Taking the time to make a menu plan has really helped me in making sure that I'm using up my food wisely and providing decent nutrition for my family. When I don't plan, I tend to make up something quick and easy, and it's not as balanced as I would like.
I do have to say that I'm not a natural cook, meaning, I'm not very imaginative and I can easily get into a rut, having the same meals over and over. I don't experiment at all. I'm not good at combining spices together on my own, just to try it. I need to follow recipes.
Growing up, my mother cooked the same foods over and over because my father was a very picky eater and only wanted certain foods. Sadly, I never saw my mother enjoying herself cooking. When I moved out on my own, I only knew how to cook a few things, so I began to look for recipes that would expand my palate. I discovered lots of new wonderful foods.
So, on to how I make my menu plan. I usually start by asking everyone if there's something special they would like to have for the week. Most of the time, it's something easy like tacos or spaghetti. I try to incorporate something like that.
Then I check my freezer, refrigerator, and pantry to see if there is anything I can plan a meal around. For example, I have lots of chicken thighs in my freezer, so I look to see if I have any recipes that can use them. If not, I look up recipes online like Allrecipes or Taste of Home. I just plug in the ingredient and recipes will pop up using that ingredient. Then I just choose one that sounds good and doesn't have anything exotic or elaborate procedures. I do the same thing if I need to use up some cans of kidney beans, evaporated milk, or even some bottled sauces that have been in the refrigerator for awhile but haven't expired yet.
Once I've decided on my main meal, I decide on what sides could go with that. I find a starch like rice, potatoes, or noodles and then find a vegetable dish. A salad is usually included but not always.
Some people look at the sale flyers to see what's on sale, and plan meals around that, but I have to admit that I'm not in the habit of doing that. I get flustered having all those flyers around and then feeling like I have to visit these different stores to take advantage of the sale.
I also take into account if there are any days during the week where I won't have much time to cook, like school meetings, sports practice or anything like that. On those days, I plan on something simple that I can just throw together, leftovers or a slow cooker recipe.
And, that is how I develop my menu plans! Some helpful sites that I go to when I need some ideas are:
I'm an Organizing Junkie (she's the host for Menu Plan Monday where you can get lots of ideas from other people's menus for the week)
Diary of a Stay at Home Mom ( she hosts Slow Cooking Thursday's with lots of great recipes using the slow cooker)