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3 Ways to Organize Recipes

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It’s easy to lose track of where you’ve seen a good recipe you wanted to try later. While lots of online recipe sites have great options that let you save recipes to your account, you still have to remember which recipe site had the one you’re looking for.

And then you may have to sort through dozens or hundreds of recipes you’ve marked because it’s so easy, and struggle to think what tags or categories you might have put them under – if you even have that option.

And that’s not touching the hard copy recipes you’ve collected from magazines and other sources, or that friends have scrawled on napkins for you. And the index cards you’ve inherited from moms and aunts and grandmas, or found at estate sales.

Notebook of handwritten recipes

Organize your recipe collection

The trick to organizing recipes is to pick a system and stick with it. It can be all digital, all paper, or a hybrid system. What’s important is that there’s only one place for your recipes to be. Or at most two.

There are, of course, a few ways to organize a collection of recipes, and the one you choose will depend on what’s convenient to you.

Going 100% digital

It’s easier than ever to keep all your recipes online. The only problem is that your own recipes will have to be typed in.

BigOven is actually designed for this. You can add links to recipes you find online or type in your own recipes. They all end up neatly arranged and searchable in your free account. They have mobile apps so you can collect recipes from your phone.

Big Oven homepage

Pinterest is another option many people use for this. You can organize recipes you find into boards and the boards can have subsections. It’s great for browsing, but not so great for finding that chicken-something-alfredo dish you remember pinning 6 months ago.

It doesn’t get much easier or more convenient than with these sites. But you can also keep a Google doc or word processor doc of recipes. This gives you complete ownership of your documents, and a little more flexibility.

One of the best features of this system is that you can scan handwritten recipes you’ve inherited and upload them into your docs. That saves you a lot of time typing.

You can save hyperlinks to recipes you found online and type up your own recipes in whatever order and organization system you want. This is especially useful if you want to print them and put them in a binder.

If you decide to do it in Google Docs or a word processor, here are some tips for organization that will work in most any of them:

  • You can set up a document with a table of contents on the first page.
  • Set it so all your H1 headings become “chapters” appearing in the ToC.
  • Set it so all the H2 headings appear under the H1 headings in the ToC,
  • Use H1 headings for categories, like “breakfast” or “omelettes” or whatever works for you.
  • Use H2 headings for each recipe’s title.
  • Make sure the page number shows on each page.
  • As you type in your recipes in this format, you can periodically update the ToC, and it will show you a list of every single recipe.
  • You can click the recipes from the ToC to jump straight to them.

The binder method

Recipe binder

It’s nice to have your recipes online or stored on your phone, but it’s also great to have them in a binder, especially when you’re in the kitchen using them.

The trick with this system is simply to print off the recipes you find online, on regular paper. And print your own recipes when you type them up. Here’s how I’ve used this system in the past:

  • Get a notebook with some tabs. You might choose alphabet tabs, or category tabs like “dinner” and “breakfast” or whatever works for you. You can buy blank tabs that you can easily write on with a pen, so that’s super-easy to customize.
  • You can just punch holes in your recipe pages and stick them in the binder, or you can use sheet protectors so that if they get splashed in the kitchen, the ink won’t run. Whatever you do, if you have a scanner, we recommend scanning your collection so you can always replace any paper recipe that gets damaged.

Advantages of a paper system: one great thing about a paper system is how you can just scribble notes on it as you’re working in the kitchen. If you keep them in a sheet protector, you can write on it with dry erase markers and later decide if you want to add the notes to the actual page itself.

The Index Card system

Index card recipe box

If you’ve got an index card box of recipes already, you might want to stick with it. Index cards are a time-tested way to keep recipes on file.

Here’s a shortcut: when you don’t have time to write it all down, you can jot down the name of the recipe and where you found it on the card. This makes your index card system a bit like the old card catalog systems at libraries.

Your source might be a website, a particular issue of a magazine, a book, or even a person who gave it to you. You can take the time to write it out later or add it to your digital library, depending how you like to keep your recipes.

Planner with sticky notes and pens on desk
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