I have striven for several years to make a weekly menu, however simple, with a grocery list. Many weeks I was successful, but we end up with pantry meals or last minute meals as often as not. Recently, in a book I was reading about parenting, the author talked about having a plan where you make a specific type of meal on a particular night for the consistency and routine. I've also got an email that I printed out from flylady, Nov 2009, about designating each night with a theme (such as chicken, meatless, etc). I've been thinking on this for a long time, and have finally done something about it. See the tabs down the side? Those are the days of the week with the appropriate recipes behind them.
I just spent about 15 minutes doing the menu for this next week. This is record time for me. Having my food binder organized by night (which is theme oriented), it gave me a few recipes/meals to pick through, instead of the whole binder. I even spent several minutes looking through an old everyday food magazine, and I still didn't spend much more than 15 minutes!
Here is what I did:
1. I thought of the types of meals I needed. Mondays are the day before the grocery run -- must be a pantry meal. We get home on the later side on Tuesday and Thursday, so something quick. But we are often loaded up on leftovers by Thursday. On Wednesday, we don't get home till quite late (for us) so crockpot meal it is. We usually game on Friday or Saturday, so pizza it is or something simple. But Saturday is a very open day, with time to cook, as is Sunday.
2. I sorted my recipes in to piles reflecting these themes: pasta and pantry meals, quick meals (45 minutes top), crock pot meals, and long cooking meals.
3. I created a cover page with a list of meals in a sheet protector for each night and put a tab on that page to serve as a divider.
Step #2 took the longest. Sometimes I had 2 different recipes on each side of a page, or 2 or more recipes on a single page, so I had to rewrite one or two. I did this over several nights of watching TV. And I didn't sort ALL my recipes, just the ones that were on top, which means they are most often used.
I still need to figure out how to deal with sides, but that might just mean adding notes with recipes of what sides go well with them. I imagine the ideal is to have a page per meal, with all recipes of main dish or side dish, and shopping list on that page. But that will take a lot more time (or lots of 15 minute intervals). Perhaps one or two meals an evening? Alas, lots of ideas!