When hubby and I first got together, we operated on the "so what do you want for dinner tonight?" form of menu-planning. Grocery shopping had a small list but we also bought many things off that list that just "sounded good." It was the beginning of an economic downfall.
Before we could get good and broke, I got sick of flying by the seat of my pants and wondering what I'd be cooking the next day, so I enacted the menu-planning system my mother had. That is, she planned out all the dinners (including leftover usage) for a week or so, and used that to dictate her grocery list. You know what? It works. It saved us a bundle at first, but now it is old hat. I can only imagine what we would spend if we had no list, especially with Wegman's nearby.
So what are some of my favorite menu planning tricks? Well, first fill in whenever you have a meeting at night and make those the days you prepare easy/fast meals. I stick to fish or leftovers almost every Wednesday as I have a meeting every Wednesday night at 5:30 to 7, and it's 45 minutes away, so I am NOT going to eat at 8:00 or later at night! After that, start thinking of things that sound tasty to you. Fill those in on the nights you know you will have time to cook. Finally, save weekends for the big projects of cooking that yield many leftovers, like stews, lasagnas, big cauldrons of long-simmering soups, fancy things that require tons of dicing and chopping, etc. And if you still have space left, do my time-honored tradition of filling it in with fish as a protien and salad as a vegetable. It's fast, easy, and doesn't take too much time. I can't say it's delicious as I generally dislike fish, but it's good for you, so we eat it anyway.
What's in my oven tonight? A giant amount of boneless skinless chicken breasts, seasoned only with seasoned salt. I swear these things are the most useful culinary article in my arsenal yet. Tonight we will each have a baked chicken breast with barbecue sauce (an old standard). Next time some form of chicken is on the menu, 4 of them will be made into chicken tortellini soup. On another "chicken" night, the rest will be simmered into butter chicken curry. (This is the best butter chicken sauce I've ever had besides at a real live Indian restaurant. It's also my go-to recipe when I want something fancy-tasting that takes little to no time and tastes homemade.) See? Chicken breasts are magic. I could continue about other gajillions of things I'd make with them, but I'll leave it at three for now.
What are your most utilitarian foods?