Yes, it does take time and effort. I do spend 2-3 hours a week going through recipes, checking the plantry and freezer, finding coupons, planning my menu, and writing up my grocery list. Keep in mind I tend to change my mind a billion times before settling on a menu some weeks, so it's very possible to spend just a few minutes on a menu. I want to try new dishes, remember old ones that have been neglected, and use favorites that I'm craving. All while sticking to my ideal of only spending $50 a week (keep in mind it's just 2.5 of us here). Which brings me to my first reason why I menu plan.
1. It saves money. Who doesn't want to save money? I make my menus based on what I already have in the house so food doesn't go to waste or get close to expiring. I make a grocery list based on what is needed to complete my menu. I only buy what's on my grocery list (well, most of the time). I'm also not running to the store almost every day, so there's a big gas savings and less opportunity for me to buy items I don't need. A hint for when you're shopping? Don't go down an aisle unless there's something on your grocery list in there. Which leads me to....
2. It saves time. Don't laugh at me! Even with me spending 2-3 hours planning everything out, I'm still saving myself time! I've got time during the week to do other things because I'm not running to the store for something else I've forgotten. I don't have to wonder at the end of the day what I'm going to cook. I just cook what I planned! And by having my organized grocery list on my iPhone, I'm in and out of the grocery store (with a baby in tow) in less than 30 minutes with a full cart.
3. It's healthier when planned accordingly. We very, very rarely eat fast food. There's no reason for it, even when we're stuck somewhere till 6:30 and have to be someplace else at 7pm. If there's a heavily scheduled day, I make food ahead of time to be reheated or I plan something simple. Menu planning means we have enough fruits and vegetables for the week and they get eaten. We eat a balanced diet everyday. If something not so healthy is on the menu for a meal, the rest of that day's meals contain those needed nutrients. Do note that I plan breakfast, lunch, and dinners but only post dinners mainly because it gets boring seeing cereal, eggs, sandwiches, wraps, fruit, and leftovers on the menu constantly.
My biggest tip when deciding to start menu planning? Keep it simple! Start with one week and don't get fancy. Pen and paper work just fine. :)