This website was inspired by a journey I took between July 2018 and July 2019 to expand the range of dishes I prepare and serve. I wanted to cook as many different evening meals as I could over a twelve month period. I had a base line of 22 go-to recipes which would be easy to exceed, but in retrospect, wish I’d set myself a clearer goal. As the year progressed I started to hope I’d surpass 100 different recipes and then it became important to me that variety was reflected across at least a third of the year. As time passed, I became reluctant to check my tally in case it was less impressive than it felt. When the end of the twelve months arrived, I couldn’t actually bring myself to look and it took four months before enough time had passed that it no longer seemed to matter.
Over that year, more and more of my go to cookery books left the bookshelves and shuffled up and down piles next to the sofa or by the side of the bed. The list of chrome bookmarks in my recipe folder now requires extensive scrolling and I took out a magazine subscription or two.
So what did the experience teach me? Preparation is critical. Part of the process has included developing the discipline to plan a weekly menu. Knowing what you’re going to cook in advance and having all the necessary ingredients to hand reduces the decision making process, eliminates pressure and makes defaulting to a well tried recipe less likely. Menu planning also means the food that you buy has a purpose and you’re less likely to experience food waste at the end of the week.
Feedback from my family has also made it clear that variety just for the sake of it, is not appreciated. “Can’t we just have something normal for dinner?” started to creep into dinner time conversations and was usually accompanied by raised eyebrows and shared glances (that didn’t include me).
So just how much variety was I able to inject into family mealtime over 12 months? 137 unique dishes, which represents eating something different for 37.5% of the year and saw us increase the variety in our mealtimes by over 520%. This felt like an achievement. But what did we do for the other 62.5% of the year?
For just over 35% of the year we ate duplicate meals, dishes I’d already prepared once since I started my challenge on 17th July 2018. The big surprise was that for 10.4% of the year we ate in restaurants! Eeek; I had no idea it was that much. For 7.1% of the year I was away from home on business (so more restaurant meals, or ‘picnic dinners’ from motorway service stations with an M&S Food). And for 5.2% of the year I’d cooked enough for a leftovers meal the next day. We only enjoyed 7 takeaways, but in a rural location we are not exactly spoilt for choice. We ate with friends for 1.9% of the year, and there was one occasion where I failed to record what we ate and another where I didn’t eat anything.
Despite the odd uprising, my family do admit to enjoying the journey. My daughter (10 at the time) talks about us eating really amazing food. There was only a handful of times where the words “please never cook this again” passed the lips of my nearest and dearest. One was in response to ‘Sweet Potato Pad Thai’.
Having spent a year dabbling in culinary variety, it turns out it’s quite difficult to kick the habit. After some consultation with my family, I decided to set a new and specific goal for 2020. From January 1st, I’m aiming to serve up different meals for 80% of the year. That means 292 different homemade dishes that avoid processed ingredients (wherever possible) and aim to inject nutritional variety into our diet. The target number takes into account my job does require some work away from home, we don’t want to decline invitations from friends and family and there will be the odd special occasion where we’d like to eat out.
This site will document my journey. I hope you enjoy sharing it with me.