I don't have it all together, but I give great advice.


Learn From My Fails: Winter Capsule Pantry

February 5, 2017

Learn From My Fails: Winter Capsule Pantry

There are many ways at which I have failed at budget meal planning over the last decade. My most often repeated mistake is picking a bunch of recipes that sound good, making a little schedule for the week, buying all the ingredients and diving in. The major downside to this approach is that if you are just choosing random recipes that sound good, you are probably going to be buying a lot of ingredients every trip to keep up with the novelty, and it gets really expensive. Another option I’ve tried is using a pre-written meal plan and grocery list from some book or website. That comes along with the same spendy problem, as well as the potential that we won’t like some of the recipes. Another fail was when I tried to keep our food budget super lean, and centered my planning around a very small budget. Before the end of the first week we were so sick of beans and lentils that we ordered take out; budget blown. I have gone nuts spending whole weekends prepping meals for the week and freezer meals. The problem with this approach is I don’t actually like to spend my weekend prepping meals. Baking a loaf of bread? Sure. Making a big pot of chilli for lunches; why not? But the “You can make 40 meals in 6 hours for $150” approach is too tedious for me, and unless you’re using recipes you have made a lot of times before, it’s really hard to get them exactly right for bulk production. Then you’re stuck with six crock pot ready frozen quart bags of beef stroganoff that are not great, and you grimace every time you pull one out of the freezer, until eventually they are repurposed as cold packs because you just can’t bring yourself to eat another one.

The approach that genuinely works for me, and keeps our food budget manageable and on track, is a capsule panty. Like the popular capsule wardrobe, a capsule pantry is a collection of essentials you can mix and match into a delicious meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, without requiring so much prep that you will give up and just order phở. While we buy other foods sometimes for variety, 90% of what we eat can be made with these 51 ingredients, many of which are pantry basics you probably already have. But here’s the catch; unless you like to eat exactly like us, your capsule pantry will be different from ours. I am sharing mine as a jumping off point to get you thinking about what yours might look like.

Having a capsule pantry saves you a lot of time and money because you can plan recipes around the staples you always have at home, and other than replenishing those same items (which rarely run out at the same time),  you will likely only need a couple of things for each trip to the store. We buy about 75% of our food at Costco, so we get 75% of our grocery shopping done all at once in a monthly trip. I have put an asterisk next to all the items we get at Costco just to give you an idea. The rest of our groceries we buy at our local co-op, mostly from the bulk section. Having foods that work for your family on hand eliminates the excuse for last-minute take out, fast food, or an unplanned dinner out, which is where a majority of people (ourselves included!) go astray in their monthly food costs.


1. Baby Spinach
2. Vidalia Onions*
3. Chopped Garlic*
4. Sweet Potatoes*
5. Frozen Kale* (we actually buy fresh and freeze in smaller portions)
6. Baby Portobella (Crimini) Mushrooms*
7. Sundried Tomatoes packed in olive oil*

8. Apples
9. Frozen Mango*
10. Frozen Mixed Berries*

11. Lentils
12. Black Beans
13. Red (Kidney) Beans
14. White (Cannellini) Beans
15. Peanut Butter*
16. Chickpea Flour

17. Whole Wheat Flour
18. Oat Flour
19. Unbleached Wheat Flour*
20. Polenta
21. Kodiak Cakes Power High Protein Mix*
22. Breadcrumbs
23. Quinoa
24. Fettucine
25. Ground Flax Meal
26. Steel Cut Oats*

27. Organic Chicken Thighs*
28. Grass Fed Ground Beef*
29. Bacon

30. Free Range Eggs*
31. Local Whole Milk
32. Grass Fed Butter*
33. Blue Cheese*
34. Cheddar Cheese*
35. Asiago Cheese*

36. Molasses
37. Organic Cane Sugar*

Condiments, Spices, & Sauces:
38. Lemon Juice
39. Sriracha
40. Olive Oil
41. Coconut Oil*
42. Balsamic Vinegar
43. Rice Vinegar
44. Braggs Liquid Aminos
45. Sea Salt
46. Grinder of Mixed Peppercorns
47. Italian Seasoning*
48. Curry Powder*
49. Ground Cumin
50. Ground Cayenne
51. Ground Chipotle

Do you keep a capsule pantry? What are some of your staples that didn’t make this list? Wondering what I do with all this? Keep an eye out for a new piece soon on my (and the rest of the internet’s) secret budget cooking weapon: the Instant Pot. I’ll cover what about it works for me, and a few of my favorite dishes to make in it.

  1. Christina George

    Great post! We do the same thing, just never put a name to it. Frozen peas and tofu are also staples for us because they're both inexpensive and versatile. Peas get used in Cottage Pie, rice, or even loaded onto a baked sweet potato. Firm Tofu gets used for tons of recipes, it's a cheap protein, and Benjamin loves it!

    • jillkathome

      Oh yes! Frozen peas are great, but we don't actually ever cook with them, the little guy just loves to eat them frozen! I have some health issues that keep us away from soy, but I know it's a staple for a lot of folks. We do tons of legumes (as you can see from my list :) )

  2. […] summer comes I won’t even be able to say it’s too hot to cook. Between my system for a well stocked pantry and the Instant Pot, pretty much every excuse not to cook is out the window. I guess I’ll […]

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