How to Meal Plan only 4 times per year (2024)

Introducing… the Capsule Pantry™!

I had such a hard time coming up with a title for this post because it’s something completely new: a system that will allow you to spend less time in the kitchen, but also less time meal planning. So, some of the possible names were: The Meal Plan for People Who Hate to Meal Plan, A Foolproof Way for Achieving Bliss in the Kitchen (okay, that one’s a little dramatic), A Meal Plan for Minimalist Moms, or Dinner on Autopilot: How to Create a Meal Plan with a Revolving Pantry. They really all apply but the thing I thought would stand out the most to you was that, with this system, you only have to think about a meal plan every 3 months! So that’s what I went with!

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(This post probably contains affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is quite boring, but you can read it here if you’d like!)

Would you have picked something different?

Either way…

This is the third post in the series How to Solve the “What’s for Dinner?” problem. Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about different ways to make sure you always have dinner on hand: Rescue Meals, Freezer Cooking, and now the Capsule Pantry™. When you add them all together, you will have a seriously solid meal plan!

You can find the rest of the series here:

  1. Creating a Dinner Backup Plan with Rescue Meals
  2. How to Solve the “What’s for Dinner” problem with Freezer Cooking
  3. How to Meal Plan Only 4 Times Per Year (part 1) – this post!
  4. The Capsule Pantry™: A Faster, Easier Way to Meal Plan (part 2)

A little backstory…

A few years ago, I was a work-at-home single mama with two boys – a teenage boy who ate me out of house and home (it is NOT a nasty rumor, mama, they really DO that!) and a little guy with food allergies. Dinner stressed me out tremendously, along with the never-ending grocery list and shopping.

I yearned for a simpler system.

I dreamed of a simple and quick dinnertime routine.

I needed to grocery shop less and be in and out of the store quicker.

I wanted to make healthy meals for my family, and get dinner on the table on time for once!

Sound familiar???

I fell in love with meal planning and making freezer meals, and I’ve been doing that for years. But the thing that still takes up so.much.time is the decision-making process of it all. I mean, there are like 8.2 ga-trillion chicken recipes on Pinterest. How’s a girl to decide???

I love to cook and I love to try new foods, but what I don’t love is being all stressed out about what to put on my meal plan…and losing my ever-loving mind over the number of decisions I have to make revolving food every day (or how many times I have to tell my small child to put the gummy bunnies down and back away!).

He can’t possibly be that hungry all the time. It’s like he’s hard wired to only ask about food all day long and I’m constantly battling the little wanna-be lawyer – they’ve got the best negotiating skills ever, right?!?

FBI hostage negotiators have nothing on a 3 year old that wants a snack.

Anyway. My point is that I am (was/will be again in about 10 minutes) so tired of thinking about food all day long.

Right now, I’m in aseason of busy and I felt the need to refine my meal planning technique even further. Relate???

So I created the simplest, easiest, meal plan and grocery list on the planet. And I’m so frickin’ excited to share it with you all!

Let me back up a sec and try to make this make sense for you. So have you heard of a capsule wardrobe? It’s all the rage right now, especially with people wanting to simplify or be more intentional. If you haven’t, it’s basically a limited wardrobe that mixes and matches with items that you absolutely love wearing and feel good in. There are rules, like only having a certain number of clothes, having multiple “capsules” for the year (usually every 3 months), and not adding anything new to your current capsule in the middle of it.

Now, I don’t always strictly stick to the rules of the capsule wardrobe – what can I say, I like to break the rules sometimes. #rebel. I do what I like to call an “intentional wardrobe” for myself and my kids and I love it. No more mate-less socks or endless loads of laundry.

Anyhoo. Back to this new meal planning system… the capsule wardrobe has helped me so much, I thought – why not make a capsule “wardrobe” but for food?!?

Stay with me here…I promise it’ll make sense.

  • Unlimited recipes that you love making and eating.
  • A certain number of ingredients in your capsule (aka your master grocery list).
  • The meal plan repeats monthly.
  • Don’t change it up until the next capsule (next season).

This eliminates the decision making process to once every three MONTHS. Not 3 days, not even 3 weeks, 3 months. That sounds like heaven.

Yes, I was totally IN.

I know what you’re thinking – eating the same thing over for 3 months is so boring. No, no, no it’s not. It revolves around YOUR favorite foods. And it rotates every 3 months, seasonally (which totally helps with your grocery budget because you’re buying what’s in season!). And remember, the ingredients may be the same but the recipes certainly don’t have to.

Do you think you could eat your favorite food once a month for 3 months and then take a break from it? Do you think you could you eat your least favorite food once every 28 meals and not go crazy? I think you could.

Just like a capsule wardrobe, your Capsule Pantry has core ingredients (protein, grains, produce, etc.) and accessories (seasonal vegetables, a special treat, something new you want to try, etc.) and things that won’t “count” (like spices, oil, broth, and water).

Ok, let’s get down to business. Print out your free Capsule Pantry™ Checklist & Planner and I’m going to show you how to create your super-simple meal plan!

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  • Family favorites.
  • Easy recipes that you don’t consider “recipes” – think spaghetti, burgers, grilled chicken and veggies, tacos or fajitas.
  • Some dinners you’ve made in the past few weeks.


Write the meal ideas all out on the left side of a piece of paper and the ingredients on the right side. When you come across a recipe or meal that uses the same ingredient, just put a hash mark next to the ingredient.

The ingredients that repeat and have at least a few hash marks next to them are your foundations.

This is when some recipes get the cut. If they don’t use any repeating ingredients or they’re not in season right now, take them out. You can always put them in next season’s capsule if you miss them!


  • Ingredients that don’t repeat but they’re for a recipe you just LOVE (kinda like that one dress you feel great in!)
  • Seasonal produce
  • Specialty ingredients

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You can find an updated version of this Capsule Pantry planner in the Freebie Library.



Let’s stick with the number 35 (5 weeks x 7 days makes it easy to repeat).

Consult your calendar for any evenings you are repeatedly not home, need a quick dinner (crockpot!), or anything else that affects your weekly dinner routine. Like if your daughter has soccer practice every Tuesday night or you get home late from work on Thursdays (let’s think repeating events for the next approximate 3 months though, not single appointments).

You could even add themes here like Meatless Monday or Crockpot Tuesday – but only if it’ll make planning easier – not harder! Go read this post if you need theme night ideas!


Yay, the hard part is done! Now what? Time to execute! You could do any of these things to help finalize your brand-spankin’-new meal plan:

1. Copy the recipes from the first week of your master list to a weekly meal plan and put on the fridge.

2. Laminate (or put in a page protector) the master list and write the dates of the month over it.

3. Take a picture so you have a record of your new plan.

Re-write the ingredients into a master grocery list so you always have a set grocery list!

Don’t forget breakfast, lunch, and snacks. They may not be part of your dinner meal plan but if you repeatedly eat the same things, they can go on the master grocery list and make your life easier.

If you’ve been following along the past few weeks, we first talked about making a Rescue Meal Plan – dinners you always kept on hand in an emergency – and then we talked about how to create Crockpot Freezer Meals. Now, we just introduced a new way to meal plan that will tie in all the steps so you can save your sanity in the kitchen and not spend all your time planning dinner.

Which meals from your Rescue Meals list or your Crockpot Freezer Meals list could you put on your Capsule Pantry™ plan? Or you could always leave those as bonus meals, for those inevitable times you’ll need a backup!

Oh, and as for grocery shopping, I tell you exactly what my shopping strategies are in the next post (#4 in the green box above!).

Are you ready to stop scrambling for dinner every night and know exactly what’s going on the table? Download your Capsule Pantry Checklist & Planner and get crackin’!
How to Meal Plan only 4 times per year (4)

How to Meal Plan only 4 times per year (2024)
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