Meal planning has saved me so much time and frustration, I won't say it's saved me a ton of money. Try as I might I'm not super good about couponing or only going to the store twice a month or planning meals based on what's on special. I am good at putting together a well balanced dinner that looks and taste good.
When I was 14 my job was to plan, shop for and prepare dinner on weeknights for my family.(Genius on my parents part, I learned about nutrition, budgeting, and timing a meal.) I had a few rules I had to follow. I couldn't just make chicken and everything on the plate had to be a different color. Not only does it look nicer, but your getting a whole lot of different vitamins and minerals that way!
My family has it's favorites, things that cycle through more often. They also have things they just don't like (or maybe that's me) and I either don't make them regularly or ever; it's not worth preparing food that people won't enjoy or eat. It's a waste of your time and money, not to mention it stinks to spend time on something only to have no one enjoy it.
Involving your family in meal planning is a great way to get your kiddos to try new things and just be more willing to eat what you've prepared. I give my girls each a day to pick dinner, they help cook that night too and in picking what we eat, they are learning skills in meal planning too!
A sample weekly menu for our family would look like this:
Sunday; Late lunch out (after church), Steak salads with crusty bread
Monday; Salmon, brown rice, sauteed snap peas and pearl onions
Tuesday; Roasted chicken, sweet potato wedges, steamed green beans
Wednesday; Make your own Nacho bar, with all the fixings
Thursday; Soup and salad/sandwich (this is our really busy night, so it's got to be easy)
Friday; Pot roast with carrots, potatoes and onions, green salad
Saturday; Pizza with salad or fresh veggies
Having a plan helps me shop or know what to defrost, it also helps me to use what I have in the pantry and fridge. Some weeks I set a goal to use only what we have, I call it "Freezer Clean Out". It's a great way to literally help make space in your freezer, pantry and fridge. It also is a great way to stretch a budget or save a little money.
Almost all of my meals can be made in 30 minutes or less, and I try to use as few dishes/pans as possible...I'm all about the speedy clean up. Other challenges I throw in are; $5 dinners, a meal for 4 cannot cost more then 5 dollars, vegetarian (meat free meals), leftover round ups, your on your own (literally, every Man or Kid for themselves).
I know some Moms who just use the same schedule every week. It works for their families and it simplifies their lives. Which is exactly what meal planning should do. (I'd get bored, I love food and trying new things.)
Sunday; Roast of some sort
Monday; Meatless Meal
Tuesday; Taco Tuesday (something Mexican)
Wednesday; Left Overs
Friday; Fish Friday
I generally do my planning on Monday; the girls are at school, I can go through the ads (I try to be good about it) and I can go shopping without helpers. If you have all the ingredients on hand you can switch out days easily, just in case roast chicken sounds better then meatloaf one night. I literally write it out (I have those Post It's that are like a weekly to do list) and I post it on the fridge...it helps me commit to the plan. The whole point is to get it down, try to stick to it and see if it doesn't just take the hassle out of 6 o'clock every night!