There are many elaborate menu plans I see that I just know won't work for my family. They include things like "Roasted Leg of Lamb with Braised Asparagus and Cherries Flambe for Dessert."
I've found that I can easily come up with a month's worth of dinner ideas out of stuff I already know how to make.
First, I start by brain-storming. I list broad categories of dinners, like: Italian, Crock-Pot, Grilled, Mexican, LEFTOVERS (yes, it's a category), PAPER PLATE MEALS (you gotta get real), Gourmet (I'm putting this in for you "Foodies"), Soup N Sandwich, Breakfast for Dinner, etc.
Then, I think of as many meals as can that fit under each category.
Italian: Spaghetti, pizza, manicotti, baked ziti, stuffed shells from Sam's, etc.
Crock Pot: Pot Roast, Barbeque Chicken, Beef Stew, Italian Chicken
Go ahead! Take out some paper and try it. I'll bet you can come up with a BUNCH!
Each Category really only needs 4 items because.....
Then, I look at our Family Calendar. I start plugging in the standing activities we have that affect our dinner times. For example: for many years, we had piano lessons twice a week from 5:30-6:30, which meant that we either had to eat early OR late. On Wednesday nights, we have church. Sports might be on another night. I take a blank calendar page and write these activities across the top. I put in my work/volunteer schedule: On Thursdays I work all day at Junior's school after I've served at the homeless shelter.....(cough)
Then, I take a blank calendar page, and working across the week, I start assigning the broad categories to days of the week.
On Piano nights, I assigned Crock Pot Night, and Sandwich Night--both are quick and easy with little clean-up required.
On Sports Nights, I might do Drive Through Night (Oh, didn't I tell you? That's also a category! I just like to plan it in, rather that use it willy-nilly)
On Monday nights, we are all home together so I plan a nice, sit-down meal. Gourmet perhaps?
On Saturday nights, I might do Breakfast for Dinner, because you never know who is actually going to be home: waffles are always a hit.
I actually found that I could come up with TWO MONTHS worth of dinner ideas by doing it this way. And even when I don't stick to the menu plan, just having it posted up on the refrigerator helps jog my memory when I'm in a pinch, which it often. It also helps me remember to thaw things out ahead of time and start early enough in the day so I don't have mutiny on my hands when 6:30 rolls around and the troops are starving. Voila, Dinner is Served.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!