I know I should link or something for this WFMW, but I don't know how. If you can help, please email or comment with the info.
I took the time about 5 years ago to plan out a menu. I enjoy cooking, but I hate to decide what's for dinner. I also like a lot of variety. I found, however, that I was making the same old thing and throwing away perfectly decent food gone bad then running to the store for two more ingredients. EVERY. DAY.
This involves some serious investment of time, but it will last forever. I am one of the pickiest eaters you will find, so I think if you put your mind to it, you'll do even better than me. The primary purpose of this is to plan meals, but it will help greatly with your shopping list and grocery budget.
I got out my recipes and cookbooks, and a spiral notebook and scissors. I made a list of all the entrees I like and will actually make. Then I made a list of all the vegetables/side dishes I like and will actually make (MUCH shorter list). I then cut out each item for moving around. I decided I would plan for 6 nights a week, to accomodate date night.
Here is where the work comes in. You'll have to set your priorities. I planned to have chicken at least twice a week, red sauce no more than once a week, pasta no more than twice a week, and no particular meat two days in a row. You may want to have vegetarian, or fish a certain number of times a week. Just won't fly at my house. I also planned for stew after roast, and dishes requiring boned chicken after preparing a roasted chicken or turkey. Once I got all those ducks in a row I had TWO WHOLE MONTHS of 6 nights/wk, no entree doubled! This was a joy, because having something once every two months is not too often. Plus, as I find new recipes I can either replace something I'm tired of, or add to the end and work up to THREE MONTHS!
Next I matched the veggies/side dishes, first of all the things that MUST go together like fried chicken and mashed potatoes. This involves more moving of pieces of paper, as I didn't want potatoes too often, or cheese every day. (o.k., I LIKE cheese everyday, but it doesn't like me!) I made sure I had a green veggie or salad every meal and increased our intake of these items DRASTICALLY.
Next, I make the shopping list, making sure that I check for EVERY ingredient in my recipes. I may buy meat on sale and freeze it, or canned goods on special, but no more buying fresh produce that isn't in the plan and then throwing away not-so-fresh produce that I neglected to cook. I really save SO MUCH MONEY this way. Now you may be thinking, "GEE, she's so ORGANIZED!" To which I reply, "BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" I just LOVE me a plan. I am NOT so organized, which is why this was so necessary. Organized people do this innately. I had to work on it. Now just sit back and let the plan work for you.
This plan shops every other week, so the flexibility lies in that you can eat any of the meals within that two weeks, because you already have all the ingredients for each meal. It can also get backed up because of unexpected events, so your plan will probably last longer than you originally think.
The very best, serendipitous (is that even a word?) part of this plan is what has happened with my kids. I have taught all three of them - ages then: boy 12, girls 15 and 18 - how to cook ALL of these entrees. "WHAT?!?" It's true! As I was finishing up my M.Ed., all my classes were at night and my husband was less than involved in food preparation. I offered to pay them $5 per meal (only one person per meal) to make dinner according to the plan. They had to defrost, if necessary, and begin preparation in time for dinner to be at a decent hour. This was much less expensive than them eating fast food and so much better for them. Our finances had been so low for so long that they had forgotten the meaning of the word allowance. I actually had them arguing over who got to cook, and I came home from class to a plate, left warming for me in the oven or microwave. What's not to love? They learned how to follow a recipe, planning ahead, and the mystery of getting all the parts of a dinner to come out at the same time. They tried more things because they cooked them. From time to time we go off the plan, but we always come back to it eagerly.
click to see here
This is a page of my plan (it's like the velveteen meal plan!). If you run into any problems, just ask me. I LOVE a plan!