i went all out and color coded each meal by degree of difficulty in preparation. i also added a pool of "reserves" from which to choose on weekends or if we want to swap a scheduled meal out because we aren't feeling it that night.
i started out by looking in the pantry and fridge before ever shopping and seeing what we had to work with. with a "bare" fridge i still came up with about 14 meals that could be made with no additional groceries being bought. from there i came up with meals that could be made from meat and other ingredients that can be frozen or stored for longer than a week.
i put our fun and favorite stuff on fridays so we wouldn't be tempted to go eat out like we normally do and could instead have a date night of cooking together. i planned for maximum easy on wednesdays since jesse eats at church and i sort of just forage. saturdays and sundays are blank since we usually don't have plans set until the last minute and they often involve eating with people out of the house. mondays i cook alone and thursday jesse cooks alone so those have balanced difficulty. tuesdays is our date night so we cook together again, but not as difficult stuff since it's a work night.
clearly we only plan dinners. jesse eats lunch in meetings and at high schools most days of the week so he is not spending any money in that regard. my lunches are usually frozen dinners, but with us now making so many dinners at home i usually have plenty of leftovers for a lunch or two the next day(s) since most meals are rationed for a family of 4. so even our TV dinner supply is still alive.
this menu makes it sort of hard to get healthy stuff planned since produce goes bad over a month's time, but we allot weekly trips to the store for great deals and to fill in the produce blanks that our menu leaves. so far we have stuck to this calendar 100% and it has been awesome. the one i have printed out at home even has reminders the day before to take the meat out of the freezer to defrost for the next nights recipe.
so when you combine advance meal planning (on any scale-weekly, monthly, yearly) with couponing you become a seriously empowered customer (there was no way to make that not sound lame). because i know i am not eating meatloaf for 3 weeks, i can wait for ground turkey to go on sale rather than rushing in the day of and buying it out of necessity whatever the price may be. some of the items on this menu were bought at prices less than optimum. however, i can now plan march's menu out and then i will have weeks to wait for the ingredients i need for that month to go on sale/have coupons for. power to the people!
***let me know if you want this and i will send you the excel file that i made it in (it's excel2007 which will mess up the colors in 2003 version but still work fine) and you can take it and adapt it however you want!***