Creating a Capsule Menu

I’m sure you’ve heard of a capsule wardrobe…but have you heard of a capsule menu?  The idea is the same: having a limited number of things (meals) that makes choosing what to make for dinner and creating your shopping list super easy!

I like to think of following a capsule menu as a step beyond meal planning…maybe simplified meal planning…or advanced meal planning (or maybe the easy way out!)

Simplify meal planning; create a Capsule Menu!
Simplify meal planning; create a Capsule Menu!

My Experience with Meal Planning

In the past, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with meal planning.  I loved knowing what was for dinner every night.  I loved always having the right ingredients on hand.  I loved how it simplified my days while keeping my desire for real food and nutrition a priority.  But, I hated having to do it every week, and then having to think through a grocery list for the week.  I hated how I felt like a failure every time I tried to meal plan because this week’s meals looked very similar to last week’s meals.

Meal planning services looked interesting to me: How nice! A meal list and grocery list appears in my inbox each week!  But I knew they wouldn’t work for us; we need to eat nightshade-free and the rest of the family doesn’t like cooked vegetables.  (They gladly eats raw veggies, so I’m happy to deal with that!)

Choosing to be Thankful

I decided to stop be frustrated and feeling like failure each week.  I embraced the reality of our food limitations, likes and dislikes and created a capsule menu!  This menu I could create once and repeat.  I knew we would like the meals and get the nutrition we need.  It has provided so much freedom!  It has saved me so much time and mental energy!   We’ve been following our capsule menu for several months now.  We still like it; we’re not getting bored of the meals.  And the best part is, I can pretty much grocery shop without a list!

Do you want to build your own capsule menu?  It’s easy; let’s get started!

Building Your Own Capsule Menu

Everyone’s capsule menu will look different (ours is a three-week rotation).  That’s OK and it’s why a capsule menu is so great; it works for everyone!  There are at least two ways of doing capsule menus. But both start the same way:

First, make a list.

Make a list of all the meals that your family likes to eat AND you like to cook AND are quick and easy to make (whatever quick and easy means for you).  At this point don’t worry about what “meal category” (breakfast/lunch/supper) each meal fits into.

Next, divide the meals into categories

Categories that make sense to you and for your family.  These categories might be: eggs, fish, chicken, beef, pork, beans, meatless, etc.  Don’t worry about what time of day (breakfast/lunch/supper) that you would eat each meal (every heard of breakfast for dinner, or my favorite: breakfast all-day), just divide it into categories.

Recognize Repeat meals.

Is your family happy to eat the same meal each week?  Put a “star” next to those.

If you like a bit more freedom…if your personality rebels a bit against “schedules” …or you want to cook what you “feel like today”, then end here.  Place this list in an easy to access place and refer to it when you need to decide what to make!  Just remember to do it early enough in the day to defrost any meat or other needed ingredients.

I prefer this method in the summer because our days are less scheduled and I can decide what to make based on what our plans are for the day, or the weather forecast, or…? This summer I decided to do a summer of salads and it worked great!

Adding Structure

During the school year I prefer to have a more structured meal plan.  Our days are busier (home schooling) and our outside the home activities are more regularly scheduled.  I want one less thing to think about and one less decision to make each day!  So, I add more structure to my capsule menu:

Decide which meals you are going to plan.

Are you going to schedule a specific meal for each day and each meal time? Or, are you only going to make a specific plan for certain meals and a basic plan for the other meals

Plan (or make a plan) for breakfast.

We eat the same thing for breakfast every day.  I eat chocolate overnight oatmeal; Tony has a cheese omelet with rice, and the kids eat baked oatmeal or overnight oatmeal.  This might seem boring to you, but it works well for us!  So, no real planning involved.  Breakfast plan, done!

Plan or make a plan for lunches.

This is what our plan looks like:

  • Saturday and Sunday: Scrambled eggs or egg bake with toast/muffins/biscuits, raw veggies and fruit.
  • Weekdays: Leftovers, eggs, PB&J, cheesy bread, finger foods, quesadillas, tuna salad.

Plan (or make a plan) for suppers.

I counted up the meals on my list (that are not part of our breakfast or lunch plan) and discovered that I had enough meals for a three-week rotation.  Don’t forget to include the meals you family happily eats each week and count them more than once!  I tried to spread out my “similar” meals, like pasta meals and soup meals and meat-heavy meals and bean meals to once each week.  Then I filled in the rest.

Now I have a meal plan I can use each week!  It is easy to make changes as needed, like if I want to try a new recipe or switch days around.  However, I always have a plan and always have the needed ingredients on hand!

As you look forward to the fall craziness of kids starting school and all the other new activities that come with fall, be thankful that planning meals is already done!

For all this and more about Capsule Menus, I wrote an ebook!

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Simplify meal planning by creating a capsule menu!