Question #2: How do you plan your meals?
Since I do my grocery shopping every 2 weeks (I make a small once a week run for milk & fruit) I like to plan about 10 meals for that 2 week period. Because Jeremiah is always gone on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights and we usually eat out one other night a week, usually 10 meals is more than enough to last us two weeks.
Before I begin I look at what I currently have in the pantry/fridge and what sales are available and make my list accordingly. I also try to build in at least 1 or 2 crock pot meals and at least 1 less than 20 minutes to make meal - for those days that I am not going to be home or we are busy. If I know it is going to be an especially busy week I plan in more easy meals, etc. I also try to serve 1 meatless meal a week.
I have found that by planning out my meals I cut down drastically on those "quick trips" to the store for one thing that end up costing $20 or $30 a stop. I also love to cook...but hate thinking up what to cook. Having a plan takes that part out of it for me!
Here's an example of our current two week list:
(Which actually lasted us over 3 weeks because of VBS last week and the fact that I didn't cook dinner for over 7 days!)
1) Chicken Quesadillas w/ mexican rice
2) Pulled BBQ chicken sandwhiches w/ corn on cob and homemade french fries (crock pot)
3) Grilled marinated pork chops w/ sauteed veggies and brown rice
4) Spaghetti and salad (20 minutes or less meal)
5) Shrimp Scampi
6) Homemade Pizza
7) Lemon pepper chicken w/ angel hair pasta and veggies
8) Chicken salad wraps w/ baked potatoes and fruit
9) Tomato soup and grilled cheese (20 min. or less and meatless meal)
10) Taco Salads
I save all my lists in order to get ideas when I get in a rut or if I am running short on time. There is always room for flexibility or cravings in our house...so the above list isn't a set in stone thing, just a general outline.