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You may be thinking, “What the heck is a capsule menu?!”
And that’s a good question! You may have heard people talk about capsule kitchens or capsule pantries. These are systems that have you purchase ingredients that you can mix and match to make complete dishes and meals.
That approach would NEVER work for me. That’s basically what I tried doing in the past, and I failed miserably.
My capsule menu, however, is different. It’s for people who aren’t creative in the kitchen (me…duh!) and need or want to follow recipes. It’s for people who already have enough decisions to make each day that dinner doesn’t need to be one of them. It’s for YOU.
The capsule menu is a minimalist approach to meal planning. Let me tell you how it works for dinner. You have a set amount of recipes (let’s say seven main dishes, seven veggie side dishes, and seven grain side dishes) that you can mix and match. You can eat BBQ chicken with any of the vegetables or grains. You can eat roasted broccoli with any of the main dishes or grains. You can eat the quinoa salad with any of the main dishes or vegetables.
The capsule menu is structured enough so you know what recipes you will make each week and the ingredients you need to buy, but it gives you some flexibility to switch up the days when you make them and how you combine them.
However, if you need more structure, simply pick specific main dishes and side dishes that you will always make together. You can also do a combination of mix-and-match meals and set meals. For example, you may have two dinner main dishes on your menu that you like to eat with specific sides every time. The remaining five dinners and sides can be mixed and matched.
Mix-and-match cooking methods
Before you choose any recipes, however, you need to designate a limited number of cooking methods for each dish so that no matter which recipes you choose, you can cook them at the same time. That is key to making a capsule menu work.
Below are what our cooking methods look like. I only make recipes that fall into each category’s designated cooking method.
– Main dish: cooked in Instant Pot; cooked in slow cooker; baked in the oven at 425 degrees; or grilled.
– Veggie side dish: roasted in the oven at 425 degrees; steamed on the stovetop; sliced raw veggies; or pre-made cold salad.
– Grain side dish: cooked on the stovetop; cooked in the microwave; or pre-made cold salad.
– Leftovers: warmed on the stovetop; or eaten cold.
If you notice, I can pick recipes from each of the three categories and they can all cook at the same time. But if I used the Instant Pot for both main dishes and side dishes, my menu is no longer mix-and-match because I can’t cook two recipes in the Instant Pot at once. A way to get around this is to pre-make your side dishes, like cooking a batch of rice in the Instant Pot earlier in the day. Another example of how this works is that when I use the oven, everything goes in at 425 degrees, which allows me to bake chicken and roast vegetables at the same time.
A hidden benefit of using fewer cooking methods is that you’ll master them much faster than if you tried to learn every single way there is to cook. Once you’ve specified your methods, only choose recipes that fit into those categories. I know that I won’t cook chicken on the stove, so I never even look at recipes for it. This helps to narrow down your choices from the multitude of recipes available for you to try.
The secret to remember is this: once you’ve created a meal plan for the week – what I call a menu – use it again! Why do we spend all this time making menus and shopping lists each week, only to throw them away when we’re finished? Then we start all over again the next week, doing the same thing. Make enough menus and you’ll have a large selection that you can rotate and not get bored.
When you rotate your menus, you actually need fewer recipes than you think you do! Take a minimalist approach to your recipes and choose just enough so that you don’t get bored. For example, if you cook five nights each week, then you need just 20 main dish recipes to get through four weeks without making the same thing twice. I mean, how many different recipes do you need for chicken tacos?