A Capsule Menu: What It Is and How to Create Your Own

Aug 03, 2016

ACapsuleMenu

A full life, a life of contentment balanced with continual opportunities for growth and the ability to reach the goals we set for ourselves inevitably requires us to eat well. And as we balance our work and personal lives, finding time to go to the market, pick up the necessary ingredients and cook delicious, healthy meals can be strained at times.

Even if ordering take-out or going out for a meal may happen from time to time, there is a special therapeutic pleasure derived from cooking our own meals and meals for those we love so long as it is simple and produces scrumptious results.

So how do we do this? How do we successfully go to the market each week and perhaps periodically throughout the week for those fresh ingredients, remain within our budget and feel most comfortable in our skin?

Much like curating a capsule wardrobe for spring and fall, adhering to a capsule menu for regular weekly meals is a simple, but dependable way to eat well, always have on hand what you need and fuel your body efficiently.

The concept began to bounce around in my mind after an extremely busy year balancing a new life in Bend while doing my best to produce quality work on the blog and settle in to my new teaching position with my AP students. The good news was Bend offered an ample supply of quality food – your everyday ingredients as well as special ingredients for those recipes that just wouldn’t be complete without the saffron or creme fraiche (within a 10 mile radius of my house I can stop into a Market of Choice, Safeway, Whole Foods, Trade Joe’s, Newport Market and a fresh produce stand during the summer). But as Barry Schwartz reminds in his book The Paradox of Choice, more isn’t always better if, in this case, it causes us to spend too much money or buy more food than we can eat or simply gawk and wonder at what to make when we step back into our kitchen and never end up doing anything.

The good news was I knew I had the ingredients to eat well and give my body the best diet I have ever been able to give it to attempt at getting in the best shape and overall health I have ever been in. Now it was up to me to devise a plan to make this a reality with my full, yet beloved schedule.

So here it is.

There are five components (plus recipes – #6) of TSLL Capsule Menu (which I will break down in detail in this post below):

  1. Objectives: what values/priorities are driving this approach to eating, cooking and shopping
  2. A well-stocked home épicerie: the basic staple ingredients to have in your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer and by your stove
  3. Basic skills & supplies in the kitchen to master for quick and proper preparation
  4. TSLL approach to daily meals: How many meals, well-balanced. etc.
  5. Plan for weekly grocery shopping (TSLL list, Capsule Menu Planning Pages & Notepads, & Sample Weekly Menu)
  6. List of recipes to mix and match per the menu shopped for each week

(1) Objectives:

1. A primary component to wellness: knowing how to feed your body to allow it, thus you, to reach your full potential. 

Wellness begins from within; eating well, unprocessed and nourishing food enables you to live a healthier, happier and more energized life. By understanding what is good for your body, making simple, significant changes to your eating and cooking habits and choosing food that is both delicious and good for you, you will look better and more importantly feel amazing.

2. Quality ingredients allow you to cook simply. 

When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is. —Alice Walker

3. Cook in season as much as possible.

In our garden we also had bushes of groseilles, tart red currants that are a regional speciality. My mother and I loved to make pies with these tiny berries. The season for red currants is short, and we quickly made jam or jelly or pies, and some a sauce. And oh, how we looked forward to this once-a-year treat, which somehow examples for me the French woman’s psychological pleasure in food. It is the anticipation and joy that we gain from a pleasure we cannot take for granted and know we will soon lose. Tasting such seasonal bounty heightens our awareness of what we put into our mouths and contrast with routine, mindless eating that provides little pleasure and often unwanted pounds. —Mireille Guiliano

4. Maximize and respect your budget. Be willing to pay for fulfilling flavor, not temporary teases.

Calories are cheap. Nutrition is expensive. —Tom Colicchio

5. Become confident in your cooking skills by mastering a few dependable, flexible and delicious recipes.

Good cooking is no accident. But neither is it impossibly difficult. —Patricia Wells

Good cooks aren’t born; they are made. —American Test Kitchen

6. Create a weekly approach to cooking that improves your overall satisfaction, spending habits, energy and free time.

7. Make cooking and eating a daily pleasurable ritual. 

Several times every day, food offers each of us the promise of short-term happiness. As a source of satisfaction, joy, discovery, and renewal, few daily rituals have such extraordinary potential as the act of preparing and sharing a good meal. —Patricia Wells

Cooking like the French, in a French kitchen, is the shortest route to happiness, warmth, pleasure and delicious times. —Susan Hermann Loomis

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.06.25 PM

(2) A Well-Stocked Home Épicerie

—Read this post for a detailed list of all of the food items you should have on hand at any given moment. These are not the fresh ingredients you will purchase each week (although some you will go through quite quickly), but rather the staples that help complete and complement the dish each time you step into the kitchen.

 

(3) Basic Skills & Supplies

I compiled this list from my own experience in the kitchen over the past 25 years as well as suggested ideas from Patricia Wells and French chef Joël Robuchon in her cookbook Simply French and The French Kitchen Cookbook

Supplies:

  • a good and proper knife (you will need three: a classic chef’s knife, a small paring knife and a serrated knife for bread). Shop my knife brand of choice in TSLL Shop here. If you are going to invest in one good knife and save up for the other two, invest in a chef’s knife. You will use it all of the time. Your fingers (and thumb, in my case) will thank you.
  • a good and proper pan. Copper is fantastic to slowly add to your kitchen, but start with what Barefoot Contessa recommends and I couldn’t agree more: two skillets (8″ & 12-12″) and two sauce pans (small and medium). She recommends All-Clad. I am still saving up for these, but simply purchase the best quality you can afford as it will improve your cooking experience due to even and steady cooking. However, if you want to start your copper pan collection, I highly recommend Mauviel (as I was given my first as a gift by my mother and am over the moon about its performance, durability and aesthetic). You can shop their classic skillet in TSLL Shop.
  • mise en place (everything in its place). Get in the habit of making sure you have all of your ingredients ready before you begin and place them in small bowls or ramekins. I love these graduated glass bowls, and the 10-set is very inexpensive.
  • a clean environment. Organize your kitchen so that your counters are as clear as possible and your stovetop is prepped and ready for you to use as well as all the dishes, pots, pans and utensils you will need.
  • the best ingredients you can buy
  • fresh herbs and seasonal staples (some of these are in your épicerie list)

Skills:

  • how to chop garlic: trim, crush (flat side of knife and then use your fist) and chop
  • how to cut an onion: watch this video from America’s Test Kitchen
  • basic knife skills – watch this BBC video
  • how to cook pasta (al dente, al dente, al dente)
  • how to make a classic vinaigrette (my recipe is here – scroll to #5)
  • how to prepare baking tins for cakes, pies and tarts
  • how to tenderize meat (use a mallet, wax paper and using the flat/smooth side, tenderize away)
  • how to fry an egg
  • how to steam vegetables
  • how to poach meat or other proteins
  • how to roast vegetables: chop to even, bite size, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper, toss and put in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes
  • how to blanche vegetables
  • how to make pan sauce – makes an amazing difference – read this and you are set!

(4) TSLL Approach to Daily Meals

  • 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
    • plate proportion goals
      • 1/2 low starch veggies and/or leafy greens
        • low-starch veggies – (5 grams of carbs), anything that can be enjoyed in its raw state
      • 1/4 starchy veggies and/or whole-grain carbohydrates
        • starchy veggies – (15 grams of carbs), most have to be cooked before you eat them
        • whole-grain
          • 100% whole-grain
          • not multi-grain
          • should have 2-3 grams of fiber/serving
            • brown rice, oats, bulgur, rye, quinoa, barley (whole-grain), buckwheat, whole corn, homemade popcorn
      • 1/4 lean protein or legumes (lentils & beans)
  • 1-2 snacks
    • help balance your diet and fill the gaps missed during meals
    • should combine protein & fiber (carbohydrates that contain fiber) – see this list of high-fiber foods
      • fiber isn’t digested and (1) helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars, (2) helps keep hunger in check and (3) helps to keep blood sugar in check
      • eat snacks that are hard to inhale and encourage you to chew
      • plan your snacks
      • Examples of protein snacks: Greek plain yogurt, eggs, edamame, flax, peanut butter (real, low-sugar), Brussel sprouts, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, milk, broccoli, tuna, white meat – poultry, pork, soy, beans, cheese, lentils, fish
      • Examples of high fiber snacks (see this list compiled by the Mayo Clinic for more ideas):
        • bran, broccoli, cabbage, berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries), leafy greens, celery, beans, mushrooms, oranges, raisins, figs, oranges, bananas, apples with skin, pears, nuts

(5) Plan for Weekly Grocery Shopping

The goal is to make this a weekly ritual that you enjoy and look forward to. Choose a market or markets that have the majority of the food you will need at the prices you can afford. It’s okay to hit 1-2 stores to make sure you have the best produce you can afford as it will make a difference in your overall experience. Choose a time to shop when you have a rested mind, preferably when it isn’t as busy as the peak shopping times and the service is friendly.

And always remember to take a list with you. I use my TSLL “To Market, To Market” notepad list which is pinned to my cork board in my kitchen, and after going over my Capsule Weekly Menu Planner (below) which lays out each ingredient I will need to set up my mise en place, I determine which items I need to shop for and add them to my list.

Capsule Weekly Menu Basics

  • 2-3 versatile proteins
  • 3-4 vegetables (2/3 – low starch and 1/3 high starch)
  • 2-3 healthy whole-grains 
    • optional if you want to reduce grains shift your plate portions to the following:
      • 1/3 protein or legumes and starchy veggies
      • 2/3 low starch veggies and leafy greens
  • snacks (that combine fiber and protein)
  • 1-2 breakfast options
  • ingredients for 1-2 desserts
  • ingredients for 1 comfort meal

~Read this post for eating well and how certain foods work for you and why others do not.

~Discover all TSLL Recipes, organized by meal, here.

~Shop TSLL hand-picked and recommended cookbooks here.

How to plan your Capsule Weekly Menu & Shopping List

~Use TSLL Capsule Menu Planning Page to simplify this weekly routine:

  • select items that are versatile to be used in a handful of meals
  • select items that allow for a well-balanced diet
  • select items that offer exquisite flavor
  • organizing weekly meals
  • ensure that each time you step into the kitchen, you have the necessary ingredients
~TSLL Capsule Menu Planning Page

CapsuleMenu

(English version)

capsulemenuFrenchpic

(translated in French)

Available in TWO formats:

  • Digital Downloads – $5
    • Full-Page size 8.5″ x 11″ (may be cut in half and hole-punched for TSLL Classic size planner)
    • Includes the follow:
    • 7-day meal planner
    • Grocery list organized by ingredients needed for a versatile capsule menu
    • Full color Inslee illustration, exclusive to TSLL brand
    • 3 downloads of the entire file are available with purchase
    • Must be downloaded within 48 hrs of purchase
  • Notepads (8.5″ x 11″) – $18
    • tear-off notepad
    • 50 sheets (a full year, minus 2 weeks of holiday festivities)
    • full color Inslee illustration, exclusive to TSLL brand
    • white recycled paper, 20lb wt
    • full-Page size 8.5″ x 11″ (may be cut in half and hole-punched for TSLL Classic size planner)
    • Includes the follow:
      • 7-day meal planner
      • Grocery list organized by ingredients needed for a versatile capsule menu

Available in English & French

  • Are you trying to improve your French language skills? Why not incorporate everyday French vocabulary into your weekly routine with a French translation of TSLL Capsule Menu Planning Pages?
    • translated by a native French speaker who is a reader of TSLL and resides in France. I want to thank Sandra for her time and expertise.
  • SHOP All Options HERE

capsulemenupageimage

{SAMPLE WEEKLY MENU} My capsule menu:

  • 2-3 versatile proteins or legumes
    • 3 salmon fillets (wild caught): pan-fried, baked & poached
    • chicken breasts or chicken tenders (organic, no hormones added)
    • French lentils (paired with cooked salmon – see recipe here)
    • eggs (for breakfast – see below)
  • 3-4 vegetables (2/3 – low starch and 1/3 high starch)
    • broccoli (roasted – see recipe here)
    • spinach (tossed with a simple vinaigrette recipe – see mine here; also steamed – see Barefoot Contessa’s recipe here)
    • carrots (for snacking and dinner in the lentils paired with salmon recipe)
    • green beans (see my recipe for green beans here)
  • snacks (that combine fiber and protein)
    • almonds (mixed with raisins for snacking in the afternoon)
    • raisins
    • strawberries (sliced for morning snacking)
    • blueberries (morning snack)
    • cheese (afternoon snack paired with slices of apple and almonds, add a cup of tea)
    • apple
  • 1-2 breakfast options
    • eggs (farm fresh)
    • steel oats (don’t need to purchase every week) see my recipe here
    • lemon water (always have lemons on hand as a staple)
  • ingredients for 1 dessert
  • ingredients for 1 comfort meal

A glance at my weekly menu:

~to print out a free copy, simply double-click on the menu or click here.Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 4.44.48 PM
~Seasonal weekly menus will be released in coming months (see below). All will be shared directly with newsletter subscribers and be added to this post. 

All images, illustrations, templates and organizers created by TSLL, all rights reserved.



10 thoughts on “A Capsule Menu: What It Is and How to Create Your Own

  1. My little sister is going off to college at the end of the month, luckily her student housing entails a kitchen. I think I’m going to put together a kitchen starter kit for her, and this capsule menu will be a perfect addition! Thank you for putting this together Shannon.

  2. I am so excited about this and can’t wait to see more menus.
    As much as I love putting together my menus for big gatherings as a single person it is so difficult to plan a weekly menu that is economical and nutritionally thoughtful.
    At the end of two weeks it seems I throw away much more than I should and too many times go through the drive-thru out of sheer frustration.
    Thank you so much for this, Shannon.

  3. These planner pages look fabulous! Is there any chance of getting a Sunday-starting option? Or maybe a blank one so we can write it in ourselves?

  4. Hope you’ll begin sharing your weekly capsule menu guides with us! It will be nice to have some regular ideas from someone who is an expert at putting these together and seeing ideas for a more “French -style” menu and eating options. I look forward to you sharing these more often!! Planning to order the capsule menu planning pages!!

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