The title says it all ;)
All my recipes are in a big binder. Well, my snacks and desserts have their own, but everything else is all together. My main recipe binder is divided into these sections:
Breakfast (Breakfast foods, seldom eaten in the morning ;))
Protein/Carb (This is broken down by type of protein eg ground beef, chicken. Then within each type of protein, it's divided into Mexican, Chinese, Italian, etc)
Carb sides (Divided into what carb it is eg potato, rice, pasta)
Each recipe is in a sheet protector. If it gets splattered on while I'm cooking, it's easy to wipe clean with a damp sponge.
I also have a meal plan binder. It's divided into these pages:
Supper foods (we eat our main meal at lunch)
On each page is a list of all the recipes in that category.
Binder #3 is my weekly binder. More about it later :)
So here is the process that works best for me when meal planning...
1. Sit down with weekly grocery ads. Mark anything that's on sale that I use. I circle them in the ad (so they're easier to find later) and write them on a list:
Item #1 - sale price
Item #2 - sale price
I do this for each store. I also note on the list if an item is only on sale one day etc.
2. Look at the sale items list. I plan meals for the week around sale items as much as possible, especially meat sales!
3. Make meal plan page. It looks like this:
I write in the left margin anything scheduled for that day that will affect the meal. For example, I always write Church next to Lunch Sunday so I remember to plan a crockpot or make-ahead meal that will be quick to finish after we get home.
4. I get out my meal plan binder and decide which meals we'll eat for the week (or however long I'm planning). I choose meals based on what's on sale, events/appointments we need to plan around, fresh veggies I need to use, meat in the freezer that will expire soon, etc. This week bell peppers and ground beef are on sale. Perfect time for Unstuffed Bell Peppers! A typical week's lunch plan has half beef recipes and half chicken/turkey recipes, with an occasional sausage meal thrown in. I don't plan specific meals for specific days, unless there's an event I need to plan around.
5. I take the week's recipes out of the recipes binder.
6. Using my meal plan and recipes, I add whatever ingredients I need to make the meals to my grocery list.
7. The week's meal plan and recipes go into my weekly binder.
When it's time to cook lunch, I get out my weekly binder and check my meal plan. There will be a meal planned for that specific day, or I will have a list of meals to choose from. Either way, I'm not overwhelmed by the choices, and I know I have the ingredients to cook whatever I choose from the list. After I decide what I'm cooking, I take the recipe out of the weekly binder (if I need one) and bring it with me to the kitchen. After I cook a meal, I cross it off the list so I know I don't have the ingredients anymore.
Sometimes I cook something that isn't on the list. If that's the case, I know I have the ingredients for that meal next week.
When I plan the next week, I put the previous week's recipes back in the recipe binder. I check the meal plan for meals I didn't cross off and add them to the next week's options.
It might seem like a lot of work, but it's really not! Knowing I don't have to stress about what to cook is well worth the little bit of time and effort it takes to do it!