I didn’t really get serious about menu planning until after Jameson was born. At that point, it became more than a good idea; it was the only way I could guarantee to get dinner on the table!
I certainly don’t get to this every week, but my week goes so much better when I do. Here are some of my reasons for planning my meals ahead of time:
1. Fewer trips to the grocery store on an already-busy afternoon.
2. Fewer outings to restaurants due to an obviously half-hearted reply to “What’s for dinner?”
3. Actually making dinner: knowing what’s supposed to be served in the evening means that when life is peachy for an hour in the morning, I can work on getting dinner started. And then grab 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there… rather than requiring an entire 2 hours of prep right before the dinner hour (which, of course, would be impossible.)
4. Avoiding that terrible experience of just not knowing what on earth to make on any given day.
5. Saving money and time by planning to re-use leftovers, and basing our weekly menu on sale items.
One of the things I use to help with my menu planning is a file I keep with recipes I’ve tried — and recipes I’d like to try. This way, when I’m a bit stumped, or am in a recipe rut, I can jump-start my imagination!
Most of these dishes are simple and inexpensive, and call for ingredients I generally have on hand: rice, potatoes, pasta; chicken, eggs, cheese, beans; onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach; etc. Some of these dishes also morph into something else, so leftovers are a bit more than just leftovers (i.e. chicken rice casserole can become a stew the next night.)
I often read cookbooks and such for fresh inspiration. I’m also trying to be more and more inspired by the seasonal availability of fresh produce grown locally. This, I think, ends up saving money, because I’m buying less out-of-season produce in the middle of winter. Probably (at least, in my simple logic) if canned and frozen veggies are the only things “naturally” available for several months a year, then those will deliver enough nutrients to our bodies to tide us over till spring comes again. But that’s a bit of a random thought, thrown in here for free. :)
To sum up, I guess, meal planning can be a real time and money saver (and aren’t we always looking for those?), and also can aid in being good stewards of our family’s health, as it allows you to think carefully about what will be eaten each evening — with less chance of a frozen pizza being whipped out. But, incidentally, if you should find yourself eating frozen pizza, I recommend California Kitchen. They’re the yummiest.