Half of us are cycling through the same 10 meals - or fewer - every single month. Time for a change! Sophie Morris suggests some delicious, simple alternatives to spag bol and chicken curry


Is your dinner in the doldrums?

According to Marks & Spencer, more than 50 per cent of shoppers are cycling through the same 10 meals - or fewer - every single month. Each person’s 10 will vary, but we can’t seem to get enough of a limited range of personal staples. For me, it’s lemon risotto, butter chicken, dal with sweet potato, and a classic lasagne.

Why are our dinners so repetitive? There’s plenty of comfort to be taken from the known and well-loved, but we deny ourselves pleasure when we don’t seek novelty, too. Dinner should be something exciting to look forward to every day of the week.

Whatever meals you have on rotation, we’ve come up with easy swaps that can liven up your cooking - from fresh spring takes on bolognese and carbonara to ideas that can put a twist on your fail-safe pies and curries.

1 Not a risotto, but a ‘bean-otto’
“We all love a risotto, but say hello to the newest girl in town: beanotto (below), a dish that is lighter, fresher and much quicker to make, and loaded with protein and fibre,” says Amelia Christie-Miller who, as the founder of Bold Bean Co is, unsurprisingly, on a mission to make us eat more beans.

“The creaminess of the white beans creates a base that’s similar to a traditional risotto. I’d also recommend something crunchy to top it with, whether that’s pine nuts, toasted seeds or breadcrumbs.”

2 Replace shortcrust with filo
If you like making pies with shortcrust pastry, swapping this for filo pastry will be no effort.

I recently made a delicious chard and feta version from Seasoning by Angela Clutton (Murdoch Books, £30). Or look for Moroccan pastillas, which are made with a dough similar to filo - the slightly crispier warqa .

3 Try tuna lasagne
Ask at the fish counter for offcuts of tuna belly and make your ragù just as you would with mince, then build your lasagne.

This is a great straight swap if you’re trying to eat less red meat, and you can bulk it out with tins of cooked lentils or chickpeas.

4 DIY fish & chips
A cod and chip supper is a British cliché, but one that holds. Chef Chantelle Nicholson recommends a simple home-cooked version using a sustainable fish from a fishmonger and a dusting off lour, followed by a shallow fry instead of deep frying in a thick batter. “Buy some white fish - hake is a good one,” says Nicholson, chef-founder of the seasonal restaurant Apricity.

“Cut the fish into strips, then coat in a tasty seasoned flour - fry off in butter or oil and serve with some good aioli or mayo and a wedge salad.”

5 Twisted spaghetti bolognese
Lentils and mushrooms are common swaps for meat in sauces, but chef Mike Davies of the Camberwell Arms has a brighter spring alternative. He makes his spag bol with grated courgettes, chilli, garlic and basil.

“The courgettes cook down into a flavourful sauce that perfectly coats the pasta, making it a quick and easy meal,” he says.

“It’s also beautifully light, which is perfect as we enter warmer months.

“Plus, courgettes are more budget-friendly than minced meat.”

6 Change up your chicken curry
There are more kinds of chicken curry than I’ve had hot dinners. Take a break from whichever you tend to reach for and try something new. I love aromatic Maldivian curries made with lots of cardamom and cloves and coconut milk.

7 Greek giouvetsi instead of paella
There’s something Greek in the air on summer menus and I’m seeing plays on the Greek baked orzo dish giouvetsi all over the place.

The orzo is usually baked in a rich tomato sauce with chopped stewing or braising beef, but modern Greek restaurants Kima and OMA do fish and red prawn versions. You can also use tinned tuna or sardines.

It’s a one-pan dish. Start off by dicing an onion and cooking this in a few tablespoons of good-quality olive oil, followed by a few cloves of chopped garlic and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Stir in a tablespoon of tomato paste.

Follow this with your tinned fish, tinned tomatoes and orzo, adding double the volume of liquid to orzo. Pop the lid on and bake in the oven at 200?C/180?C fan/gas mark 6 until the liquid has been absorbed.

8 Ditch a chilli for spicy beef hariri
Chef Ben Tish travelled far and wide for his upcoming book Mediterra (Bloomsbury, £26, out 4 July) and one of his discoveries is this warming stew from where the Med meets Africa. “Heart-warming, robust and tasty, hariri (left) is usually made with lamb, but my beef version is a less fatty alternative,” says Tish.

He uses diced beef chuck, which he fries in oil before making his spicy tomato stew with onion, garlic, chopped tomatoes, ras el hanout, chilli, coriander and cloves.

He adds lentils, chickpeas and the beef to simmer for half an hour until the soup has thickened.

9 Green your carbonara
Chef Kitty Coles has a spinach and pea version carbonara, which she makes by blitzing egg and Parmesan with the green veg and some pasta water.

“Fry off some good-quality bacon lardons, then turn the heat off once crisp and golden,” says the author of Make More With Less: Foolproof Recipes to Make Your Food Go Further (Hardie Grant, £22). “Add the pasta, a squeeze of lemon, and mix until silky.”

Filippo La Gattuta, executive chef of Big Mamma Italian restaurants, suggests swapping the meat out of a carbonara and replacing it with courgette for a lighter version (left).

The recipe can be found in Big Mamma’s new cookbook, Italian Recipes in 30 Minutes, Shower Time Included (£25).

10 A brand-new jacket
“Everyone loves a jacket potato with baked beans,” says chef Lorcan Spiteri, chef and co-founder of Caravel, a canal-barge restaurant.

“It’s a staple in our house. But have you ever tried saving some of the trim from a good old lamb or beef roast and making a ragù?

“Slowly cook down the leftover meat with onions and stock, and serve over your jacket potato with grated cheese or a herby yoghurt.”

A perfect weeknight dinner.