Another thing that helps me with meal planning is to have some lists. One list is quite short. Where some families do theme days, like Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday, I like to do things according to our schedule. This means I save meals that don't make for good, portable leftovers for Fridays and Saturdays, when I don't pack a brown bag lunch for my husband. On Thursdays, when I'm doing some crazy driving for afternoon pick ups, I plan make-ahead meals. Sundays and Tuesdays, when I go to the farmers market and buy fresh fish, are seafood nights.
Another list has our favorite meals, particularly meals that everyone in my family enjoys. This list changes with time, but right now, it includes Baked Beef Tacos, Roasted Cauliflower and Sardine Pasta, Miso Soba Bowl (I use this recipe as a base and change up the veggies), Spinach Artichoke Dip, and Clam Chowder.
A third list has pantry meals, or meals for which I usually have ingredients on hand and can throw together quickly if I'm caught off-guard. This list includes frittatas, fried rice, and hot dogs.
Your lists will be different, of course, but they can help make planning your meals for the next week or month faster and easier. You still have lots of flexibility to get creative, but the structure gives you a starting point (which is key if you're in a particularly busy season).
Do you have any tips for meal planning?