Do you hate cooking in the summer as much as I do? Then you’re in the right place because I’m going to show you how to make ONE meal plan for summer (yes, the ENTIRE summer!). And then I’m going to give you proven summer meal planning ideas and the top 10 foods you should be eating for easy summer meals.

Let’s dive in.

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

Make sure you read my Ultimate Summer Meal Plan guide – it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure full of summer meal planning tips and tricks!


We’re going to make a quick Capsule Pantry for the summer so you can make ONE meal plan and not have to think about it all summer!

(PS – if you don’t want to bother creating an entire meal plan for the summer, and you’d rather have just a quick list of dinners AND lunches, you can grab this Busy Mom’s Guide to Simple Summer Meals!)

What is a Summer Capsule Pantry?

Well, it’s just like a capsule wardrobe, except for your kitchen! A capsule wardrobe is defined as: a small collection of clothes that can be put together in different ways and includes everything you would normally need to wear.

So I would define a capsule pantry as: a small collection of foods and ingredients that can be put together in different ways and includes everything you would want to eat (and still have lots of variety!).

So 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 basics that won’t “count” (like spices, oil, broth, and water).

Let’s make your summer meal plan:

You’ll need a piece of paper and pencil, your general schedule, and a printable meal planner. Draw a line down the middle of your paper, creating a left and right side.

1 gather recipes

  • 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 an ingredient you already wrote down, just put a hash mark next to the ingredient.

Here’s an example of the start of my capsule pantry list:

>> You can find an updated Capsule Pantry recipe list in the Freebie Library!

2 build your foundation

Now we figure out what your foundation items will be.

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

Usually these are 3 or 4 proteins or main ingredients. Then your staples: grains, canned items, produce, etc.

This is when some of the meal ideas you wrote down get the cut. If it doesn’t use any repeating ingredients or it’s something that isn’t in season right now, take it out. You can always put that recipe in next season’s capsule!

3 add “accessories”

The accessories are your flavor or something that makes the dish unique. A lot of times this will be certain herbs or spices (remember, they don’t count in this so you can have as many as you want!).

But also, accessories can be for those Ingredients that don’t necessarily repeat but they’re for a recipe you just LOVE (kinda like that one dress you feel great in!)

Seasonal produce fits in this category as well as specialty ingredients that are high in flavor (hoisin sauce, salsa verde, curry sauce, etc.).

Now you should have a master ingredient list of 30-40 items. Guess what? This is now your grocery list – and the only ingredients you’ll be buying for dinners ALL SUMMER LONG!

4 make your master summer dinner list (aka summer capsule pantry meal plan!)

Now that you have a starting list of dinner ideas and a full ingredient list, we’re simply going to find more recipes that use those same ingredients so you can have a complete list of family summer dinners.

  1. Let’s stick with the number 35 (5 weeks x 7 days makes it easy to repeat).
  2. You can write them in a list or use a grid (I like using a grid because it’s easy to just copy from day to day to a weekly meal planner.
  3. Consult your summer schedule 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 swim lessons every Tuesday night or you get home late from work on Thursdays (let’s think repeating events for the whole summer though, not single appointments).
  4. You could even add themes here like Meatless Monday or Crockpot Tuesday – but only if it’ll make planning easier – not harder! There are so many different theme night ideas you could do!
  5. If you don’t have 35 dinners on your list yet, find some new recipes that use those same ingredients you listed in your summer capsule pantry list. I love every summer crockpot dinner I’ve tried from this cookbook – they can be frozen ahead of time too!

Your final 35 recipes is your Master summer dinner list. You’re going to rotate this throughout the summer to make your actual meal plan.

It should look something like this when you’re done (except the leftovers day – don’t put that in yours because this isn’t the actual meal plan, it’s just a master list of your families’ summer dinners.

(this is also in the Freebie Library – this exact one, and a blank copy!)

5 copy to your summer weekly meal plan

Yay, the hard part is done! Now what? Time to put the plan on paper! 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 an organized master grocery list so you always have a set grocery list!

Don’t forget to add breakfast, lunch, and snacks to your grocery list. 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.

Summer meal planning ideas and tips

  1. Don’t use the oven – LIKE EVER! To make your life easier, make sure your summer dinner ideas are 1 of 3 things: no-cook, crockpot, or grilling!
  2. Make double dinners so you don’t have to cook as often
  3. Take one portion from every dinner and freeze it – when you’re in a pinch, everyone can grab something they like and just heat it up
  4. Batch cook on one or two days per week. You could easily make a crockpot meal, grilled dinner, and some sandwiches on one day and you’ve just made dinner for 3…and you didn’t spend all day cooking.


Summer fruit and hat

Top 10 summer foods

I always make sure I buy seasonal produce (it’s fresher and cheaper!) and stick to light summer meals that are made with shrimp, fish, or chicken. And fruit goes great with meat and fish so definitely include it in your new summer meal plan!

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Corn
  3. Spinach
  4. Zucchini
  5. Shrimp
  6. Fish
  7. Chicken breasts
  8. Watermelon
  9. Peaches
  10. Cherries & Berries

More summer meal plan ideas:

7 Summer Crockpot Recipes (that are actually healthy!)

10 Fresh Taco Tuesday Menu Ideas (that aren’t actually tacos!)

How to make freezer meals in a snap with these 4 simple steps

31 Summer (Freezer to) Crockpot Meals 

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Simple Summer Meals (Lunch + dinner ideas to feed your kids all summer long!)

More Capsule Pantry Meal Plan info:

The Capsule Pantry: A Faster Easier Way to Meal Plan

How to Meal Plan 4 Times a Year!

Make sure you read my Ultimate Summer Meal Plan guide – it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure full of summer meal planning tips and tricks!

Grab the Busy Mom’s Guide to Simple Summer Meals now!