Capsule Kitchen Step 4: Weekly Meal Planning + Shopping
This is the fourth 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.
- Capsule Kitchen Idea Genesis
- Step 1: Capsule Kitchen Vision + Goals
- Step 2: Capsule Kitchen Clean-Out + Inventory
The Fun Part: Weekly Meal Planning + Shopping
I really enjoy this next step in the process. Most Sunday nights I sit down with my planner, my favorite pens, and sometimes a few cooking magazines or Pinterest for inspiration, and plan out our meals and grocery shopping list for the week. Keeping my capsule kitchen vision and goals in mind, my objective when I do my weekly planning is to streamline my grocery list as much as possible to save money and avoid waste (while planning delicious meals). I refer to my inventory and list of capsule staples and format a plan for the week. For me this where the tune of "liberation through limitation" really starts to make music. Working within the confines of the limits that I've set for my capsule kitchen pushes me to think creatively about the way we use our groceries and how to cook with a limited number of ingredients, but still make it feel like there is a lot of variety on our table. The limitation has also freed me up to actually meet my goals and cut our grocery spending nearly in half and reduce the amount of food we end up throwing away, while still feeding my family food that I feel good about. It definitely takes trial and error, practice, and grace for yourself . . . but the results are encouraging.
I'm planning on posting a lot more about how I adapt recipes and use ingredients in a variety of ways, but here is my basic play-by-play
Step 1: Think About Your Week
The first thing I do is look at my weekly planner and make sure that I'm aware of roughly how many dinners we are planning on eating at home that week. Church functions that include dinner, social gatherings, and plans with friends often take up 2-3 evenings out of the week. I also think about other factors in our week that affect dinnertime, even if we will still likely eat at home. For example if Keith will be home late one evening or we are hosting home group at our house right after dinner, I plan something easy to make. We also like to build in a lot of social flexibility to our weekends, so I try not to plan anything for the weekend with fresh ingredients that will go bad if they aren't used (or plan on buying those ingredients Saturday at the farmer's market).
Here is what a typical weekly overview would look like for us:
Monday - Eating at home with lots of time to cook. Therefore I usually plan a meal that uses fresh ingredients and will make leftovers to be used later in the week.
Tuesday - Dinner during an outreach at church. Something easy and healthy for the babysitter to feed the girls.
Wednesday - Dinner at home right before hosting home group. Something easy, often composed of something leftover from Monday that can be prepared while multi-tasking.
Thursday - Similar to Monday. A new protein that will provide new leftovers to get us through the weekend.
Friday - Sunday: I brainstorm ideas of what I could cook when we're home, but I leave it flexible.
Step 2: Plan Dinners Around 2 Main Proteins
We eat all kinds of meat, so if you don't eat meat or avoid certain meats, you would have to adjust this step. I'd love to hear how a different approach might work.
Anyway, to plan dinners, I pick two main meats a week based on price, quality, and what I'm in the mood for. Then, I plan 4 meals using each of the meats in 2 different ways. If I plan a 5th meal for the week, I either go meatless or allow a secondary, accent-type meat such as bacon. I build the rest of the meal around the meat using other items from my staples list, or sometimes based on what is available and on sale.
When I am planning the meals, I list the meal with ALL the ingredients in parentheses so that I can easily check my inventory or add them to my shopping list and make sure that I don't miss anything. I rarely use recipes without somehow adapting them to fit my capsule rather than shopping for just that recipe.
This is how it goes on a typical week:
London Broil (great sale this week at Publix)
Chicken (I often get a bag of 6 Springer Mountain Chicken Breasts)
1. Grilled London Broil w/ grilled bussels sprouts* and easy stove-top mac 'n' cheese (london broil, marinade w/ existing pantry ingredients + lemon, brussels sprouts, olive oil, vinegar, fun-shaped pasta, milk, butter, flour, cheese)
2. Beef And Broccoli Stir Fry** (The other half of the massive London Broil and marinade, broccoli, sauce ingredients from existing pantry + lemon, rice)
3. Grilled chicken w/ grilled broccoli and cauliflower and grilled "baked"sweet potatoes (chicken breasts, pantry seasonings, olive oil, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, butter)
4. Grilled Chicken and Veggie Pasta Salad (leftover chicken and grilled vegetables, tomatoes, same fun-shaped pasta, homemade vinaigrette)
Step 3: Plan Other Meals + Snacks
I keep things really simple for breakfast, lunch, and snack so that we have a little more room for variety at dinner time.
I plan and shop for only one kind of breakfast, one kind of lunch (in addition to leftovers), and one salty-ish and one sweet-ish snack per week. If needed, I plan for a kid version as well. As I said in other posts, this isn't a strict diet plan, so once I have all my ingredients at home, I often combine them in different ways so we don't necessarily eat the same thing every day, but they key is that I only plan and shop for one specific meal/snack in each category per week.
Breakfast: Eggs, buttered toast, and fruit (this could look like egg sandwiches, french toast, egg in a basket, etc . . . all using the same ingredients)
Lunch: Tomato & Cheese Sandwiches, fruit, hummus and veggies (the veggies will be the same variety that ended up in the stir fry and on the grill . . . bread and fruit from breakfast making another appearance . . . you get the idea)
Hummus, veggies, and cheese (sound familiar?)
dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips (I buy these in bulk)
Oh, and don't forget drinks! Our list is always the same: Coffee, half and half, milk, juice, and sparkling water (I switched from La Croix to Publix Brand because it is still really good ad wayyyy cheaper by the way. Also, we always mix juice with either water or sparkling water (hello, refreshing treat!) in our house to cut down on the sugar factor and it also happens to last a lot longer that way.)
Step 4: Make The List. Then, Shop Intentionally+ Somewhat Flexibly
I review my plan and write out my list, organizing it based on the flow of my grocery store (Bakery, Deli, Produce, Pantry, Meat, Frozen, Dairy, Eggs, Sparkling Water)
When I am actually shopping, I will sometimes adjust my planned veggie or meat based on a sale. Which is where the *Brussels sprouts came from this week. Speaking of which, who knew that BrusselS sprouts has an "S" on the end of the word Brussels? Not me. Until I wrote this post.