How to Organize Recipes

Antique recipe box with a bread recipe card pulled up.
Organize recipes so you can find them quickly and easily.
©2010 Jupiterimages Corporation

It's that time of year again -- time to make the pumpkin cheesecake everyone in the family always asks about. It's the yummiest, creamiest dessert you've ever made and one, after seven Thanksgivings and countless rave reviews, which you almost know by heart.

However, there's one little setback: You don't quite know it by heart. Did the ingredient list call for three eggs, or just three egg yolks? Was it 40 or 50 minutes in the oven? You decide that you need to consult the recipe so you pull your recipe box -- the same one your grandmother used -- down from its shelf and begin rifling through its contents. Hundreds of recipe cards spill onto the counter, but that's only the beginning of the mess. Some recipes aren't even on cards. Instead, they're folded printouts of recipes you found online and ones you cut out of magazines and off chocolate chip packages. You sigh, and start to look through the pile of recipes for the one you need. One thing becomes very clear to you: You desperately need a way to organize your recipes.


If the above occurrence sounds all too familiar, you've come to the right place. In this article, you'll learn about options for organizing your printed recipes, as well as some new ways to organize recipes on your computer or even online [source: Resinger, Baldwin].

Before the era of online recipe filing, there were just good old written and printed recipes. Read on to learn more about different methods of organizing such recipes.


Methods for Organizing Printed Recipes

Nearly everyone has recipes on recipe cards or index cards, so begin with those. First, you'll need to make a list of categories into which your recipes fall. For example, you may use broad categories such as "breads," "desserts," "main dishes," "vegetables," "soups" and "salads." Then sort your recipes into piles corresponding to those categories.

If you're having trouble deciding on appropriate categories for your collection, start by sorting your recipes into piles of similar recipes. Look through all the recipes in a pile and you'll see that category names start to suggest themselves. Another idea is to consult a cookbook to see how it's divided [source: Henneman].


If one pile gets too large, you can create subcategories to make finding what you need easier. For example, the category "main dishes" may then be divided into "vegetarian" and "non-vegetarian," while the category "desserts" may include subcategories like "pies," "cakes" and "cookies."

Another thing you can do as you sort your recipes is weed out those you'll never use. It may be hard -- after all, you did like the recipe enough to clip it out of that magazine -- but there are sure to be some recipes that you know you'll never make. As you look at each one, ask yourself "Is there any chance I'll ever make this dish?" If the answer is "no," then toss it in the trash [source: Grace].

Now that you've sorted through your printed recipes, you need to think about what to store them in. Your old recipe box may need to be replaced with something a little more modern. Read on for some ideas.


Storing Printed Recipes

You have your recipes neatly sorted into categories and you're ready to think about how to store them. First, consider the budget option: reusing your old recipe box. Perhaps you've thrown enough recipes away that you can reasonably put the remaining ones back into their familiar home. This option is inexpensive and the materials you need are already in your home. Keep in mind, however, that recipe boxes are often small and not accommodating to irregularly sized recipes.

If the recipe box is too small but you like that basic idea, you may want to try an accordion-style file. These are available at any office-supply store and can be used just like your recipe box -- except they hold recipes both large and small [source: Resinger].


Another option is to purchase an inexpensive photo album to store your recipes. You can use the type with sticky pages, the type with plastic pockets or, if you buy a variety of photo pages that will fit into the same album, you can use a combination of different page types [source: Resinger].

A related option is the three-ring binder. You can punch holes in recipes you've printed on computer paper and even add whole pages from magazines. In addition, you can buy refill pages for scrapbooking or photo albums and use these as well. Overall, this is a versatile option, but you may need to visit a craft store for some of the supplies [source: Resinger].

Finally, you can simply attach your recipes to the pages of a notebook or scrapbook. The advantage of this method is that you can write comments and alterations on the page next to recipes [source: Henneman]

Once you've decided on your storage option, make sure you use some sort of tabs or markers to divide the sections according to your categories. Then have fun loading your recipes!

Now that you have some ideas about organizing printed recipes, it's time to think about digital recipes, ones you found online or that were sent to you via e-mail. Of course, you could just print them out and place them in your recipe binder or file, but there are other options. Read on to learn more.


Methods for Organizing Digital Recipes

Like printed recipes, having a category-based organizational structure for your digital recipes will help you locate them a little easier. And, like your printed recipe collection, applying a little reality check to your digital recipes -- that is, dumping the ones you'll never try -- is probably a good idea. But your digitally stored recipes don't need to be quite as organized.

In fact, one of the benefits of storing your recipes on your computer is that they can be less organized than printed recipes and still be useful. Want to find that African red bean and peanut stew recipe you downloaded last year from some now-forgotten recipe Web site? As long as it's somewhere on your computer, you can just do a quick search. If you prefer to store your recipes online, you can do a similar thing with a program like Google Docs. Just upload your recipe files to Google Docs, and use the Search Docs function to find the recipe you want [source: Gourmet File].


It may sound like organizing digital recipes requires no organization at all, and while that may appeal to some, others prefer a higher level of organization. Both organizing your recipes into named folders on your computer and using a simple online option like Google Docs to do the same, are free options that may be just what you need.

There are also a number of software and online options you can consider. Each one has its own benefits, such as the ability to adjust the number of servings a recipe makes and generate menus and shopping lists [source: Baldwin].

But first, you can narrow down your options by deciding if you'd like to have the recipes stored on your own computer or online. For the benefits of each method, read on.


Storing Digital Recipes

When it comes to storing your digital recipes, you have two main options: store the recipes on your own computer using folders or recipe organizing software, or store them online using an e-mail account, a service like Google Docs or an online recipe service.

If you store them on your computer, your recipes will be available to you as long as you're near it. The advantage of this is that even if you aren't online or can't connect to the Internet, you can still get to your recipes. If you store them on a laptop, your recipes become more portable, an advantage if you visit relatives for the holidays and you'd like to make your traditional stuffing. And storing them on your computer keeps them private -- if you have any "secret" recipes you don't want others to know, this is the way to go [source: Resinger, Baldwin].


The other option is to store your recipes online. If the Google Docs approach doesn't appeal to you, there are a number of online recipe boxes that are inexpensive or free. If you have a reliable Internet connection, this method has some advantages. For one, you can access your recipes from any computer or smartphone. Also, you can easily share recipes with others in your online community [source: One tsp.].

Both software and online options have features you may want to take advantage of, including shopping-list generation, menu-planning features and the ability to produce your own custom-made cookbooks to give as gifts. You may want to consider storing your recipes both online and on your computer -- this would give you nearly unlimited access to your recipes.

Keep reading for examples of specific recipe-organizing software programs and their features.


Recipe Organizing Software

While simple folders and files may be sufficient for some people, others may want to explore the variety of software options available. Many software providers have an online presence that allows you to not only find new recipes, but also to search for specific recipes or manage grocery lists. There are many software options available, but here's a short list to get you started:

  • BigOven - BigOven (Windows, iPhone, Palm OS) has both a software product and an online presence. With the software to manage and organize your own recipes, you can also log in to save and share recipes, make grocery lists and create meal plans [source: BigOven].
  • TheRecipeManager - TheRecipeManager (Windows, Mac) offers many of the same features as other programs, such as recipe sharing and meal planning, as well as a way to track your blood sugar, blood pressure, weight and exercise [source: TheRecipeManager].
  • Cook'n - Cook'n (Windows) is a software product that, in addition to basic recipe organization, can assist in meal planning by adjusting the serving size of recipes, finding the nutritional value of recipes and creating shopping lists [source: Cook'n].

For more information on how to organize you recipes, both print and digital, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Baldwin, Deborah. "Organize Your Recipes on Your Computer." Real Simple. (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Cook'n. (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Delicious. "Learn More about Delicious." (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Epicurious. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • Gourmet File. "How to Organize Your Recipes." (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Henneman, Alice. "Organizing Your Recipe Collection." University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cook It Quick! (Accessed 1/09/10)
  • One tsp. (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Parent Hacks. "Gmail as a recipe organizer." Accessed 1/10/10)
  • RecipeThing. (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • Resinger, Monica. "Get Your Recipes Together." Menus For Moms. (Accessed 1/10/10)
  • The Recipe Manager. (Accessed 1/10/10)