I've been trying to find a plan that works for me when it comes to meal planning and making menus and grocery lists. It usually comes down to empty cupboards, creative meal creation (which, I must say, I am quite good at), and finally sitting down for over an hour creating a menu plan for the next two weeks, then procrastinating since this would often happen on Monday and the grocery sale flier comes on Tuesday evenings. And I know I made this waaaaay too much work as of late, since I've been falling into the habit of needing to have new meal ideas, for no other reason than my own boredom.
My current plan, which I have great hope for, was actually inspired by my dad, I believe. I was talking to Mom one time and expressing frustrations (see previous paragraph), and she mentioned that Dad had told her to make a menu for two weeks and just keep repeating it. I suggested some alterations, and a few weeks ago it dawned on me that I should try this method.
So I sat down and set up a six-week meal plan that we'll repeat about 4 times, or for the next 6 months. I only plan one meal a day, since lunches and Sunday evenings are leftovers or 'help yourself" meals. I also left one day a week empty to allow me to try out one new meal or for a night we won't be home. (This also saves Doug from suffering three new 'trial' meals in a row) And some of my meals allow for variation, such as my general "Soup" meal. I set up a column for the main dish, side dish, and vegetables, but not all meals have something in each category, since I don't think I need an extra vegetable to go with our pork and cabbage sandwiches.
I formatted the tables with each day of the week, more to keep track of whether we're home for Sunday dinner than anything. On the back of each week's menu, I have a grocery list divided out by section (produce, canned, meat, dairy...) which I copy over (two weeks at a time) and add what's needed for the extra meal.
So every other Monday (payday) I'll do our main grocery shopping, and the next Monday I'll go and get the produce needed for that week, along with milk, eggs, bread, etc.
I had great ambitions for doing once a month cooking, or some variation of that. Well, I'm not sure it's for me. I have been collecting chicken and recipes to do a bunch of chicken meals, but that's more to get some handy meals back in the freezer.
What has been working for me is doing food prep the day I go to the grocery store. I buy ground beef and ground turkey and combine the two, since ground turkey is about half the price but I just didn't like the taste of it when I substituted it for beef. The half and half mixture works fine for me though. So while my hands are dirty, I'll usually divide it back up and make any meals I can (meatloaf, burgers) and put the remaining pounds to be browned in bags, then all goes in the freezer. Same with chicken - I'll clean it (I HAVE to cut all the visible fat off), then slice it in half (the fresh chicken breasts from the deli are quite thick) and flash freeze on a cookie sheet, or cut it up for a "dump" recipe - I cut this week's into strips, and dumped the mixture for teriyaki marinade in it so it can marinate while thawing.
Hopefully this meal rotation works as well as I hope it does. It may need to have some kinks worked out as I go, but this is better than having to start from scratch every other week.
Now, if only I could figure out how to organize my recipes. Recipe software sounds good for many reasons, but not being able to spread them out on the floor around me while planning might be a problem, although it would be nice to search your recipes when you have 1/4# of pork sausage to use up.