Capsule Groceries

I shop for groceries once ever 6-8 weeks. I only have to plan food for myself, so I’m willing to have repeats within the meal cycle, which is how I make this work for so long. For the record, I learned how to cook through a meal kit in 2020 (we had a meal plan with work before), so this is based on what I know how to do/make so far. Also, with learning from a meal kit, everything I’ve made has been in bulk (I had a 4-meal, 4-portion plan) and covered lunches and dinners for 2 days at a time. I’m also willing to have the exact same breakfast every day – plain oatmeal and frozen blueberries – since I can mix it up with the different flavours of tea that I drink.

Planning:

Flyers, pen & paper list, and scouring the website for specific prices is how I plan what I’m going to make over the next two months. I don’t have brand loyalty, and I general go with whatever is cheapest – especially if there’s a 30% off sticker for produce or meat that’s going off today and it was already on my list. What matters more to me is the budget than the brand. I approach this in a “capsule” way, in that what I’m eating will be on rotation, and will shift a bit from season to season. The biggest thing that makes this doable – especially in light of the recent inflation hike – is being flexible about what I’m going to use or pick up this time around. For example, today, I got a different brand of tortellini with different filling than usual, and if it doesn’t work this go around, then I’ll go back to what I usually get (and is usually cheaper, but the sale was in the other brand’s favour).

I also consider what I have coming up in the next two months and plan around that. I know that I’ll be taking an overnight flight in late March after visiting family, and it will take about 9 hours, door to door, so I’m going to be tired and hungry by the time I get home, so I’ve planned ahead and picked up some easy meals that can live in the deep freezer until I need them. I could have made something in bulk and stored half of it, but I know myself well enough that I’m going to have just enough energy to shove a spanakopita spiral in the oven and it’ll be ready by the time I’ve finished unpacking, and then I don’t need to cook twice that day (it’s a kilo of spanny (my affectionate term for it), so I know I’ll be super full).

Recipes:

What I use to plan these meals is a mix of what I liked from the meal kits, what I can do from family recipes, and stuff I’ve found on Budget Bytes. Each shopping trip, I’ll throw in a tester meal, and see if it works for what I want to make – especially if the ingredients can be co-opted into a different meal, or added to something else on the rotation. This trip I didn’t, but that’s because I know there’d be a fair bit of variation since my tortellini are going to be different – and God forbid I go too far out of my comfort zone.

Why I do it this Way:

I don’t have a car, and I have a weird work schedule (evenings and every other weekend). Cooking in batches on rotation is easiest for me, and the variation in food is enough that I’m not actually eating the same thing over and over. I can also plan for the easiest recipes on weeks that I work that weekend, or if I need to, I can rely on the freezer foods every so often. I also know that I’m not going to pay around $30CAD for pizza delivery when that’s roughly how much it costs to feed myself for a week.

Things to keep in Mind:

  1. There’s only me that I’m planning for. There are fewer variables to manage when you’re planning for one. The few months last year that my friend was rooming with me, we’d follow a similar planning scheme, but on a much smaller scale since he needed lunches to bring to practicum, and our schedules were flipped of each other – so we’d go every other week, but still plan as intentionally and intensively. Thankfully, we had a very similar palate, so I was lucky that I only had a few recipes to pull from rotation – and that we were open with communicating about food needs and wanting to try new recipes.
  2. I do one Costco run per year to stock up on specifics stuff like dried cranberries, oatmeal, and spices. Shout out to my parents for letting their adult child leech off of their membership (luv u)
  3. I cook within my comfort zone. I’m not hosting or entertaining anyone, so I’m not challenging myself to do more “out there” things like meals with more than 3 steps, especially if it involves meat. I’m a bit fussy about what I’ll physically handle for meat, and I don’t care much for beef or pork (minus bacon). Lastly, I’m lucky that I don’t have any intolerances or allergies, so I’m not paying extra for lactose-free cheese or gluten-free pasta.

For the more visual types, I made a mock schedule of the rotation, so you have an idea of how I keep myself fed on the same set of meals on a bi-monthly basis.

Printable – Must/Maybe/Meh Format & Philosophy

I thought it would be helpful to make printables of my go-to when I have a full to do list, which helped me to stay productive and on track throughout January. I find that February is a bit of a slump month for motivation, so having something to keep me organised is helpful. I’m a fan of alliteration, so I went with “must,” “maybe,” and “meh,” to title my tiered-priority system for ongoing tasks, long-term projects, and anything that I want down on paper. How I choose to approach it has more to do with the immediacy of a task and whether there are other people involved – with the expectation that a “must” will be completed that day or others need it to complete their next task, a “maybe” can be finished early but can wait until tomorrow, and “meh” is not immediate but still needs to be on my radar.

I used this format while I was in university as well, especially while doing my undergraduate honours, to figure out where to spend my energy most efficiently as I had just a bit too much on my plate on any given day. Given that I would include self-care stuff and chores on the list as well, I found that this fit better than something like an Eisenhower matrix – especially for tasks like “wash my hair,” which couldn’t be delegated to someone else.

How you choose to make this work for you can take on a variety of formats: you could choose that a must is only something that is time sensitive, a maybe is more flexible, and a meh has no fixed date; or, you might feel like you limit the number of tasks that fall into the must category, maybes are things that you can do if you have energy left, and the meh is a “I’ll get to it when I get to it.” I currently find that what works best for me is to write down everything I need to get done/whatever tasks I have in mind, then sort according to urgency. From there, I list my most important tasks under “must,” and weigh the level of importance and urgency of the remaining tasks, which are filtered into my “maybe” and “meh” categories. At the end of my day, I move “maybes” into “must” (only if they belong there for tomorrow!), and see what “mehs” need to be upgraded to “maybes.”

Why this works for me is that I’ve been doing this for about five years, and this format has adapted from role to role, and what I consider to be a “must” – as well as how many tasks are counted as a “must” – has changed over time. One of the biggest hurdles I overcame from this format is putting too many things in the “must” category. In fairness, if this is the first time you’ve organised your tasks this way, you will likely have a “must”-heavy list if you’ve been needing to catch up on tasks. As I worked through this for myself, I’ve found that what works best for me is to add one thing fewer to my “must” list, just in case something that is urgent for the day is added to my plate. If nothing else shows up, great! I can start chipping away at my “maybe” list. But if something does, I’m not frazzled and thrown for a loop with one more task to manage.

The formats that I made the printables in are based on different planner and desk calendar layouts that I’ve used before, though I would love to get your feedback for future layouts (with more on the printables page itself). Thanks for reading and happy organising!