Have Just a Few Good Cookbooks
As my mother told me, “When I was starting out with family cooking/meal planning, I had just a few cookbooks: Mom’s loose-leaf of recipes from my past, the MN Meals cookbook, and BH&G. When I was looking for ideas, I mostly was in MN Meals as it was simple and broad. Surfing the web to find recipes can be daunting; there are so many. [Just] a few good cookbooks gives you a more manageable body of info to peruse.”
I agree, and I tend to rely on my family cookbook (collected recipes we know and love) and two others that cover a lot of ground.
Plan by Time Required
You can keep a cheat sheet of often-used recipes or meals that are listed by how long it takes to prepare them (10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Then when you need a plan for the day and know how much time you have, you’ve already narrowed down your options without having to think it through each time.
Plan in Advance
For pro calendar users, or just those who appreciate charts, one option is to plan meals out a month at a time. You can have a 30-day calendar of meals (1 or 2 or 3 a day) mapped out as a resource. Each month you can reuse the calendar by changing the order of meals.
This allows you to have plenty of options available, know in advance what you are doing, and shop in bulk (if you have the storage space). You will save gas on multiple trips to the grocery store if you have what you need already in the pantry. You still have the flexibility to move things around if you want to or to take advantage of sales or schedule changes.
Keep a Treasure Chest
As you collect tried-and-true recipes, you can collect them on note cards and keep a box in the kitchen. You will know when you pull anything out of the box that it will work.
A variation of this would be to keep meal plans on note cards (recipe included). When you do your meal planning, or before you go to the store, you can pull out what you would like to make and have it ready to go. Once you have made the meal, it goes back in the box until next time.
Know Some Versatile Basics
It is a good idea to include simple recipes in your collection that make filling and tasty meals or that serve as the basis to multiple meals. For instance, a good scratch biscuit can serve for biscuits and gravy or chicken and biscuits.