Easy Meal Plans That Will Save You $100s Each Month
Easy Meal Plans That Will Save You $100s Each Month
What do easy meal plans and capsule wardrobes have in common? Well, they are both seasonal, fit with a minimalist lifestyle, create ease and reduce stress in your life, but most importantly, they can save you money!
I have been enjoying a capsule wardrobe for over 2 years now and I love it. But recently, when I was working on a weekly dinner meal plan for my family, I got the idea that I could apply the same concept of my wardrobe to our food.
The idea is simple at its core. Take as few ingredients as possible to make a full week of dinners. Just like in your closet when you mix and match clothes to make new outfits, a capsule meal plan mixes and matches ingredients to make new meals.
When trying out a capsule meal plan for the first time, I recommend starting with your favorite foods. That will make your first run at this easier. You don’t want to try some fancy new recipe and decide the capsule plan doesn’t work for you just because the meal was too complicated or not liked by your family.
And don’t worry too much about the recipes at first either. I have some great website and app recommendations that will help with that in a minute.
How To Build a Capsule Meal Plan
1. Start with Your Base Layer – Protein
The first thing I like to do is start with the meat or protein layer. Most meal plans will have chicken one night, beef the next, and pork another. But, one of the best ways to save money when meal planning is to buy in bulk. When you can do this, the price per meal will drop significantly.
Planning your weekly menu around one protein type takes advantage of these bulk savings and makes sure you use it all up before it goes bad or gets lost in the freezer.
2. Choose Your Coordinating Essentials – Grains
The next step is to choose your grains. Do you want to have rice or noodles? Tortillas or bread. Often you can have more than one, but the more you limit these choices, the more money you can save.
For instance, if you are cooking tacos with a side of rice, you can have chicken and rice soup in the middle of the week, and round it out with risotto toward the end of the week. Noodles allow for casseroles, noodle soups, and pasta dishes.
3. Choose Your Accent Color – Veggies
After you decide on your protein and various grains you want to use, think about the veggies your family loves to eat. In my home this includes broccoli, carrots, corn, bell peppers, cauliflower, olives, peas, and tomatoes. These are my main go-tos as I hate making food that does not get eaten.
When trying new veggies, I will usually keep them separate (unless I can totally hide them in a puree). That way the whole meal is not a waste if the veggies are a dud.
And no, I did not forget potatoes. I might have the only 5 year old in the world who turns her nose up at potatoes. What?!?! #momlifestruggles
4. Choose 5-7 simple recipes
Okay, so now that you have your favorite foods, it’s time for us to find some amazing (yet simple) recipes.
One of my favorite websites for finding recipes is SuperCook. This website is the easiest to enter your ingredients and see what recipes match. SuperCook will let you know if you have all of the ingredients or if there are a few you are missing.
Using my example ingredients above (chicken, rice, pasta, and favorite veggies), SuperCook has matched 22 recipes – plenty for our capsule menu of the week.
Another great website for finding recipes is Epicurious. I have used Epicurious in the past for recipes geared toward an entertaining/party dinner, but they also have some fantastic quick and easy recipes your whole family is sure to love. The results are not as straightforward as SuperCook, but they do look delicious.
My last recommendation for finding recipes for your capsule dinner menu is America’s Test Kitchen. Again, you can enter your ingredients and receive recommendations based on course, cuisine, and main ingredient. There are lots of recipes and they will not be limited to the ingredients you select so you will need to click through to the recipe to see if it works for your weekly meal plan.
Once I have an idea of the recipes I want to make, I list the ingredients for each in this order:
I have created a Google Spreadsheet that you can use to create your meal plan. You can download a copy here.
5. Add Patterns and Layers – Spices, Essentials that Bring the Recipe Together
As you put your recipes together, you will notice additional things you need like spices and sauces. Just like in a clothing wardrobe, these are the pieces of flair that bring the whole thing together. They add flavor and make the meal complete.
These can include sauces like barbecue sauce, salsa, Worcestershire, or soy sauce and spices like cumin, curry, paprika, or chili powder. I try to keep these to a minimum or at least pair them together so that I am using each ingredient more than once per week.
6. Plan Your Shopping Trip and Enjoy the Savings
Now that you have your 5-7 recipes and shopping list, it’s time to go to the grocery store and purchase it all. If you have the option, my favorites stores are Costco and Aldi. These stores will offer you the greatest cost savings. If those are not close to you, the cost and time savings can still be had at your local grocery store.
I am currently in Germany and part of the appeal of the capsule meal plan is that it limits the number of items I bring home. Since I have to carry all of my groceries as I walk home from the store, and then up 3 flights of stairs, there is only so much I can carry. I hate having to shop everyday, so by keeping the list to a minimum, I am able to get all of my groceries for the week in two shopping bags.
This week I was able to keep my grocery bill to under $60 for 7 dinners for a family of 3. This also included some extras like bananas, honey, granola bars, extra tortillas for breakfast roll ups, and a chocolate bar. I will need to go back for a couple things I forgot and to replenish breakfast items, but I will easily be able to feed us 21 times (3 meals a day) for under $75 (and that’s after being converted from Euros!).
Honestly, I feel like creating these capsule meal plans has changed my life. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but I REALLY hate grocery shopping (and it’s harder when living abroad). Meal planning this way has saved us money, saved me time, made cooking less stressful, and helped us eat healthier.
Ready to cook with a capsule meal plan? You can check out my first week plan or sign up for the Little Green Bow Newsletter so you never miss one.
And if you enjoyed this (or think it will help other families), I’d love if you’d share it on Pinterest. Let’s spread the word so all families can get control of their dinner!