Less, Please! Capsule Kitchen Step 3: Choose Your Capsule Staples

Less, Please! Capsule Kitchen Step 3: Choose Your Capsule Staples

This is the third in a series that will walk you step-by-step through the process of building a Capsule Kitchen to streamline your grocery list and simplify the weekly process of meal-planning, shopping, and cooking—while helping you to meet your kitchen-related goals.

Really well thought-out, super heavy-lifting basics are key to a great capsule--whether we're talking about a capsule wardrobe or in a streamlined kitchen. Good basics can be paired with special accents and combined in interesting ways to give you variety and make room for creativity.

I started the process of designing a capsule kitchen right on the heels of completing my first capsule wardrobe this spring. Figuring out how to accomplish the good-basics component to make a list of staple foods and ingredients was really a challenge. And then trying to communicate all the different connections that were firing in my brain when I made my list has just about stumped me. But I’m going to give it a shot. This is where I’m going to need some of you guys to actually test this out and help me refine the process. Ok?

Your end goal for this step is to come up with a list of main foods, or capsule staples that will do the heavy lifting in your current capsule kitchen. They will be primarily based on you and your family’s preferences and habits and influenced by seasonality. You will also want to make them cohesive enough that they will play nicely with each other. Mentally connect this step in the process to the capsule wardrobe step of choosing your neutrals and main colors, and envisioning your personal style.

A note about capsule duration:

Start off by thinking about this capsule staples list with a one-month duration in mind. Your capsule will be very influenced by the season, but it’s much easier to adjust your kitchen on a monthly basis than it is to adjust your wardrobe every month. If you end up feeling like you want keep it going for longer, that’s great, but for me it is less overwhelming and more realistic to envision a month at a time.

Not a diet

Also, remember that this is not a diet. You are not making a list of the only foods you will consume for the month, just the bulk of what you will intentionally grocery shop for. You can, and are encouraged to, add variety from continuing to use random things in your kitchen inventory and when you eat outside the home.

Let’s get to it

Start by brainstorming about all the foods that are always on your grocery list (or that you buy every week, if you’re not a grocery list kind of person). For example, the first words out of my two-and-a-half-year-old’s mouth every morning are “pee-buhhh nahh-nahh!” Therefore, any capsule kitchen that didn’t make room for peanut butter and bananas would not function well for my family.

As I started to make my list, I found that I was constantly going back-and-forth thinking both in terms of food groups, and by thinking specifically about what we eat at different mealtimes. Even as I tried to refine the process, I think it is still helpful to brainstorm coming at it from both angles. One approach might be to draw out two different mind maps: one that focuses on food groups and one that focuses on mealtimes, and then observe the overlaps and connections between the two.

Using a mind map will help you think through your capsule kitchen staples and make sure you don't miss anything!

Using a mind map will help you think through your capsule kitchen staples and make sure you don't miss anything!

As you are making your list, your Capsule Kitchen Vision and Goals from Step 1 should be fresh on your mind and informing your choices. For example, before I designed our capsule kitchen, I was regularly buying things like individually packaged servings of raisins and yogurt. I wanted to cut back on the amount of over-packaged items and buy more in bulk to save money and to have more control over the amount of sugar, etc. in the portions I made for my kiddos. As you brainstorm, edit your list so that only items that align with your vision and goals end up on your staples list.

You want your list to be as streamlined as possible. Think about staples that can be used in a variety of different ways. For example, the veggies that I chose are things we like to snack on raw, dip in hummus, saute in stir frys, and mix into scrambled eggs. Unless it's an absolute necessity, try to avoid items that you only envision eating in one specific way.

There are certain categories that I think make more sense to limit for the sake of simplicity and others that can be flexible to add variety on a weekly basis. For example, I don't plan a "staples" list of meat. Instead, I choose two meats a week based on price and preference, and then use those meats in at least four different meals. I’ll indicate that on the list and go into more detail about how I make it work on a weekly basis with meal-planning and grocery shopping in next week’s post. For the staples list, you are thinking more about what items will essentially be in your kitchen week after week.

Lastly, this list will not include pantry items like baking ingredients, oils, vinegars, spices, etc. Use your pantry inventory for those items, and renew them as needed. If you're starting from a very limited pantry, think through some essentials and add them to the ingredients* categories on the list.

My Capsule Kitchen Staples List

So, here’s my July list. The categories in bold are what you could use as instructions or an outline to make your own. I’ve included my own staples in regular font both for inspiration and, hopefully, clarity. Stay tuned after the holiday week for Step 4: Weekly Meal Planning + Grocery Shopping. Happy 4th, Everyone!

July Capsule Kitchen Staples

Fruit (list up to 5, choose 3 each week)
Vegetables (choose up to 5 each week)
green beans

Fresh ingredients*
Frozen ingredients

other ingredients
peanut butter
Grains (choose 2 staples)
Other grain-based foods (list 3, choose 1 per week)
Beans (list up to 3, choose 1 per week)
black beans
Meat (choose 2 per week based on price and preference)
Other proteins
lunch meat (1 per week)
Dairy (staples, + choose 1-2 kinds of cheese per week)
half and half
Snacks (choose 1 salty option and 1 sweet option per week)
tortilla chips or pita chips (homemade)
salsa (homemade)
dried fruit
chocolate chips
frozen fruit bars (homemade)
*I chose to differentiate between ingredients that I cook with very often, and other items that were more stand-alone. For example, I always need to have lemons on hand because I use them constantly, but I wouldn't consider them one of our fruits for the week.


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