Menu planning keeps me out of trouble. It guides my shopping, makes sure I use up what's on hand, and thinks for me when I'm too stressed to think. And saves a bunch of money by keeping us out of restaurants and minimizes grocery store runs. Here's a basic step by step guide to menu planning.
1. Print off a blank calendar for the month you are working on. You can download June 2010 through May 2011 Calendars here and just print the one you need: Download June 10 May 11 Menu Sheets
2. Go peek in your fridge, freezer, and pantry shelves. What do you already have to prepare meals from. Plan the first few meals from only pantry ingredients so if you can't go to the store right away you can still follow your plan.
2. Gather your grocery sales flyers and see what's on sale. Use what you know about regular prices and sale prices to discern a good deal. Just because it's in the ad, doesn't make it a bargain! The best deals are usually on the front and back cover. On notebook paper, write down the name of the store and the item that you are interested in. You can menu plan with these items, or plan to purchase and store them for later use.
3. Write commitments in small letters at the bottom of the day square that will affect your ability to cook. Plan a slow cooker meal or other simple dish for that night.
4. Grab your favorite recipe books and cooking magazines for inspiration. Fill in main dishes on your menu plan as you think of them. Try to vary your recipes. For example don't plan lasagna and spaghetti right next to each other. Make like recipes at least a week apart. Try not to plan a pasta dish for every day of the week. Give yourself a variety.
5. Make sure each meal has a protein, starch, and 2-3 vegetables or fruit. The side dishes can be as simple as a tossed salad, warmed up bag of frozen peas, or a carton of cottage cheese.
6. As you meal plan, if you think of an ingredient necessary to a planned dish that isn't on hand, write it on the back of your menu.
7. When you're finished stick your menu to your fridge and check it every morning and evening so you can remember to take out items to thaw or to put a dish in the slow cooker in the morning.