On the right is my envelope of coupons. I used an envelope from a box we already had, but return envelopes out of junk mail work great for these types of things, too. :) Above that is a magnetic note pad I picked up for 25 cents when Fred's had their clearance. I bought a bunch of them. Below the envelope is half of my folder, held up with magnets, which contains my list of go-to meals I know my family will eat once or twice a month and in front of that is a stack of new recipes I want to try out in coming weeks. On the left side is my 4 weeks of menu sheets tacked up on the cork board (I use one of the printable templates from this post, but there are a million of them online). Under that is my other folder pocket with the recipes I need to reference for this week. I keep my grocery list on ColorNotes on my phone, but I can use the note pad or dry erase board for that if I need to.
That said, here are my suggestions on menu planning - start small. Do two weeks. Make a list of go-to meals your family likes and start with those. Or make a list of what you actually cook each night over the next two weeks. Then grab a stack of recipes you've been wanting to try and sprinkle in a couple of those. Then fill in with simple things like sandwiches and breakfast and tacos. And plan for leftovers when it's feasible. For example, this weekend I'm making lasagna Sunday night. I know that with only 2 of us we can eat on that for 3 nights, so I scheduled it Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday. Figured I'd skip Tuesday so we wouldn't be totally tired of it. Boom. That's nearly a full week. I do have a backup plan for Wednesday if we just can't eat it again. :) I don't bother planning breakfast or lunch, since those don't tend to be bigger family meals, I just worry about dinner.
Frankly, if I'm going to sit down and write out menus, I'd rather do four weeks than two so that it's done and I don't have to think about it again for four weeks. And I can start looking for sales on the groceries I'm going to need down the road. One thing that's helped is keeping my handwritten menus from past months. Doing 4 weeks at a time is easier when you have 6-8 weeks worth of past menus to pull from. When we change the plan at the last minute I try to write it in so I can spot trends if something isn't working. I also use my freezer. Anything I can make a double batch of and freeze, I do, then that becomes part of future menus. And I tend to be super easy and super flexible with the weekends. We plan to eat out on Fridays and I pencil in any days I know we'll be gone out of town or whatever. This weekend we're having rotel and chips for lunch on Saturday and possibly Sunday, if we're in town (we may be helping my in-laws move!). Last weekend we mostly ate leftovers at lunch then I made pizza for dinner one night and we were out with my in-laws the other night.
I was thinking I'd post a list of samples menus I've used, but now that I'm all organized I can't seem to find my big stack of past menus. Figures. But here's a made up list of what we might eat over 4 weeks, starting with my plan for this upcoming week, including the new things in my new recipes pocket:
Sunday - Lasagna with salad and cheesy bread (sauce in freezer from last double batch)
Monday - Leftover lasagna
Tuesday - Rotisserie chicken or roasted chicken with salad (or, chicken salad!)
Wednesday - Last of the lasagna
Thursday - Sloppy joes (already in the freezer from last time I made them) and chips/fries
Friday - eat out
Saturday - Rotel/leftovers?
Sunday - Pizza
Monday - Saucy Chops with green beans, brown rice and bread
Tuesday - Cajun chicken pasta (New, using leftover chicken from last Tues, in freezer)
Wednesday - Steak fingers, fruit salad/green beans or corn
Thursday - Breakfast
Friday - eat out
Saturday - leftovers/brats on grill
Sunday - leftovers/Tacos
Monday - Hamburger steak with gravy, green beans, rolls, brown rice
Tuesday - Catfish nuggets with hush puppies, fries, maybe some extra shrimp from freezer
Wednesday - Slow Cooker Whiskey Steak (New) with ???
Thursday - Spaghetti with salad, bread
Friday - eat out
Saturday - Breaded pork chops with mac and cheese, bread
Sunday - Pork steaks on grill with potatoes and veggie
Monday - Enchilladas (in freezer from last time I made a double batch), chips and salsa
Tuesday - Stuffed shells with salad and bread
Wednesday - Crock Pot Ravioli (New)
Thursday - Pulled pork sandwiches (in freezer) with baked beans, veggie
Friday - eat out
Saturday - Pizza
There you have it. Four weeks worth of food (and flexibility) for a household with a really picky adult eater. If I had a less picky eater you'd see more things like Taco Soup and casseroles and fun pasta dishes. This time of year you can also get away with using things like soup and stews and chili as your lasagna of the month, cook once and eat on it for three days! I wouldn't try to pull that off more than once a month, or else the other people in your household might get grumpy.
And now it appears I have next month's menus ready to go... I also have to say this makes me look at the overall picture of what we're eating from a health standpoint. We need to do better. It's kinda hard when salad and green beans and the occasional potato are the only veggies I can get my husband to eat. I can sneak nutrients into other foods from time to time but we're eating too much bread and meat and pasta. That's something I need to put some thought into.