You may have heard of the idea of a "capsule wardrobe"-- the idea that anything you select from your closet will match everything else in your closet. For example, you can select a pair of pants, and every shirt in your wardrobe will match that pair of pants. Therefore, you have an endless supply of readily available, quick outfits that are effortless to assemble and always look great!
So, I got to thinking: what if you could apply the "capsule" idea to meal planning? What if you could open your fridge and select one prepared thing from each category (proteins, grains, vegetables, etc) and everything you selected went perfectly together? This, in turn, would create an endless variety of delicious, well-balanced meals without giving much thought to the matter.
Why a capsule meal plan VS the other options out there?
I, personally, find it difficult to keep up with meal planning that requires me to come up with 7-30 days worth of exact meals (and recipes for them) in advance. Therefore, this meal plan takes less time (and less headaches) to prepare in advance, and it ensures easy, healthy meals without much effort. Plus you will find yourself using LESS containers -- who doesn't love that!?
So, without further adieu, I give you this guide to Capsule Meal Planning!
The supplies you will need to make your very own Capsule Meal Plan for 1 week are as follows:
- Food-safe storage containers with lids
- 2-3 versatile proteins
- 3-4 in-season vegetables
- 3-4 in-season fruits
- 2-3 healthy whole-grains
- 1-2 breakfast options
- Optional: ingredients for 1-2 desserts
- Optional: ingredients for 1 comfort meal
- Optional: snacks that combine fiber and protein
- Cooking pots, pans, utensils
Additionally, you should always have on hand kitchen staples, such as: dairy (ie: milk/soymilk, butter), baking supplies (ie: flour, sugar), and spices/herbs, just in case you feel like turning some of your meal prepped ingredients into something fancy. ;)
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Step 1: The Key to Success
Before you begin, it's important to start with quality, in-season ingredients.
This is the key factor to a successful Capsule Meal Plan because in-season fruits and vegetables always compliment each other when combined in meals.
Additional benefits of eating produce that's in-season:
- It's cheaper (who doesn't love the sound of that!?)
- It tastes better
- It is fresher with a higher nutritional value
- It's more environmentally friendly (by reducing the demand for out-of-season produce)
- It typically helps support the local farming in your area which means less transportation, less refrigeration, less hot houses, and less irradiation of produce.
Here is a convenient list of produce sorted by seasons to help you plan seasonally...
SPRING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
- Fava Beans
SUMMER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
- Bell Peppers
- Passion fruit
- Summer squash
FALL FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Green onions/scallions
- Hearty herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, and sage)
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
WINTER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Citrus Fruits are harvested in warmer climates during winter months (lemons, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, blood oranges, limes, and clementines)
- Collar Greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter Squash
Step 2: Selecting Quantities
This Instructable will give you a meal-planning guide for use in 1 week intervals.
Why only 1 week? Because cooked food is not safe to eat after 3-5 days (especially cooked meat), so 1 week is the maximum you can get out of any meal plan that includes cooked foods. The only exception to this rule is if you are freezing meals or ingredients (then you could make as many of these 1 week meal plans as you have room for in your freezer).
How much do you need per family size? The answer to this question is totally dependent upon how much each person in your household size eats.
Here is the suggested allowance for one adult per meal:
- 1 fist-sized serving of protein (3-4 ounces of meat or 1/4 cup dry beans/legumes, 1/2 cup cooked beans/legumes)
- 1 handful of whole grains (about 1/4 cup dry for rice, 1/2 cup dry for pasta)
- 1/2 a plate of cooked or fresh vegetables or fruits (2 cups salad or 1-2 cups cooked vegetables, or about 1 cup fruit or 1 fruit cut up if an apple or banana)
- Optional: 1 serving of dairy (1 cup of milk or non-dairy milk, or 2 ounces cheese)
- Optional: very small handful of healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, or oils).
So totals for one adult for 2 meals (lunch and dinner) for one day:
- PROTEIN: 6-8 ounces of meat OR 1/2 cup dry beans/legumes, 1 cup cooked beans/legumes
- GRAINS: 1/2 cup dry rice, 1 cup dry pasta
- VEGETABLES OR FRUITS: 4 cups salad, 2-4 cups cooked vegetables, or 2 cups fruit
- Optional: 2 cups milk or non-dairy milk, 4 ounces cheese
- Optional: 2 very small handfuls of healthy fats
Simply multiply this basic principle by the number of people in your family (tweaking to their individual food needs), and you should be able to gauge how much food your family eats in a week.
It may feel like more work in the beginning, but I promise you with practice it becomes almost second nature. :)
Step 3: Sample Guide
Now that you have your in-season ingredients and quantities figured out, let's bring this altogether!
What does a Capsule Meal Plan actually look like? Use the following bold text as a formula for entering in any items you choose!
Here is a sample meal plan that you can supplement your family's quantities and the specific in-season ingredients of your choice:
2-3 versatile proteins -- for example: Chicken, Beef, and Turkey (meat options) or black beans, lentils, and nuts/seeds (vegetarian options)
3-4 in-season vegetables -- for example: potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, lettuce (fall season)
3-4 in-season fruits -- for example: apples, grapes, pears, cranberries (fall season)
2-3 healthy whole-grains -- for example: rice, whole grain pasta, and whole grain bread
1-2 breakfast options -- for example: oatmeal and yogurt
Optional: ingredients for 1-2 desserts -- for example: ingredients for hot cocoa and/or pumpkin pie
Optional: ingredients for 1 comfort meal -- for example: set aside ingredients specifically for beef stew (meat option) or vegetarian chili (vegetarian option)
Optional: fiber/protein snacks -- for example: have some healthy fiber/protein bars on hand for a quick pick-me-up during the day.
Why have the three optional parts of the meal plan? As the old saying goes, "everything in moderation is the key." Many meal plans out there don't account for combating the temptations we face each week with regards to food (our Krispy Kreme dreams, or "Oh, how I want a pizza!"). Therefore, these optional things to plan for each week are there as your cushion to keep your weekly healthy food goals in check. If you don't need these things, then don't worry about planning for them. To each their own--that's what makes this guide so versatile!
Step 4: Prepping Your Meal Plan
If you have food that needs to be cooked, do this before adding it to your food-safe storage containers.
Food that is easier to have cooked ahead of time and saved in the fridge:
- Meat (season it when cooking)
- Cooked Vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, asparagus, green beans, or potatoes)
- Easy pick-me-up baked goods (such as muffins, pancakes, banana bread, etc)
- Some homemade sauces or dips that must be cooked before refrigerating
- The comfort meal of choice for the week (stored in its own container for ease of access)
Food I like to cook at the time of the meal:
- Frozen vegetarian meat substitutes
- Any pre-frozen homemade or store-bought items that can be cooked from frozen in a timely manner
In addition, cut up your fresh produce into bite-sized pieces for ease of access. Things like apples or avocado (anything that browns upon touching air), I like to leave whole and cut at the time of the meal. Also, prepare any dips, homemade dressings, etc you will need for the week and store them in sealable jars.
Then add the rest of your ingredients to your storage containers in categories, labeling each if you prefer:
- Protein (keep different meats separate)
- Whole Grains (keep different grains stored in separate containers)
- Vegetables (keep cooked vegetables separated from fresh vegetables)
If you are adding in the optional ingredients from the previous step, add those into their own containers as needed.
Step 5: How to Use Your Meal Plan
As you may have noticed by now, this meal plan isn't based off of Days 1-7, or sorted by Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snack options. So how do you use it?
It is a visual meal planning system, therefore no assortment of days or meal times is necessary.
In order to use this system, you simply pull out 1 choice from each category (1 protein, 1 grain, and 1 vegetable and/or 1 fruit) and either add this to a plate to warm-up as-is, or create a dish out of these ingredients. When you run out of one ingredient in a category, you use up the remaining ones in that category until all categories are used up (which should put you at about the 7 day mark, or tweak it until it does).
WHY A VISUAL MEAL PLANNING SYSTEM?
People are driven by what they SEE, which explains why we use the food that we see first in the fridge (not the food in the way back); we use the appliances most that are on the counter (not the ones hidden away in the cabinets); and we use the spices that are front and center most (as opposed to the spices in the cobwebs of the cupboard or drawer).
We also are visual eaters. If a plate LOOKS appetizing with a variety of colorful food, our mouths begin to salivate and our stomach actually begins to get ready to eat (just from LOOKING at the food)!
So it only makes sense to throw together a meal visually from what we can SEE on the countertop. And our brains are designed to do so!
Plus, you will enjoy using less containers to sort by category rather than 14-21 meal containers set aside for each individual meal in a week, and that's per person.
Here is an example of how to use this meal plan:
Let's say it's Day 1 of the week and you are hungry for lunch...
Step 1: Pull out one item from each category and set it out on your countertop (a protein, a vegetable and/or fruit, and a whole grain). Using our previous vegetarian sample guide: say you pulled out cooked lentils, cooked rice, salad, carrots, and grapes.
Step 2: Decide how you want to serve the items you selected. Say you decided to put the lentils with the rice, have a side salad with carrots (and sunflower seeds from your kitchen staples, if you desire), and have a side of grapes. You can heat it up and serve it as-is, or you can add in a chef's flare (for example, create a lentil and rice loaf or burgers) if you're feeling fancy. The sky's the limit!
See how simple that was? Easy! This is so versatile and will be delicious any way you serve it up!
Step 6: Enjoy!
I didn't include any recipes in this guide because basically everything in this Instructable is in simple "throw me on a plate" style for the easiest application. However, if you have recipes you would like to share, or links to other Instructable recipes, please feel free to share them in the comments section below!
I hope you found this Instructable helpful, and maybe it inspired you to try a new type of meal planning (should your "usual" meal planning ways have failed).
Runner Up in the
Meal Prep Challenge