Simplify Menu Planning with Recipe Binders

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I cut my weekly menu planning time by at least 15 minutes after I started using recipe binders. Before then, I had to flip through an accordion file to find the recipes I wanted, which took forever because they were all jumbled together. Other people prefer to use a computer database or a recipe card box. Here are the pros and cons of each method, and tips for building your own recipe binder.

Recipe Organization Options

No matter how your organize them, any method is better than no method. My binder only contains recipes that aren’t in my limited selection of cookbooks. However, my menu book contains a list of everything I’ve made for the last couple of years. One look at that list is all I need to remember whether a particular recipe is in the recipe binder or the cookbooks.

Pros and Cons of Recipe Binders

Recipe binders are my preferred storage method because they’re cheap and easy to use. Here are some other pros and cons:

Pros:

  • A complete recipe usually fits on one page
  • No concerns about spills or messy fingers
  • Easy to reorganize and edit
  • Recipes can be printed from the computer
  • Can fit over 100 recipes in each binder

Cons:

  • Binders fill up quickly
  • Full binders are hard to add more recipes to
  • Full binders are heavy

Pros and Cons of Recipe Boxes

I’ve never tried a recipe box, but I do have a few recipe cards that I will probably throw out soon. Here are the pros and cons of this option:

Pros:

  • Save space in the kitchen
  • Easy to reorganize or edit
  • Cards can stand up inside a cookbook holder

Cons:

  • Cards must typically be handwritten
  • Kitchen messes may ruin the cards
  • A complete recipe may require multiple cards
  • Boxes are small and you may need several for your collection

Pros and Cons of Recipe Databases

One of my friends likes to keep all of her recipes on her laptop. I can see several advantages and disadvantages to this method:

Pros:

  • Unlimited storage space
  • Can easily change font size for easy reading
  • Can add recipes with a quick internet search
  • Can search for recipes quickly
  • No cookbook holder required

Cons:

  • Kitchen spills or messy fingers could ruin the computer
  • May require recipe software to keep recipes organized
  • May have to type some recipes into the computer

How to Make a Recipe Binder

If you’ve decided a recipe binder is right for you, here’s how I created mine. You can tailor yours to your needs.

1. Buy binders, dividers, and sheet protectors. I use 3-inch binders from Costco ($12 for 4) and a large box of clear, heavy-gauge sheet protectors ($18 for 200).

2. Choose your recipe categories and fill out the divider tabs. I chose:

  • Breakfast
  • Cakes/Pies
  • Cookies
  • Desserts
  • Fruit
  • Drinks
  • Breads
  • Appetizers
  • Salads
  • Sauces/Dressings
  • Breakfast
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Pasta (Meatless)
  • Pork and Other Meats
  • Poultry
  • Side Dishes

3. Divide the tabs among your binders in a way that makes sense to you. I put my main dish tabs, salads, sauces, and side dishes in one binder, and everything else in the other tab. Organize the tabs alphabetically in each binder.

4. Pull out recipes from all your other storage methods. As you slip them into sheet protectors, throw out recipes you’ve never made and will probably never make. For multi-page recipes, put them back-to-back in the sheet protector so you can flip it around while cooking.

5. Pile each type of recipe together. When your sorting is complete, insert the piles into the binders.

6. Each week, remove the recipes you plan to cook and insert the recipes you used last week. I put the most recent recipes on top of each section to ensure a good rotation. As you use them, write notes on the recipe sheets about what you liked or didn’t like and how you modified them.

7. If you make a recipe and hate it, take it out of the binder!

How to Add Recipes to the Binder

Now that I have the binder, I’m constantly adding recipes to it. I have three preferred methods:

  • Print it out after watching it on the Food Network or another cooking channel.
  • Type recipes out of cookbooks borrowed from the library. Typing saves paper and ink vs. copying, and lets me control the font.
  • Print recipes found on the internet when I feel like trying something new or use Cheffy or AllRecipes to find ways to use up an ingredient from another recipe.

Once you find a way to organize your recipes quickly and easily, you won’t need to buy as many cookbooks. I’ve bought just one cookbook in the last year, after I realized I’d marked more than half the book for typing or copying.

What’s your favorite recipe organization method? If you have a blog, post a photo of your method and link to it in the comments.

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