I have a menu planning system that works well in my house. It is multi-faceted and some times seems complex but it works well when everyone in my family participates! I have made up my own Master Grocery List in MS Word and I print it off each month and put it on my fridge. Then when we are low or out of something that I normally buy the item gets circled or highlighted by the person who is using the last of it or says they are taking the last one. This way, I know I need to get it from the store the next time I do my shopping.
I have also made up a MS Word document for my weekly meals. I take the time to plan out all of our meals and snacks for the week. If I didn't do this, my kids would eat the same snack item til it is gone! My kids would continue their incessant question("What's for ________?") before each meal! And I would be doing the 5'oclock rush/stress to figure out dinner and find that I forgot to pull meat out of the freezer so it will take til about 7'oclock or later before we are sitting down to the table for dinner or I just give up and order out. Ordering out though would not be good or healthy for us, esp. for dh who struggles with high cholesterol.
What I do while I am menu planning: I look at my calendar, if I am having a busy day then I make sure that lunch is something quick and the kids can get themselves, and dinner is not an elaborate meal. I look in my freezer and pantry to see what meals I can make from them. I look at the grocery ads for the week to see if there is any good sales or loss leaders that I need to purchase to complete my meals. I am one that likes to have a stocked freezer to choose meals from so that if there is a week that doesn't have good sales at any of the stores, I can just use my freezer and pantry.
The one last thing that I have done is taken the time to make Master Menu Lists, or as I call them "Menu Suggestion Lists". I wrote down every main dish, side dishes, lunches, and snacks that my family likes and will eat on a regular basis. Then I just plug in the items on different days to make up breakfast, lunch and dinner meals and snacks. Having these lists makes menu planning work for me because it doesn't take much more than 1/2 hour to get two weeks worth of meals and snacks planned for my family. Just recently, I took the time to update my lists because certain foods are no longer being made or bought, or new meals have been added to our repertoire.
Menu planning and Menu Suggestion Lists have become a way of life around here because it helps my "dinner time stress" and time management!
For other frugal ideas, head over to Frugal Friday at Biblical Womanhood!