Step one in planning a month of meals is to figure out what you want to eat. Pretty basic.
Some of the recipes were handwritten by the person who gave it to me. Some of these are hole-punched and filed.
For meal planning, I simply numbered a sheet of paper from 1 to 30 and started putting entrees next to the number. I prefer to go meatless on Fridays, so I marked 4 for that. I made sure certain favorites were included. Then I flipped through the books and recipe files for the rest. I'm planning for at least 4 recipes that I've never tried before.
One other resource that I had for meals was old calendars filled with menu plans. I've been planning meals a month at a time for over a year. I have been planning them, not executing them. There is a huge difference. My current scheme is all about setting myself up for success.
What has been my downfall in the past? Often, I knew what I wanted to make, but didn't have the time that day to pull it off. Recently, I planned to bake boneless chicken thighs. Unfortunately, the chicken I bought was bone-in. I needed dinner in a half hour, but bone-in takes over an hour to cook. Instead, I was microwaving frozen spaghetti sauce and boiling noodles.
Often, I would forget that the dish I planned for 2 weeks away needed green onions or sour cream or something that I don't always buy, but needs to be somewhat fresh. Dinnertime approaches and I'm missing key items.
Or I forget to pull the meat from the freezer and really don't have time for it to thaw. Then I'm ordering pizza delivery. Or we rush to practice and swing through a drive-thru.
I'm hoping to avoid these situations more often by having meals as prepped in advance as possible, by buying all non-perishable ingredients needed at the beginning of the month, and by making now the shopping lists I'll need for each week. If my Saturday routine has me going to the grocery store for perishables and pulling the week's meals out of the freezer to begin thawing, I should minimize the need for emergency food. At least that's the plan.
I decided today to take all those old calendars and put the entrees in a sortable list in a spreadsheet (it's OK if you call me a dork). Interestingly enough, I had only 60 different entrees for over a year's worth of eating. Now, one of them was "marinated chicken" which is not very specific - there are many different marinades. But the concept is the same. One was "salmon." I use 2 or 3 different salmon recipes, typically. So there was some variety within those 60, but not much. I suspect that most families are the same. Family-tailored menu planning really isn't complicated. Stick with what your family likes.
After I came up with 30 entrees, I filled them in on a blank calendar template (Sunday - Saturday columns and five rows for the weeks). Things that would take longer went on the weekends often. Easy cleanups went during the week so I won't come home to a messy kitchen after baseball practice. I added side dishes, trying to vary things within each week. I also made out a basic schedule for breakfast and lunch, which I've never done before. We'll see how the kids respond to that.
OK. That's step one. That's the easiest part. Next step: building the grocery list.