I used to think nobody really planned menus the way they do in cooking shows made for moms. They say to use your leftover roast chicken in simple fajitas later in the week. Reuse your sauteed veggies in a pot pie with more of that chicken. I didn't do much cooking when I was watching the most cooking shows, and I didn't really see evidence of this. However, right now I'm contemplating making fried rice tomorrow so I can use leftover rice from tonight's burritos. I'm trying to think of what I'll do with leftover beans and tortillas. More burritos probably.
I never had to cook much until I got married. I ate snacks at school, ate out with friends, or ate at home with my parents. I cooked, but I didn't have to cook every night for a week. I'm also a vegetarian, which I think made for more problems. I can't roast a chicken at the beginning of the week and then use it for fajitas and pot pie. We were in a pretty severe pasta rut for a while. We'd eat pasta sometimes twice a week not to mention leftovers for lunches. When we didn't eat pasta, it would be rice or stir fry. Instead of basing a meal on a protein, I was basing it on grain. My husband doesn't love polenta or couscous, so I felt a little limited. Then I tried basing dinner on a veggie, which I still try to do, but it's difficult if you haven't worked with some veggies before. Can a bell pepper be the star of the show? What else can you do with eggplant? I was still stuck. Then I invented the "dinner box."
The dinner box is an oracle. It predicts that week's dinners and keeps me from going to the store every night. I wrote down every dinner idea I could think of on little strips of paper. I put these strips of paper in an origami box. Every shopping day I pull out 4 or 5 ideas and make my shopping list. Now we eat a good variety of things and I don't have to strain my brain to figure it out. Then we have leftovers once in a while, or we go shopping every 5 days. Or my husband is away and I fend for myself. I suggest you try it for yourself if menu planning drives you crazy. Browse cookbooks for ideas or ask me! I've got about 30 and they're not all veggie centric.