When I first got married, I was mostly focused on my career. I barely knew how to cook a few things. Microwaved baked potatoes, spaghetti, and fish sticks were some of my "specialties." After 17 years of marriage, experience and practice add a lot. Here are a few more practical suggestions.
* Start by planning all your evening meals for the week.
In addition to the main protein source, include all the side items, veggies, fruit, grains and dessert if you are serving dessert. If you plan to go out to eat, include that event in your weekly meal plan. I find that having all my meals planned out ahead of the time GREATLY reduces my stress in the late afternoon. No fretting about "what are we going to have for dinner." It also helps me to work out that we have balance nutrition and ample variety during the week.
* Plan your meals based on what you have in your pantry and freezer.
At least half of my weekly meals are based on what I already have in my freezer and pantry. If you have a tough time thinking of what to plan, you can make a list of all the chicken dishes your family likes, all the beef dishes, all the pork dishes, etc.
* Plan your other meals around what is on sale this week.
Between using what is in my freezer & pantry, and perusing the sale flyers, I can usually fill up my meal plan for the week. Of course, when chicken breasts are on sale for 99c/lb, I buy up extra to stash in the freezer for following weeks. For ideas on how to use what is in your pantry or what is on sale this week at the stores, I recommend using web tools such as Allrecipes.com or DinnerTool.com. These web sites allow you to search for recipes based on your desired ingredients. Who needs to buy a cookbook anymore? The most exhaustive cookbook is at our fingertips: the internet!
* Consider adding vegetarian meals to your menu plan.
Vegetarian meals are usually low in saturated fat and high in plant-based nutrition. Plant-based meals are often lower cost than meat-based meals. Although I have a meat-loving husband, we have added vegetarian fare, or at least low-meat meals to our rotation, and he loves my veggie lasagna! For some ideas on veggie cooking once per week, you can visit www.meatlessmonday.com.
* Add a breakfast meal for dinner.
Here is something that helps add variety for dinner. We don't regularly cook big breakfasts in the morning, so having this for dinner usually pleases the crowd. You can't tell me that thinking about bacon, eggs or omelets, biscuits, fruit salad, smoothies, sausage, bacon, waffles, pancakes, and scones doesn't make your mouth water!
* Have an alternate meal idea, just in case.
Sometimes best-laid plans still run awry. It's always a good idea to have a backup plan. Sometimes you get home later in the afternoon due to unexpected delays. Sometimes someone gets sick and your time should be focused on helping your sick one. Sometimes you get sick. Having a quick meal in the freezer helps avoid the temptation to "run out and pick something up." Or, you can have sandwiches, an easy pasta dish, or some other alternative plan. We all know that home cooking tastes better and is better for you than take out. (LOL!)
* Add more meals into your meal plan.
Once you have mastered planning seven evening meals, begin adding more meals to your plan. Add in a special weekend breakfast. Plan ahead a few meals for the following week. Do you have a special meal on Sunday after church? Some frugal home keepers plan out each meal and snacks every day. (I confess that I do not meal plan to this level.)
* Check out some meal planning blogs.
I'm always keeping my eyes open for fresh, nutritious, frugal meals. There are a lot to be had around the blogging world. You can check out these wonderful sites to glean some new ideas.
www.orgjunkie.com hosts menu planning Monday. Find out what's on her menu and the menus of others.
www.5dollardinners.com has some interesting low-cost meals based on what is on sale in your area.
www.lifeasmom.com hosts an "Ultimate Recipe Swap" every Thursday on a different topic. I have found some great recipes there, too.
Blessings to you and to your meal planning efforts!