I like to plan out my menus for about two weeks at a time, but at least 10 days or so. I find that the longer I go between store visits, the more I save money. If I go every week, my budget gets blown. (Especially if I send the husband to the store. Most of you know what I mean.)
So when I make up my menu, I put down our simple favorites first. These include Spaghetti, Meatloaf, and breakfast for dinner...like pancakes or something. These are very cheap meals for us, and the kids love them too.
Then I think about any meals that I can use ingredients for more than one purpose. For example, on meatloaf night, I pop in a few extra baked potatoes. I reserve these in the fridge (after I remove the pulp from the skin) and the next night, I make Baked Potato Soup. Cook once, use twice. The same thing goes for Ham. When I buy ham, I usually have enough leftover for a few meals, so if I make Ham and Potato Casserole one night, the next night I can use the ham in my Chinese Fried Rice, or I can add the ham to our Breakfast for Dinner night, etc.
Some meals I make automatically make a double portion, like my Floating Tacos or Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. I make it the night we want to eat it, and then instead of putting the leftovers in the fridge, I double bag it in a freezer-safe bag and pop it in the freezer, to be used another time.
Then there are the meals that if I make sure to buy an extra pound of meat, I can double the recipe easily, and put the extra meal in the freezer, or take it to a friend in need for them to have for their dinner.
Another thing that is important, since I try to go to the store as infrequently as possible, is that I make the meals that require fresh ingredients first. That way, the veggies don't spoil before I get a chance to use them. If I make a big batch of freezer meals right after I go to the store(which is the best time to do it because you have everything on hand and defrosted), I put them all in the freezer, then make new meals every night until my fresh ingredients run out. Then, I start using the freezer meals. Make sense?
This week, my meals include Spaghetti, Sausage Penne, Floating Tacos, Meatloaf, Baked Potato Soup, Strawberry Cream French Toast, and Shepherd's Pie. Next week, we are having Ceasar Salad Wraps, Pizza, Tacos, Philly Cheesesteaks, Ham and Potato Casserole, Parmesan Chicken, Stroganoff, Chinese Fried Rice and Chicken, Lasagna, Funeral Potatoes and pork.
I like to write down all the meals I've planned on the fridge, so I pick which one sounds good to me that day, and either get it out of the freezer, or make it fresh. I don't like being strapped down to a specific meal on a specific day.
Half of these meals I can partly prepare ahead of time, if not all the way. I can cook up all the meat for the pizza and tacos. I can dice up all the ham and divide it up. I can assemble the Parmesan chicken and freeze that, and I can make the funeral potatoes and the fried rice. So, I can do a lot ahead of time. As much as I like to cook, some afternoons are just too crazy to make the meals I want. So I save myself time (and dirty dishes) by doing it ahead of time.
Hope these tidbits helped you with your menu.