I started by sitting down once a week, usually on Sunday afternoon when it was quiet (Monday is grocery day), with a sheet of paper and a pencil. I listed the days of the week, and under each one B, L, and D. It could take me anywhere from 20 min to 2 hours to finish the list. I dreaded menu planning, it was such an arduous task.
I always saved my menu, and after some time I had quite a collection of ideas, which made the planning easier. But I got tired of doing it every single week. So, I started planning monthly, which is not as hard as it sounds!
I had kind of gotten into a routine with certain days of the week. Monday had to be quick and easy becuse it is my husband's day off, and if we went somewhere for the day I needed to have a plan for a quick supper whenever we returned home. Wednesday is always pasta to kind of break up the week. And Friday is another easy night, usually pizza or soup.
So, I printed off a calendar page with blocks big enough for me to write in. Under each day of the week I wrote the basic main 'meat'.
Monday - Burger
Tuesday - chicken
Wednesday - pasta
Thursday - beef (maybe venison, or pork)
Friday - Pizza (or soup)
And the weekends I take 'off'. Well, not really, because people still need to eat, but I don't usually do any major cooking. Leftovers, or whatever can be thrown together for an easy meal.
Now, I could look at Monday, and all I needed to do was to choose 4 (or 5) main dishes that could be made with burger (ie: shepherd's pie, meatballs, meatloaf....) And the same with the rest of it. On occasion I will have a meal with no meat. It was more managable for me to think through this way, not so overwhelming as figuring out 21 different meals each week.
Breakfasts I usually keep relatively the same. During the week we'll have hot cereal (quinoa for this gluten free home), eggs (we eat a lot of eggs), muffins, cold cereal, and either pancakes or french toast. The night before I decide what I'm doing for breakfast, so I do any prep before bed (mixing dry ingredients for muffins or pancakes).
Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches, maybe burgers or tomato soup.
Now, I need to mention something else that has been SO helpful in this menu planning business.
Say Mmm is a free menu planning resource. All you need to do is sign up for a free account and start planning! Say Mmm keeps a list of your meals on file (that you've entered), gives you meal planning ideas, and access to recipes from other Say Mmm users!
You can easily build your grocery list as you are planning, and organize your own recipes. And they have a mobile site so you can easily view your lists while you are out!
They also have a Say Mmm Plus program, which offers extra features such as price tracking, calorie counting, and even more recipe ideas. You can try Say Mmm Plus free for two weeks, and if you like it, it only costs $3 a month!
So there's my take on menu planning. :) Maybe it will give you some ideas if you struggle in this area. It can be done!
Happy Menu Planning!