What To Do When Your Go-To Recipes Feel Stale

Anyone who likes to cook tends to have a few go-to favorite recipes up their sleeve that they know won't take much thought and will come out a success — those easy and classic crowd pleasers that never fail. But whether you're a culinary pro, novice cook, or somewhere in between, sometimes you just get a little sick and tired of your own cooking style, and your go-to favorites begin to taste a little stale. Or maybe your partner, roommate, or kids are muttering "Not this again" under their breath when you're asked what you're serving up for dinner.

There are a myriad of methods to help you refresh your recipe repertoire and reignite some of your passion for cooking. Next time you find yourself feeling less than enthused about getting something on the table, try adding a bit of creativity to your standard approach of answering that question of what's for dinner with a few inspired ideas.

Recreate your restaurant favorites for a dinner refresh

If you tend to rely on ordering in or going out to eat when you're tired of your own cooking, consider cutting out that menu middleman. Why not try your own hand at your go-to delivery order or favorite menu item from your neighborhood spot? Maybe there's a classic dish you want to try tailoring to your taste or dietary preferences — vegan carbonara with mushroom bacon and cashew cream instead of the real deal? Maybe chicken isn't your thing so you try a turkey piccata. And if you need a little guidance, many restaurants share recipes online or will be happy to tell you what's in your favorite dish.

You could also try to adultify a childhood favorite your parents used to make. Elevate that bologna sandwich on white bread with mayo to a crispy prosciutto panini. Plantain-crusted chicken bites sound a bit more mature than dinosaur-shaped nuggets. Your favorite meal as a kid has the potential to be your new adult go-to with just a few tweaks. Think of what it was you liked about the flavor combinations — peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese with cut up hot dog, chicken nuggets with barbecue sauce — and you may notice it's a classic savory-sweet and texture pairing that won't be too hard to recreate.

Play Chopped at home

A fun challenge to spice things up is to make do with what you already have on hand at home. Scour your pantry, fridge, and freezer and make your own creation based off of what you find. If you keep in mind the main elements of a dish, you can make it work. The general rule of thumb is to make sure you cover the basics by including a protein, a vegetable, a fat, and a starch or starchy vegetable. Think steak, spinach, and a potato with sour cream. Or, stir fried rice with egg, broccoli, snow peas, and sesame oil. Then think of balancing the flavors of salty, sweet, bitter, acidic, and umami. An added pinch of salt or splash of lemon or vinegar can really pull a dish together.

You could up the ante and challenge yourself to use up anything near its expiration. Peruse your condiment rack, canned goods, and the back of the produce drawer for those herbs on their last legs. Who knows, you may end up turning that tin of tuna nearing its best-by date into a five star restaurant worthy dish.

Learn a new technique or try a new kitchen tool

Have you always wanted to try your hand at homemade pasta? How about your own take on a sushi roll with cauliflower rice? You can put just about any filling you want in a dumpling wrapper and steam or pan-fry away. Have you ever created homemade pizza dough out of ground chicken?

Think of a new technique you've always wanted to learn or a kitchen appliance or tool you've been curious about. Maybe you purchase a pasta press or a steamer basket for dumplings. Perhaps it's a pizza stone or a new springform pan that you bring home. There are seemingly endless attachments for food processors and stand mixers. Rummage through your storage cabinet and play around. There are also endless online instructional videos and classes. Learning a new skill or trying out a new kitchen tool may just add a slew of new go-to recipes up your sleeve.

Search your social media

Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are teeming with fresh recipe ideas and trends. All you have to do is search for a popular hashtag and get lost in the scrolling. Keep a running folder of bookmarked recipes or techniques that sound interesting to you. Next time your standard recipes feel stale, you'll have an arsenal of ideas ready to go at your fingertips.

It's always a safe bet to visit the classic accounts and websites with tried and true fail-proof recipes: Ina Garten, The New York Times, Mashed, and right here on Tasting Table. Popular outlets are constantly updating content and putting out fresh recipes. Message boards also offer a wealth of inspiration. What is everyone else across the globe making for dinner? There's no doubt you'll come across an intriguing recipe you've never heard of that only exists in this person's head. The opportunities are endless and exciting.

Think outside of the box

Get out of your comfort zone in multiple ways to refresh your recipe repertoire. Visit the farmers market, a specialty grocery store, or your local butcher to find an ingredient that you're unfamiliar with. Maybe you'll discover a new favorite spice, learn all about a different cut of meat, or sample a fruit grown on the other side of the globe. Find (or create) a recipe that spotlights this new ingredient and give it a try. If it's not a win you end up adding to your rotation, at the very least you'll have had a new experience under your belt.

Whether you're prepping brunch, lunch, or dinner, try with the opposite. We've all done the cereal for dinner thing, but think bigger picture than that. Try making a meal hybrid — an eggy breakfast casserole, savory pancakes for supper, or a dessert for lunch (hey, there are no rules here!). And if all else fails, you could just close your eyes and pick a recipe out of a hat.