Step One: List meals you want to make. I usually peruse blogs and my recipe books to come up with a good mix of old favorites as well as new recipes to motivate me to cook.
Step Two: Make list of items to pick up at the store. I use a cheap $1 magnetic list on my fridge and divide it into four sections: produce, grocery, fridge/frozen, and other. I love the magnetic list, because when I realize I need something as I am cooking, I can easily and quickly add it.
Step Three: Plug meals into calendar. I like to take a look at my calendar and schedule in meals that fit my time constraints. I allow days with no meal plan for left-overs. I try to plan for sides as well as main dish.
Step Four: Gather recipes. If I have printed versions of the recipes, I clip them to my fridge for easy access.
I have found that if I only go to the store once a week that it is much easier to stay within my budget. I have to admit that I am not perfect at this, and there are some weeks that we are lucky to have mac n' cheese from a box on the table. As you can clearly see from my picture, I failed to meal-plan for the first week of July (it was my daughter's birthday that week and that is what I get for signing up to throw her a friend party). But when I DO make the effort to plan, my life is much easier and things go more smoothly in the long run.
I learned how to meal plan from my incredible Mom. I'm sure that she is much better at it than me, as are many of you, so I would love to learn from you. What tips do you have in meal-planning? What works for your family?