evolving as we age. In part, this is because our sense of smell becomes less sharp. Foods that once seemed too bitter or too sour may no longer affect you the same way. So even if you never thought of yourself as an adventurous eater, you might surprise yourself now.
Here are a few tactics you can use to make it a little easier:
- Ask a waiter for a recommendation. Find out what dish on the menu is liked by everyone.
- Give it a few tries. It can take several experiences with a new food before you develop a taste for it. Be open to trying it again.
- Order dishes to share. Some cuisines, like Spanish tapas, are designed to be shared among the table. Chances are good you’ll find at least one of the dishes to your liking.
- Have a favorite dessert ready. Mealtime should be pleasurable. And if you think your meal might not give you any pleasure, why would you order it? Knowing you have that chocolate chip cheesecake to look forward to may make you more willing to experiment with your entrée.
With so many ways to shake off the dining doldrums, you’re sure to discover some new food favorites!