I think that meal planning is a challenge that most families face. With seven to eight people to feed on a daily basis and several people doing the shopping, I have really had to improve my meal planning skills. For a long time, Kirk and I would mean to make a plan for what we would eat each week, but didn't usually get it done. Now that we've had three to four housemates and I do most of the cooking, I have to have a plan.
I've been making myself a one-page calendar of three to four weeks at a time that I can keep on the fridge. It allows me to look forward at what's coming up and remember what I've made recently. I usually only plan a week or less at a time, but try to have something in mind at least a day or two in advance. Being on a budget, I also try to take into account what is on sale at Safeway each week.
To help myself in the inspiration department (which I think is one of the biggest challenges in planning ahead), I have a list of meals that we enjoy and a list of recipes I want to try. The last couple of days I have also been going through my cookbooks. Like many people, I have a couple of binders of recipes that I've cut out of magazines, found online, been given by friends, or just jotted down. Unfortunately I haven't done such a great job recently (okay, in the last couple years, really) of actually getting the clippings, scraps of paper, and recipe cards IN the binders. I decided it was time to look through what I already had and get rid of anything that I've had forever and have never made, or probably won't ever make. Next, I re-organized everything and added the many recipes that had accumulated outside the binders.
I also decided to make a couple of quick-reference pages with the recipes that I make the most often and post them on the inside of some kitchen cabinets. That way, when I want to make waffles, cookies, brownies, pizza dough, Aunt Lois' cheese crackers, or Grandma Joy's chocolate-cherry cake, all I have to do is open up the cabinet. With very little counter space, it helps not to have to open a cookbook every time.
I still have a lot to learn, but this has been a good journey for me. As Trip gets older, life is only going to get more hectic, and family meals will be even more important, so meal planning is a good habit to develop now.