Part 4 - Variety
Variety was the thing I was most worried about. I don't think I would have ever tried something like this that seemed like it would be putting so many constraints on the possible variations, if I had not felt completely out of control and desperate. To tell the truth though, I haven't had a desire for any more variety than I have now.
So let's talk about it a little.
To be clear, we still buy things that aren't on the list. Just not ingredients. The extra things usually fall into the prepared meals or snack categories, so they have their own limited space in the budget and the pantry. We still eat chips, candy, cookies, etc... plus the occasional Marie Callenders chicken pot pie. These are things that don't need to be woven intricately into the meal plan or the capsule pantry, because they stand on their own.
I do not accept obligation-vegetables anymore, despite how my husband still likes to bring home an eggplant from the store and only then ask me, "What can you do with an eggplant?" (He learned to make garlic sauce and cooked it himself. He's an adult and is free to look up ALL the recipes he wants as long as he doesn't expect me to do it for him. The minimalist meal plan is for me to use myself, for my own sanity.)
What I've found in practice is that even though I basically made up categories to provide me with more variety, in practice I haven't needed them. We still don't ever cook casseroles or soup, and we still cook Tex-Mex, pasta, and stir-fry multiple times a week (I mean maybe not all three multiple times in the same week.) That's okay with me. 10 is such a reasonable number that I don't feel overwhelmed or guilty seeing things on there that I don't really cook. Maybe I will start making Shepherd's pie regularly. Or maybe not. Whatever.
Which brings me to the one little exception to my "no recipes" policy. Within my 10 meal categories, I also selected three recipes (two for dinner and one for breakfast) that I want to learn by heart that can eventually be fully absorbed into the system. But even with these few recipes, I still practice constraint. First of all, these recipes are still subject to the capsule pantry. They can't use ingredients that aren't on the list, unless the recipe can be edited to exclude those ingredients.
Secondly this is not three new recipes a week. It's three recipes period. I might only cook one a month. That's fine. But the point is that I don't go looking up an interesting recipe for a normal weeknight meal. I just practice these three recipes until they're as comfortable as the ones on my original list. Once I know all three of those and feel comfortable manipulating them like my other recipes, then I can come up with more new recipes to learn. Or not, and I can just stick with what I already know.