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5 Ways to Organize Your Recipes and Save Time Cooking

Whether you go digital or stick with paper, smart strategies for finding what you need

keepsake recipes listed on card in a small box
Mechelle Brooks/Getty Images

​​If chef Alison Cooper ever contemplates what she’d save from her home in a fire, the answer is easy.

​“Assuming people and pets are safe, one thing would be my recipe binder,” says Cooper, 52, author of The Sticky Kitchen food blog. ​

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The binder is a compilation of the greatest hits in her cooking repertoire that have been approved not only by Cooper but also by her husband and their three kids. Inside, she says, are printed recipes (and some cut out from magazines) complete with notes in the margins — all slipped into plastic sheet protectors. “I imagine one day my kids wanting copies of the binder for their own homes,” Cooper says. ​

Chances are you’ve got some favorite recipes lying around, too — perhaps crumpled up in a kitchen drawer, stuffed into a cookbook, or somewhere out there on the internet waiting for you to look them up every time you crave them. ​

Without an organized system, it can be a time waster to hunt for that family recipe passed down for the generations, or the online recipe for the perfect chili from a few months back. Here are a few ways to keep those cooking instructions more organized. ​

1. Make a recipe binder or family cookbook ​

When it comes to keeping physical copies of your favorite recipes organized, it’s hard to beat the ease of building a recipe binder. ​

Two-inch binders hold about 350 sheets of paper, while 4-inch binders can fit as many as 800, so choose your size accordingly. Then start collecting.

​“I usually use a three-ring hole punch and add the sheet of paper directly into the bindings,” says Kelsey Riley, founder of plant-based food blog Planted in the Kitchen. For smaller sheets of paper with recipes on them or recipe cards, she suggests buying clear plastic sheet protectors and sliding the recipes into them before adding them to the binder. ​

It’s a good idea to use plastic sheet protectors on all your binder recipes so they can be easily wiped off if Nonna’s spaghetti sauce splatters or that bottle of vanilla tips over. ​

Tabs, with a table of contents to remind you of what each section holds, are useful for keeping recipes organized within different sections of the binder. And you can consider organizing your recipes by courses (appetizer, soups, entrees, desserts, holiday dishes, for example) or by seasons, suggests avid home cook Ashley Schuering, who pens the Confessions of a Grocery Store Addict blog. ​

For keeping track of your go-to recipes in traditional recipe or cookbooks, Schuering says she uses Post-it notes to make it easy to quickly filter through top recipes she wants to try or to keep track of recipes for a certain gathering or season. ​

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2. Print your own cookbook​

A binder may work for your home kitchen, but replicating it can be time-consuming. If you want to share a collection of family recipes with multiple people, consider using a digital photo printing service like VistaPrint, Snapfish or Shutterfly to create a personalized recipe book.​

The online services make it easy to cut and paste recipes, upload photos and notes about your memories, and surprise family members and friends with a custom gift. ​

3. Online, Pinterest reigns supreme

The free app, which calls itself a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home and style inspiration, and more,” first went live in 2010 and today has over 430 million monthly active users. ​

If you’re looking to keep your online recipes together in one easy-to-navigate and visually appealing spot, Pinterest works well. In fact, almost all recipes you’ll find on blogs and other digital sources have a “Pin It” button, making it easy to just click and file them away — whether you plan to try them out now or later. ​

“My number one way to keep my digital recipes organized is to use Pinterest,” says Gwen Leron of vegan and gluten-free recipe blog Delightful Adventures. When she finds a recipe she likes, she “pins” (or saves) it to the “Recipes to Try” board she created. She has created several other boards that she categorizes by type (dinner, breakfast, dessert) to organize her recipes. ​

“When it’s time to figure out what’s for dinner or time to satisfy a sweet craving through baking, I’ll go to the appropriate board and pick something,” Leron says. If she loves a recipe, she’ll move it to another board for recipes she’s tried and wants to reference again — and if she doesn’t plan to cook a recipe again, she just “unpins” it, so it’s removed from her collection.

​Keep in mind that in order for a recipe to be pinned to your Pinterest board, it must contain a photo or video.

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4. Try other digital tools and tricks 

An old-fashioned spreadsheet (Excel does the trick) is another way to keep things organized on your computer, says Atlanta-based food blogger Aysegul Sanford. Just be sure you have everything backed up to the cloud or someplace else so you don’t risk losing your entire cooking repertoire in a catastrophic technological fail.​

“Pretty filing with handwritten instructions can be aesthetically pleasing, but it can quickly become cumbersome when you don’t have a rigid system,” Sanford says. So instead of keeping a hard copy of recipes, she adds all her recipes to a spreadsheet with different tabs for overarching categories that can then be narrowed down by row and column headers. ​

“I always hyperlink any recipe to the online version so that my sheet can stay clutter-free while having easy access to all the recipes I have saved,” she says. ​

5. Online fee-based services available 

woman following a recipe listed on a tablet
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The New York Times offers a subscription service, NYT Cooking, that acts as a digital cookbook and which you can access for a fee ($1.25 per week). It allows you to access, save and organize not only more than 19,000 New York Times recipes but your own favorites from around the web, too. ​

Another free and fee-based app (the fee is for more options for storage and sharing) that some food bloggers and home chefs swear by is Paprika Recipe Manager, which you can use for downloading online recipes as well as for manually inputting your own recipes to save. You can even use a scanner and PDF reader to upload cookbook and magazine recipes you’d rather not manually enter into the Paprika app. ​

Beyond being functional for each recipe — including the ability to convert from imperial to metric measurements, check off ingredients and steps, and even use built-in timers — it can help organize your cooking, says Amy Oztan of the blog AmyEverAfter. ​

“I can search all of my recipes for certain ingredients that I want to use up, make shopping lists, and plan meals on a calendar,” she says. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”​

Isn’t it time you got more organized in the kitchen too?​