How to Organize Recipes and Cookbooks

You've got recipe boxes full of family favorites, folders of torn out pages from food magazines, newspaper clippings and a computer of downloaded recipes from your go-to cooking site.

How can you make sense of it all? While there is creative satisfaction in thumbing through your collection--not to mention the emotional tug from seeing Grandma's handwriting on her famous cookie recipe--it's time to bring this conglomeration to order.

Preserve your handwritten family recipes, which may become heirlooms for generations to come, by laminating them. This is an inexpensive way to protect against drips and torn edges.

Sort all your recipes into categories, such as appetizers, salads, side dishes, meat, fish, poultry, pasta, vegetarian entre'es and desserts. Throw out any recipes that are incomplete or illegible or that have lost their appeal.

Invest in large three-ring binders that will fit your recipes. Insert subject dividers labeled with your categories and plastic page protectors that will hold your recipes (two per page, one for the front and one for the back).

Refine the categories in your recipe binders according to how you cook: For example, if you're vegetarian there's no need for a meat section. If you've got a sweet tooth, divide your dessert recipes into cookies, cakes, pies and tarts. If you entertain, make a section for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Tackle your recipe cards: Instead of jamming them into a card file, add them to your binder. Get clear page inserts that accommodate index cards (these will fit standard-size recipe cards) or use double-sided tape to attach cards to a piece of paper, then slide the paper into a page protector and add it to your folder.

Digitize your collection with recipe software if you have the time and energy. You'll need to input all your recipes by hand (unless you already have some saved to your computer), but you'll be able to easily search your collection, export shopping lists, create weekly menus and run nutritional analysis. Check out programs such as Cook's Palate (cookspalate.com), LivingCookbook.com and AccuChef.com.

Clean up your cookbooks. Arrange them by topic (Italian, soups, desserts) instead of by author or title. Donate the books you don't use. When you try new recipes, mark the book with notes ("add olive oil last" or "too dry") that will help you in the future. See 51 Organize Your Bookshelves.

Tips

  • As an alternative to the three-ring binder, use photo albums with self-adhesive pages to store your recipes. The downside is they're slightly more expensive than binders and typically won't hold as many recipes. An accordion file will hold plenty of recipes, but it can get messy and bulky.
  • Store a few of the reference cookbooks you use most often (The Joy of Cooking, for example, or The New Basics) on a shelf in your kitchen. If you're short on space, tuck away the rest of your cookbooks in a den or bookcase for the next time you need to brainstorm or research recipes.
  • If you don't have a laminator, use plastic sandwich bags to seal away recipe cards.