Monday Mission: Organize Your Recipes

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Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to organize or re-organize your recipes.

Whether you have the perfect system already or a pile of recipes next to your computer, chances are your recipes could stand at least a little weeding out if not a complete system overhaul.

My own recipes need a good going over, and I may need a new portion of my “system,” but overall I’m pretty happy with how I organize them. For my purposes, it’s important that my recipes are:

  1. Quick to put away (or I’ll leave them out), AND
  2. Easy to find when I need them

If I attempted to put all my recipes in sheet protectors in a binder sorted by category, I’d end up with a pile of loose recipes floating around a cupboard, guaranteed.

Today’s post is as much a story of how my system changed as my life (and the world of recipes) changed. I’ll share some good ideas I have for organizing on-paper recipes, thoughts for organizing recipes on the computer, and plenty of other people’s awesome systems.

If you take one thing away from Organizing in October, recipe edition, it should be this: Periodically, examine whether your system is still working for you, and if not, change it.

This post is sponsored by Plan to Eat, an online meal planning and recipe storage system.

Transformation of a Recipe System

recipe organization (2) (500x375)

I’ve always been a fast mover, and my recipe cards used to get tucked back into the box horizontally, like this above, until I found a moment to sort through 20 or so cards and put them back in the categories where they belonged.

That box was the only way I had any recipes, which meant I copied anything onto a card, whether I had made it or not.

Then I started collecting Quick Cooking magazine recipes and basically had a pile of magazines with their corners turned. I would print recipes out from the computer, too, and the full-sized sheets didn’t fit in my box

I quickly realized that I needed a binder, and I chose a 3-hole binder and just started putting things in, helter skelter. Before I had a kazillion recipes, that worked fine to keep them from floating around the house.

But it was a temporary system.

Old Standby Recipes (Ones You Use All the Time)

When I really started getting into real food, I began to notice that there were certain recipes I used every week or every couple weeks.

I knew this because I used to hang my recipes with a clip on the upper cupboard doorknob (an aside: I really miss having knobs and haven’t figured out where to put the recipe I’m using yet!). I didn’t always (ahem) put each recipe back where it belonged as soon as I was finished making the dish, so many times when I needed a recipe again, it was still hanging in the clip (if it wasn’t stuck in the recipe box, not put away correctly).

After a few times of an overloaded clip teaming up with gravity and a game of 52-recipe-card pick up, I decided to make a “standbys” folder – one that is not organized at all, but always holds all my favorites. It takes 20 seconds to flip through a few dozen recipes to find the one I need, and I’m catering to my organizational disability so that I actually put the recipes away. It’s best if I don’t have to sort, just toss in the folder.

Here’s where my folder goes:

recipe organization (6) (500x375)

It has to be a one-handed job to put a recipe away and get them out, so the folder either needs to stand up and be very easily accessible – this location is still on probation after my kitchen makeover last week – or resting horizontal on top of cookbooks. That was my previous location, and I liked it a lot.

There’s another folder there of “recipes to try” that I really need to go through as it’s been packed up and untouched for about 18 months. I’m sure there’s plenty of options in there I wouldn’t even consider anymore!

I also have a binder of anything I’ve made, with things I might like to try for a party/pot luck in the back pocket. That one was also packed up when we were at my in-laws for 5 months between houses, so it needs a good sort through. It was interesting to me that I survived and thrived for 5 months with only one small folder of recipes plus the Internet. That experience really showed me what I use daily and what I don’t use at all.

The story of how I came to have a “standby” folder is actually pretty funny, and it includes the next tip…

Seasonal Recipes

recipe organization (1) (500x375)

I got tired of summer grilling recipes and fall squash recipes getting in my way in February when I was looking for a new comfort food to try out in my “recipes to try” folder.

I realized that I would benefit from seasonal folders as well – one unique way to create categories that don’t need to be in your face all the time. Summer Recipes holds canning recipes, stuff with fresh basil like pesto, and grilling recipes. If I need one mid-winter for some reason, I still know where they are.

The “Fix it Quick” Recipes

recipe organization (5) (500x375)

This is the inside of my spice cupboard door. You’re looking at all my dressings recipes, the things I use, for sure, at least once every 3 weeks.

I am often rushing to make dressings as part of dinner prep, and it used to foil me up when I had to go find the recipes and find somewhere to balance them since I can’t hang them from cupboard handles anymore. I taped the family favorites here so I don’t have to think, just make.

Now I can make homemade ranch dressing, Caesar dressing, homemade spicy dressing, Italian, Greek,  or Olive Garden imitation dressing, plus homemade mayo, in a jif.

I’m contemplating what other recipes get used THAT often – that I don’t already know by heart – that I might tape up in the rest of the space there.

Actually, the ranch dressing recipe is written right on the jar of homemade ranch dressing mix, so that’s even easier. I also keep my taco seasoning recipe card right with the taco seasoning blend so I never forget or have to search for the amount needed for each pound of meat.

Online and on the Computer

When I’m looking for my Healthy pumpkin muffins recipe, I used to look under “breads” in the recipe box. Then I kept taking the card to my computer to type things up and I could never find it.

Now I’m pretty happy to just be able to type “healthy-pumpkin-m” and my Firefox remembers where I’ve been and takes me back.

Computers are so darn smart!

My recipe box is now collecting dust, and my binder hasn’t seen the light of day for over a year because the Internet has so many great recipes.

I started “organizing” my online recipes by either copying them into a word processing document and saving them in a “recipes” folder, or by bookmarking them with a tag that I thought I’d find later, like “dessert” “chocolate” “brownies.”

Yet again, once I got too many “recipes to try” it was impossible to find one in a certain category when I wanted it. Now I use a couple systems to keep track of recipes I want to try:

  • Plan to Eat Kitchen Stewardship group: all my recipes saved in Plan to Eat are part of the KS group, which enables you to have a vast collection (over 15,000) recipes at your searchable fingertips, all added by KS readers. That means they’ll largely be real food, which is so much nicer than a Google search.

    I really like going to the group at PTE and searching for an ingredient. For example, when we first started our CSA, I spent a few weeks searching for “kale” and “Swiss chard” recipes and found some winners quickly! You can get a 30-day sneak preview and test it out – to be part of the “group” make sure you CLICK HERE and it will automatically happen.

I tend to save recipes that I think I might want to search by ingredient for in Plan to Eat, plus those I already use often in my meal planning.

  • Other recipes, especially desserts, snacks, and gluten free baking stuff, I figure I’d rather have organized by those categories. If they have pretty pictures, Pinterest has been my tool for organizing them. There’s some overlap with Plan to Eat, but two places isn’t all that terrible for recipes on the computer.
  • Lastly, when I collect a bunch of recipes for one thing, like maybe “tomatillo recipes” or “whole wheat chocolate chip cookies” or “BBQ sauce,” I copy and paste them into one word processing document and save in “recipes.” I like to be able to print them all to compare and decide how I actually want to make the recipe.I love the search function of Windows 7. I can touch my “Windows” key on the keyboard, type in a word I sort of remember from the title of the post, and I’ll find it within a few seconds.

More Tips

What is your current system? Have you had to change it as recipes and your lifestyle change?

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11 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Patty says

    Organizing recipes is one of those perpetual challenges!

    I store most of my recipes in google docs/drive. It’s not a perfect system but it works. Whenever I come across a recipe I want online I create a new document and copy & past the URL. I later go back and copy and past the text (in case the link dies). I add notes when I make it and sometimes completely remake the recipe.

    I’ll use the recipe directly from my smartphone if it’s a short/simple one but that doesn’t work well for more complex recipes.

    I worked through a good portion of my older clippings by searching online for the recipes. Some favorites were entered manually. I threw away a lot of clippings. I still have a small pile of recipes to go though…someday.

    As far as hanging a recipe where you can read it while cooking, I put a 3M Command hook on the door to the cupboard above my counter. A binder clip hangs from that holding my recipe printouts. It’s handy and I can remove it without damaging the finish. I need to go through that pile…I must have 50 sheets of paper in that clip right now.

  2. Samantha says

    I’ve finally arrived at a system that works well for me. I have a binder, but it only contains recipes that we know we like and use. If someone shares a recipe with me on paper, there are a few pockets in my binder where those can live while we wait to try them. These are only things that I think I will use someday. If I use a recipe in one of my cookbooks and I know that it will be a regular thing for us, I will copy it into my binder so it is easy to spot because I often use my binder for menu planning and out of sight is out of mind. Most of the recipes I find that I might want to make are online and I use Pinterest to organize all of those. I don’t ever print them out until it’s time to use them and I may not even print them then. But if we decide it’s a keeper, then it gets copied into the binder. I don’t deal well with pieces of paper floating around in my kitchen, so this system works well for me. One of my main prep areas is next to my refrigerator, so Ikeep a magnet there to stick up the recipe I’m using that day if I’m not using my binder which sits on a cookbook stand. There are also a few things, like you mentioned, where I have chosen to put the recipe on the container. I actually typed the brief recipe on my label maker in small font and I printed out a label to put on my container or canister. This has been really good for us–especially when it is something I may know how to make, but if the instructions are there my family can make it too.

    • says

      I use OneNote. Same ideaas Evernote. You could take pictures of your non digital recipes with your phone and then import the image. With OneNote you can draw the text out of pictures…

  3. Brianna says

    I don’t use recipes often (it’s just me and hubs, and we’re quick-dinner stir fry with varying spices on most nights….goal to plan meals over Christmas break from grad school….but that’s another story)…but when I DO use a recipe, it’s to try something new (on the ipad, bookmarked in a “recipes” bookmark folder in safari) OR an old favorite from one of our moms or grandmas. THOSE recipes will NEVER be digitized. There is something so spectacular about pulling out a stained recipe in mom or grandma’s handwriting, with their notes all over it about how they changed it and created variations through the years. Makes me smile just thinking about it :)

  4. Karen says

    I have a few small binders (categories) like Samantha and also some handed down recipes like Brianna. I do have some of those digitized and in the binders, but the originals are considered heirlooms. I have a mistrust of using strictly electronic storage as my laptop has its moments, links disappear, power goes out.

  5. Brittany says

    Online I really like to organize my recipes. I have a “Spring It” button on my toolbar, and I can just click it when I come across a recipe that sounds good. It also gives you the option at that point to give it tags (breakfast, grain free, condiments, etc.). It works great for my online recipes…just don’t look at my real life recipe box! :) Maybe I’ll give your system a try when I finally get around to an overhaul!

  6. says

    Great tips for organizing! Thank you!
    Before our last big move, I put all my recipes into Evernote so that they are with me everywhere I go, whether I am looking them up on my laptop at mom’s house, on the big PC at home near the kitchen or on my iPhone. Easily searchable because of the search tool and since I have everything categorized into subfolders! The best part is that it is free! Second best is that I could leave my 20 cookbooks in storage while we are living in a tiny apartment :)
    How I got all those recipes into Evernote: recipes from old cookbooks got scanned, hand typed recipes were drag/drop from PC File Folders to Evernote folders and online recipes were tagged with the cool toolbar widget in my browser.

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