So this is how we do meals at our house. While I wish I could take credit for this, I got it from a book. I believe it was by Emilie Barnes. I only wish I'd known about it when I was growing up; I remember my mom agonizing over the menu plan & grocery list each week.
- I made a page that has two columns: one for dinners, and one with the corresponding grocery list for those meals. 1 page = 7 meals = 1 week. I have 5 weeks (5 pages) of meal plans (because we like a variety of foods and get bored easily, and I have a lot of recipes that I really like. Plus, when the kids complain that "we just had this," I can say, "No we didn't, that was 5 weeks ago."). I did this in Excel because it's easy to set up columns. I don't decide ahead of time which night we eat a certain meal, I leave that up to what we're hungry for or what I have time to make. But you could certainly plan it out to the day, even for a month at a time.
- If I had several recipes from the same genre (Mexican, Italian, etc.) I made sure to put them in different weeks. It's a bit of prep work, but in the long run it saves so much time because you're not reinventing the wheel every time you need to plan meals. It's kind of brainless, which is good for lazy people like me. :)
- You can plan 5 or 6 meals per week and leave a night or 2 for spontaneity, leftovers, pizza or whatever. You can also plan for seasonal variations, like salads and BBQ in the summer, and soups in the winter.
- I keep my pages in a binder and when we run out of meals, I copy the next week's page and fill in the grocery list with whatever staples we may need. They were also on the computer, until the hard drive crashed. :( The grocery list is in order of the store I shop most often, with some empty spaces so I can add other items as needed.
- I like to use a coupon blog to get the best deals, (especially FrugalLivingNW.com) but now that I'm working more hours I can't do as much of that as I would like.
- One last idea, courtesy of a stranger at the grocery store. My kids (and now Jim too) are on cooking rotation. Every Saturday one of them gets a turn to plan, shop for and help cook dinner. They get to pick whatever they want to make. We try to do main dish & side, and must have a vegetable of some sort. We've had some strange combinations, but it's been great for them to learn skills and gain confidence, and it's a fun bonding time. Sometimes we give each other points (a la Iron Chef), and ask " What was your inspiration for this meal?" (To which my son replied, "Well, I just really like meat.")
Well, that was pretty lengthy, and probably way more than anyone wanted to know. But that's how we do it, maybe it will work for you. Or maybe you have a more efficient way to do it. If so, do tell! :)