Here is my simple menu planning process-so simple I feel funny writing a post about it!
I have been doing this for more years than I can count and nothing, I repeat NOTHING, has saved me for hassle, money, stress, than this simple process. It also prevents me from being eaten alive by hungry children. :)
All week long I have a piece of notebook paper hanging up on the inside of one of my kitchen cabinets. As I notice we run out of something or someone needs something, I write it down. I shop most of the time at a large grocery store once a week and I try to make this my one errand a week if at all possible, so this list holds just about everything I need from food to a school supplies or cleaning supplies or diapers.
My grocery shopping day changes depending on what works with my schedule at the time, but right now I usually go on Fridays. On Thursday, I get my cute little pad of paper with the days of the week out (or I just use a piece of notebook paper), and think of dinners to make, along with maybe some desserts or snacks.
I own a few cook books, and also like AllRecipes to source meal ideas.
I try to mix it up with tried and true favorites and maybe one or two new things. Friday is usually pizza night, Saturday I don't plan for, because we might go out, or stay in, or teenagers might have plans or not, and I just play it by ear. I also look at the calendar to see what the week holds for me, and how much time I have for preparation that day.
I add to my grocery list the ingredients that I will need to make the dinners I have planned, checking my cabinets to see what we already have.
My days of the week chart is not set in stone of course, I change things around because I might forget to defrost the meat, or have a really busy day with a fussy little one, and go for the easy meal instead of one that requires time, but I always know I have six meal ingredients on hand.