I used to love cooking. And I still do. But I just don't have the time to cook like I used to. Kids pulling on legs, hungry, crying, activities we have to go to, bath and bedtimes to do afterwards, etc.
Later, I would spend time going through sale ads and buying up what was on sale before making my plan. Then I would plan based on what I bought (plus the staples I usually buy.) But honestly, I don't have time to do that most of the time. I just buy what we like, stock up on fruits and veggies that look good and are a good price and then plan.
Menu planning prep work-Type up a list of your family's favorite meals that are not too difficult (or expensive) to prepare. I recommend listing meals that EVERYONE will like...not just you and your hubby. You don't want to be a SHORT ORDER COOK. You should have a little bit of what your kids like at each meal and maybe one new item for them to try. I think I read that it takes about 15 times for a kid to try something before they actually accept it. Don't give up...keep trying. They will learn to eat new things eventually. Serve them things you like and they will learn to like many or most of them.
You can use this list week after week to quickly add most of your meals to your plan. I tend to resort to tried and true recipes most of the time. (Mostly, ones using things I tend to buy a lot or usually have on hand.) Then if I have a little extra time or desire, I might add in a new recipe or two to try a week. (But even then, I would have a back up listed just in case you didn't get to the store or run out of time.)
1. Before I make the weekly plan, I make a list of the things in the freezer/fridge/pantry that I want to try to include in the plan. Generally, things that will go bad if we don't use them this week or things I may have forgotten about that I want to use up. This would mean using fresh veggies earlier in the week then using canned or frozen later in the week if you run out of fresh-instead of running back to the store.
**Next, print a few planner sheets. I couldn't find the one I usually use that I got online several years ago...but this one looks good.
2. On your planner, make note on the planner of any "special" lunches/dinners. "Special" might mean a dinner out. Or it might mean a lunch that should be packed in a cooler ahead of time (park playdate or?). Or it might mean that you won't be home in time to cook or have to leave after eating so you want to make it a crockpot night to make it easier.
3. Fill in your meals. I like to try to alternate types of proteins, veggies, etc. so there is a decent variety. Use your list of family favorites as well as the list of items you would like to use up. If I have time and feel like coming up with a couple of different recipes, i might flip through some cookbooks or do an online search as I plan.
** I also list a couple of alternatives on the bottom of the paper in case I want something different or am actually out of something I thought I had. If you don't use these extra ideas, you can put them on next week's plan (or not.) :)
**NOTE** Menu planning takes time but it will make your life easier in the long run. Also, you can mix up the days you serve meals on...the point is to have a plan to fall back on and have an idea of the sort of meals you can make with what you have.
Here are a couple of favorite menu planning sites that have great tips and ideas:
Frugal menu planning (she makes a lot of good points. I follow her on facebook and like seeing her thoughts on saving money and feeding a family.) http://goodcheapeats.com/category/meal-planning/
Menu planning resources- http://orgjunkie.com/menu-plan-monday-guidelines/menu-planning-resources
**This site also hosts Menu Planning Monday where 100's of people link up their meal plans for the week.
Good luck!!! You can do it!!