The One Strategy That Keeps My Recipes Organized
A big part of keeping a household running smoothly is being able to handle meal preparation and the recipes that go along with that task. Every day we have to eat and think about the question “what’s for dinner?” And while there’s always the option of fast food or restaurants or ready-to-eat grocery store items, most homemakers over time accumulate a stash of recipes so they can cook at home and answer that pesky question: “What’s for Dinner ?!” In addition to dinner, most homemakers need a few recipes they can rely on for those times when you need to serve a dessert for a group or need a side dish to bring to a family gathering, or just to have some tasty homemade snacks in the house!
This has been true for me too and as the years have gone by my recipe collection has grown and keeps changing. I’m always on the lookout for more scratch and DIY recipe ideas and most recently I’m looking to add more plant-based recipe ideas. I’m always collecting recipes! But I’ve always been able to keep my collection of recipes manageable and organized and that’s because I rely on one simple strategy. I thought I’d share that key strategy today and maybe you’ll find it helpful too.
The Keepers vs. The Maybe’s
The one strategy that has worked so well for me in keeping my recipes organized is the approach that all my recipes (from many smaller categories like soups, or desserts, or dinners) fall into two larger over-arching categories.
The first of these two larger categories I think of as the “Keepers”. These are the recipes that I have made many times, are favorites of my family, and that have proved to be reliable, dependable, and tasty recipes.
The second category I think of as the “Maybe’s”. This category is much more of a hodge podge of recipes I’ve come across from various places that I think sound kind of good and might be worth giving a try.
I think of all of the recipes I have around my house as falling into one of these two groups. I often think of it in terms of the way a sports team will have a First-String and a Second-String. Some of the recipes are always in the game and are my top performers (my first string). Others are still on the bench waiting to show what they’ve got and if they can make the grade (my second string).
Here’s a closer look at my organizing techniques for each of these two larger categories.
Those Unruly Maybe’s
I always keep this group separate from my Keepers because let’s face it – sometimes a recipe that sounds great when you read it turns out to be a total dud in reality. That’s why I never let a recipe in the Maybe group intermingle with the good recipes in my Keeper group. I might give a “dud” a second try with a few tweaks but if it’s still no good, I toss it out. I don’t want it creating clutter among the good stuff if I’m never going to use it again.
The Maybe group can get kind of unruly and overwhelming because those recipes often come from many different sources. I find most of my Maybe’s on the internet (Pinterest and Allrecipes.com are my two favorite places) and from library books, but sometimes I find them in magazines, a newspaper, or a friend will pass something along to me.
So my strategy here is to get them all on paper. I know, maybe that’s old school, but if they’re on paper you can get them all in one place. Most online recipe sites and blogs will have an option to print the recipe. I’m not shy about using that option! (Any recipes here on my blog you can print too using the green “Print Friendly” button at the end of my posts). If I find a recipe in a library book I want to try, I make a copy of that page using my printer at home or I’ll jot it down on a piece of paper.
THEN, I keep these papers with the Maybe recipes on them in a small basket on a shelf in my kitchen. It’s so helpful to have them all in one place! Sometimes when I’m writing out my weekly grocery list I’ll pull out that basket and look through the papers and choose a recipe to try. Occasionally I go through and throw away some recipes. If a year or two has gone by and I still haven’t tried it, I might just give it the heave ho!
Another thing I like about having all my Maybe recipes on paper is that when I finally do give them a try, I can scribble notes on them. Maybe the recipe didn’t go quite right on the first try but I have an idea for how it would taste a little better. I like being able to write some notes in the margin while I’m cooking so I can remember what adjustments to make later.
FINALLY, if I have made one of my Maybe recipes several times, and we like it, and I find myself always reaching into my Maybe basket to retrieve it so I can make it again, THEN AND ONLY THEN, do I write that recipe onto a new index card and move it to the Keeper group. Usually I’ve made the recipe at least 4 or 5 times before this happens.
Those Wonderful Keepers
Oh yes, the Keepers! This is my group of recipes that I know I can depend on. Only recipes that I have made several times and that I know will give me good results are allowed in this group. No recipes for new experiments allowed! If I’m planning the weekly menu and making out my grocery list, I know I can always look through the recipes in the Keeper group and find something to make that we like and enjoy.
Here again, maybe I’m old school, but I like and use a paper system of a recipe box and recipe cards for my Keepers. I use the 4×6 size index cards which are pretty easy to find at office supply stores and keep them in a wooden 4×6 recipe box. (you can also get 4×6 index card boxes in an office supply store).
Then, within the recipe box I have set up various categories to add one more level of organization. (I labeled my guides on the backside of alphabet index guides). I even have a category for my homemade cleaners that have made the cut to the Keeper group, so this can apply to any recipe of any type that you make on a regular basis. (I keep this measurement conversion chart in the front of my recipe box too.)
Once again, I think having a paper system has some advantages. I can keep everything in one place, I can jot down notes – AND – no matter where I originally found the recipe, whether it be online or from a book or from anywhere else – writing the recipe down on an index card makes it easy for me to get them all in the same kind of format in my Keeper group.
For me, retrieval of recipes is fast with this method too. Sometimes we can have sketchy internet service during snowstorms and heavy rain storms (which happens more than you think here in Michigan!) and having things on paper keeps me from being dependent on any electronic service. No matter what’s going on with the technology in my life, I can always pull an index card out of my recipe box!
Summing It All Up
This one key strategy for my recipes has worked really well for me for many years now. By not mixing together my tried and true recipes with my “things to try someday” recipes, I’ve been able to stay organized and I never have to look through a lot of clutter to find the recipes that I depend on the most. It’s also allowed me to collect lots of potential recipes and not be overwhelmed by them and instead use them and test them out on a regular basis.
Even if you don’t agree with me on the paper strategy and prefer to use some type of electronic format, I still think you could benefit by thinking in terms of First-String and Second-String recipes and dividing things into the two groups of Keepers and Maybe’s.
For most homemakers, the responsibility of cooking is an evolving journey. It’s pretty likely that your recipe box will keep expanding as the years go by and will reflect the different stages of your life. But if you set up your system with a Keepers and a Maybe’s type of mentality, you’ll be well on your way to staying organized no matter how your recipe collection evolves over time.
I do the same thing for my often used Keepers-they go into a recipe index box. My sometimes used recipes are in a folder binder, most of them tried. But the binder is so thick I can hardly fit it in the cupboard, so every now and then I go through them and toss. As you say, cooking is an evolving process. My untried recipes are thrown into a drawer until I make them, and then decide what to do with them. They are piling up! I like your basket idea.
Something about the basket makes it easier for me to look through my “Maybe” recipes more often, I think because they are a little bit more visible in the basket so I don’t forget about them.
I am totally old school, too! Paper all the way! But, I have changed from a recipe box to a recipe binder, since most recipes I print are on 81/2 by 11 inch printer paper. As you said, with paper copies you can jot down notes and suggestions to yourself to improve the recipe the next time you make it. After I’ve made the recipe a couple times and decide it is a keeper then I might print a new copy from the internet and neatly rewrite the changes I had scribbled on the working copy. Then I’ll place it in a plastic sheet protector and add it to my binder. Thanks for some additional ideas on how I can make my system more efficient.
Yup, being able to write notes on paper is so helpful! I agree that a lot of recipes in our collections now are on 8-1/2×11 paper because we print them off he internet. I can see why people find binders helpful.
This is totally awesome. I have bags of recipes that I have cut out from newspapers and mages, this is going to inspire me to get organized since I have nothing better to do. Thank you for posting this.
Those “Maybe” recipes can really accumulate! I hope you can make progress on the organizing 🙂