Making a meal plan seems easy enough: sit down and write out what you want to eat over the next week or month or however long. Ideally, sure, making a meal plan is as simple as that. But if you want to save the most money on your grocery bill, making a meal plan most effectively is definitely a good thing to know.
Start by looking in your cupboards, your refrigerator, and your freezer. If it's easier for you to keep track, write down what you have available. Do you have any potential meals in there right now? I usually have ingredients for at least 5 different meals on hand. Mostly this is because I cook from scratch: I make bread, taco seasoning, waffles, garlic bread...if you can buy it, I can make it. More on cooking from scratch later, though.
As I've said before, I prefer to make a meal list one week at a time, whether I am planning on shopping that week or not. I often make my meal plan on Sunday, to go from Monday through Thursday. I'll go to Friday if I know for sure what I'll have available.
Typically I make a big meal for dinner on Sunday. Usually we're all home all day Sunday. If not, that usually means we're either at my husband's relatives' house or my parents house, having a big dinner there. We're very Lutheran...ha, ha, ha...
Monday is usually Meatless Monday around here. This not only cuts down on cost (since meat is expensive and I grow a lot of vegetables myself), but also forces us to try new recipes. They usually go over very well.
Tuesday is leftovers because of my Master Gardener class. This is from Sunday and/or Monday.
Wednesday I make something with meat, whether it's soup, a slow cooker dinner, a casserole, or a full dinner.
Thursday is either leftovers or another full dinner. If I serve leftovers on Thursday, I'll often reuse the leftovers we have to create a leftover casserole.
If I cook on Friday, I always make something gourmet. Otherwise we go out to dinner. If we're running low on money in our eating-out budget, I'll make a restaurant-style meal so we don't feel as though we're depriving ourselves. For as much as I love leftovers, I would strongly suggest not serving leftovers on Friday because it will increase the temptation to go out to eat- whether you can afford it or not.
While we sometimes plan to go out to eat on Saturdays, most Saturday nights we stay home. I often make a slow cooker meal or a casserole, sometimes I'll make soup. That brings us back to Sunday.