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Recipe Organizing & Storage Idea

How to Declutter your Recipe Box.

I have been decluttering lately. I have tackled all the hidden areas around my home where most clutter lurks… basement, garage, and attic, but I felt it was time to take on a space that is the most seen and lived in… my kitchen.

White kitchen cookware in pull-out cabinet shelves.

On my path to simplify and declutter, I also want to eat better…to get back to eating whole foods and less processed junk.  This is hard to do since eating healthy takes a lot of meal planning and preparation in advance.

Most everything has to be made from scratch.  This takes time out of an already busy schedule, but I want to focus on making it part of our lifestyle so organization is a must!

To make food prep and cooking a more enjoyable pastime, a good glass of wine helps as you chop. :-)  Jest aside, although this helps you feel like you are living in a Williams Sonoma catalog as you prepare a meal.

Preparation is the real key to making meal prep feel less daunting for someone who is not a “foodie” and also for sticking with it over a lifetime. Just like any DIY project, preparation leads to success.

Recipe-box-organizing process on kitchen table.

So I have been going through my kitchen and prepping it for whole food eating success.  I am organizing it to be 100% efficient.

Tossing out junk food, and condiments with a ton of unwanted additives. Sharp knives in easy reach, easy to find cookware, and tried-and-true recipes all in one place so when I am asked, “What’s for Dinner?”, I have a healthy answer or can find one in an instant.

Cook book and recipe box organizing marathon with big coffee mug on table.

One of the biggest parts of the job comes down to meal planning. I can’t just pull a frozen meal out of the freezer for dinner anymore.  I will have to make it.

One of my projects was to makeover my recipe box. I set up my kitchen table for the task. I have a lot of family recipes as well as ones that I have clipped from magazines or have gotten online.  Ed asked me why I was not making my new recipe file on my computer?

My answer…  I need a visual, something I can see and hold in my hand when looking for meal inspiration. As I went through my recipe box, I decided to not only organize it for healthy eating success, but to revive it, to make it the best recipe box ever.

My recipe box.  It is now my go-to box when I need to plan out for the week what I will make each night as well as make a weekly shopping list. I can then put them in this recipe frame for the week so I know what I am making.

How-to-keep-recipes-organized on a counter.

As you can see it is not filled.

Recipe box organizing into two sections

I added a foam core divider to the box so I can place newly clipped recipes I want to try in the back. If I make it and we like it, it is a winner and I will make a card for it. Otherwise the clipping will go into the trash. As I add more “winner” recipe cards, the divider will be pushed back to make room for the new recipe cards.

How I Made Over My Recipe Box

To help keep all of our favorite recipes in one handy place, I also added cards to the box as a cross-reference to recipes we enjoy in the cookbooks I have.

Cross referencing recipe card and cookbook.

TIP: I have a lot of cookbooks and have favorite recipes in each.  Instead of bookmarking or trying to remember what book the “Apple Crisp” recipe is in. I made up a card with the name of recipe, the category of food it belongs in, the cookbook name, and page number it is on in the cookbook. This way I only have to look in my recipe box to find the cross-reference to the cookbook. This will save me a lot of time in the kitchen. 

cookbook-and-recipe-card organizing supplies on table

I also cut down every magazine and printed out recipe I had and then taped the recipes to an index card.

Recipe cards on table

Since I am such a visual girl, I like to include the photo from the clipped recipe if there is one.

On some cards the printed recipe and photo didn’t fit. On these cards, I taped the photo on the card first, then taped the top of the recipe section so it becomes a flap and just needs to be lifted to see the photo. This helps keep the box nice and orderly.

white cardboard recipe box on table with white category tabs

I bought notebook divider tabs at the office supply store and cut them down to fit into the box to separate the categories. I also only had a few index cards that were made to fit in a box this size.

I looked everywhere to find more, but couldn’t find them. I ended up buying larger index cards and cut them to fit in the box using my paper cutter.

I am hoping this new way of organizing my recipes will make meal planning and prep easier as the weeks go by. Eventually using it will become habit and the joy of meal planning and prep should become less daunting.

How to do you organize your recipes?

Recipe cards and box on wood table. Graphic overlay that says Recipe Box Redux.

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36 Comments

  1. Hi!
    I was so happy to come across this as I’m doing a recipe reorganization for the very same reasons. I was sad though, to see it was paper-based and not electronically (what I need to do). I was wanted to create a file (non-Pinterest based) where I could cross-reference different recipes per type of meal (B, L, D) and if it was GF, DF, etc. Have you attempted this?
    Love the organization (and the Barefoot books), btw :)

    Jody

    1. Hi Jody – I have tried to go completely digital with my recipes, but I still like using a recipe box. I do have an app on my iPad for WW recipes that I keep on my kitchen counter, but that is it. I wish I had an idea for you on where you could find some digital recipe organizing ideas or inspiration. There must be something. If I come across anything, I will email you.

      1. I found something! Check out Airtable. It’s magical. It’s like Excel, but easier to use, and pretty.
        There are templates on there, and I used a couple of examples to eventually create my own. You can cross reference, organize or group in certain ways. It’s pretty cool.
        I still have my cookbooks and spare pages, but this helped me a lot., especially with my online recipes.
        If you ever want to talk more in detail what it can do, shoot me an email. :)

        1. Hi Jody – I am so happy for you that you found a program that you can use exactly as you want. I have seen Airtable and it is cool. In one of the blogger groups I am in, I know a few bloggers who use the program. They all love it and the color coordinating and image insertion that you can do. I will have to give it a look. Thanks for taking the time to tell me what you found.

  2. I just found your website and love your ideas! My recipes really need organizing but I’m overwhelmed by the task. I’ve eaten a whole food, mostly paleo/AIP diet for several years because of food allergies/intolerances. Because of this, most of my former recipes don’t get used. However, since they originated from special aunts or grandmothers, I don’t want to get rid of them. I’m considering making a separate box with the old recipes and a current collection with the recipes that I can use now. Any other suggestions are much appreciated. I hope to tackle this project soon :-)

  3. Kudos to you, Diane! What a labor of love. I’ve struggled with this ever since I started printing recipes from the computer. For a long time I used binders. It was easy to find a recipe and take it out. Then I would put it on the fridge and make the recipe. The hard part was taking the time to put the recipe back in the binder! A few years ago I found a large expando-file. It’s working perfectly for me! Like a recipe box on steroids! It’s actually not much bigger than a cookbook, but it’s super easy to use. I have to say though, the way I cook has changed now that I’m an empty nester. I just try to keep healthy ingredients on hand and mix them up in different ways. For example, we keep a big container of mixed greens on hand. A simple salad with added protein like grilled chicken or even canned tuna is surprisingly filling and yummy!

  4. I do mine electronically: Living Cookbook is my software of choice. I have 2 main files: LOVE IT and TRY IT As I find recipes on the internet (my most common source) I can do a “capture” from the website and the software will walk me through putting it where I want it in my TRY IT file. Once I make it- either we like it and it moves to LOVE IT (a simple 1-click process) or I delete it. The software allows me to attach a photo so that helps also. When my oldest daughter married, I printed out my entire LOVE IT collection and put it in a binder for her- they are all of her favorite childhood dishes as well! I like it a lot, as I can quickly move things around, add comments etc to the recipe and update it with changes as needed.

  5. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s the old Keep It Simple Sister! Rarely do we pull out a recipe for everyday meals. We have a ‘stash’ of cooked brown rice or whole grain pasta, beans (garbanzo/chick pea are my faves) and fresh veggies, in the fridge, from which we throw together meals. An addition of curry paste turns it into a quick Thai dish. Mexican seasoning and you can have “Make your own burritos”. The possibilities are endless. I have a dislike for ”gadgets”, but I am sold on the Cuisinart (aka Cousin Art) Griddler for putting veggies OVER THE TOP! I’ll never steam broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, green beans, etc again. I can’t even ‘go there’ on how great grilled onions (1/2” sliced) taste-they are the BOMB! Broccoli takes 8 min, onions up to 20, really not more time than steaming and quicker than roasting in an oven. Recipes come out for when we’re entertaining or when my husband is inspired to cook (1-2x a week). Your decision to eat healthy is a life change and takes time-not going to happen overnight. Anything you can do to incorporate it in your life (recipe file) is a right step. L’Chayyim

  6. Looks so organized and makes it so easy to find recipes. I have a box filled with recipes and I haven’t even attempted to sort it. I really should since it takes me such a long time to find which one I need. Thanks for sharing and inspiring motivation to get myself in an organized kitchen.

  7. I use the site ‘EatYourBooks.com’ to help me index my multitude of cookbooks. While the site does not include recipes, the premise is you add all of the cookbooks you own to your ‘shelf’ and then mark and comment on recipes contained therein. It creates a handy recipe index, much like your index cards. The great thing is that the site has indexed 800,000 cookbooks, blogs and magazines and adds to them constantly. Another friend just told me about another site ‘PlanToEat.com’ that helps you create a meal plan, grocery list and also will import recipes from the net using a url. I will be doing a bit more investigation on this one.

  8. I have two large barrister’s bookcases filled with cookbooks, and individual recipes go into binders. Generally I used all those items when I want something different or special occasion. I have a handful of recipes I use very frequently (but obviously can’t seem to commit to middle-aged memory!) which are stuck to the front of the fridge with a big magnetic clip. I cook 4-6 nights a week, plus muffins, snacks, etc., so I cook a lot. I have to admit though…mostly I find myself using my recipe box on allrecipes.com or my food board on pinterest to organize.

  9. Diane – you are the best!! I have been working on organizing my recipes forever. I do have binders which helps tremendously but your cross reference idea is perfect! And adding ingredients on the back will pare down the shopping. I also have recipes on file on my computer and would like to try using my new i Pad but I’m very visual too. I do love to cook and we try to eat healthy. Your suggestions will certainly simplify this and make life easier.
    Thanks for all your terrific ideas!

  10. I started a box like that a long time ago when we didn’t have kids and then the organization went south. I have to get motivated again by your pretty box! And a glass of wine while you chop certainly helps!!!

  11. I already know you are brilliant….. but you also have wonderful followers. I read each and every comment and I am so inspired to do the same as you…….. yes, you are still my favourite.

    What size is that box and how do I ask for it or search for it? I want to find it online, because it is very difficult to find in store…. just crazy the amount of business that fabric store does.

    And thank you Diane for the inspiration and how to do it.

    1. Hi Sheryll – Thanks – you are the best reader ever! The box is 7-1/4″ x 11″. I know Michaels and JoAnn Fabrics carries them. It was only a few dollars. I bought 4 of them. I am not sure what I will do with the others yet, but I will find a use.

      1. Thank you so much for the answer/rply. I need to do this so much. Weeding out all the stupid stuff I have like 15 copies of the same recipe is much needed for me to do. And I could not toss all my mom’s old newpaper clippings of recipes…….. but they may need to go also…. after the time consuming checks…. it is so difficult for me to just toss stuff that belonged to my parents. So I have put it off and put it off again. This one is on the top of the list now.

  12. Fun project – I love thinking about food :)

    I keep a binder of recipes I print out from the internet, and if it’s a winner, I copy it into one of my cute recipe binders I got at Hallmark. I have one for internet recipes and one for recipes that have sentimental value :)

    I like your idea of cross-referencing recipes from cookbooks!

  13. What a great idea to reference your cookbooks right in your recipe box! This inspires me to get some organizing done!

  14. Hi Diane,
    This is a subject that is close to my heart.
    My sister came up with this idea to make cook books for each of her grown girls who had already left home.
    Rhonda used binders. The recipes were all typed out, categorized, and a clear sleeve was put on.
    What I loved about her cookbooks; she took the recipes from our grandparents, mother, aunties,
    friends, and others. When Rhonda would type up a recipe perhaps from one of my great grandparents, grandmothers ( this was not so easy as there were no measurements, a little bit of this. A little bit of that, a handful of that )
    She would include a story. Pertaining to the recipe. Bringing together the the person who’s recipe it was and how it was related to it. This keeps the memory alive of our loved ones.
    For me I have three children, and it also wanted to scale down my recipes.
    So what I did was I bought these wooden binders, and made colleges on the covers. ( of all sorts of food )
    Because I had so many recipes I did have to buy a few for each of all of us.
    I also included in the recipe books many other bits of information.
    When ever I came upon of something of interest I would photo copy it or I down load it off the computer.
    Example. The types of apples that are available, and which are best for cooking, and which are best for eating.
    Or a photo of a cow and all the parts divided up. Detailing what they are. The best cuts ..,,,
    How to ice a cake,
    Substitutes, when you get stuck.
    To me it was kind of a journey as it is a legacy, to my children.
    There are recipes of mine as well.

  15. Where did you get the box? It’s a nice size. All of the recipe boxes I’ve found are way too small.

    1. Hi Jen –
      I bought the box at JoAnn Fabrics. I used a few old index cards I had that fit inside to make the recipe cards. I bought them years ago. I think they were made to go in boxes like this. I could not find that size anymore and ended up buying larger index cards at the dollar store. I cut them down to fit. I used my paper cutter.

  16. Diane, I’m a firm believer in cooking once and eating twice, or even three times! The second time might just be for my lunch, but that’s okay.

    I often plan for leftovers. Extra hamburgers on the grill will make a nice lunch, or go into the freezer for when I need something really quick….defrost cycle on the microwave really helps. Or double the green beans, or carrots…they reheat nicely. Or add them to a container in the freezer for a quickie soup when you have just a little roasted chicken left. All kinds of ways to make cook once-eat twice work for you. Great post, by the way.

  17. So interesting that you posted this! I read It Starts with Food last month and have changed the way our family eats! We are eating “real food” again and tossing much of the processed stuff. I am about to do this very thing- work through the recipe box and cookbooks looking for healthy recipes. I just ordered the book Well Fed and it has wonderful recipes! Years ago, I made up meal planning cards. The recipe is on one side and the list of ingredients is on the other side. These are so helpful!

  18. Fantastic job! I LOVE organizing! I am happy with my current method, but I’m looking to digitize so I can use my tablet in the kitchen. Anyone have software they would recommend for this? BTW anyone else having trouble typing comments to Diane. my keyboard seems to get a mind of its own when I try to type comments on this website.
    Crazy, huh?

  19. Most of my cooking is so easy/basic it really doesn’t require a recipe per se ;-) However the ones I do need to go to for prep etc. are put into a clear-sleeve binder. That way I’ve got the entire page (probably printed from food.com) on the sheet for reference.

    I too have started doing more cooking from scratch. I make up basic grocery shopping needs, (example: fruit) see what’s on sale and then buy what I think we’ll eat/use for that week. The recipes kinda just flow from what I’ve purchased. ;-) And as long as I have some of my “staples” , I can make up recipes off the top of my head. Sometimes it’s a win, other times not. But the fun is in the trying. The good ones will get repeated :-)

    I do like your recipe card file idea too for the same reason as you: Great way to organize :-)

  20. Good job on the organizing! I love the main ingredients suggestion. A friend who still has kids (college students) at home actually makes up t.v. style dinners from scratch. She found divided freezer-safe dishes and throws about a dozen of them into the freezer. She marks on the outside if it’s chicken, turkey, meatloaf, etc. While I’ve never tried one she swears by them.
    I love your site and read all the good news you send. Thanks a million!

  21. I also have a stack of index cards with menu ideas on them. On the back of the card are the ingredients needed to make that meal. It helps with quick planning. Eating whole foods are so good for you, but it is an adjustment because of the time it takes. Hang in there.

  22. Hi Diane,
    I do everything you’ve just done! Have done this for years, and it works for me. I’m a visual person, too. I also have listed on my laptop, all our favourite meals, under headings (chicken, beef, etc), although rarely am near my computer when I work out my meals.

    I sit down every second Thursday and do a fortnight meal plan/menu, then work out the grocery list from that. The menu is put up inside my pantry door. Each night, after dinner, I check to see what we’re having the next night, so I can defrost earlier if it’ll need marinading, or if it needs to be slow-cooked. I buy green groceries weekly.

    My next ‘great’ idea (chuckle) is to make a photo book of all my family’s favourite recipes, and give a copy to each of our 6 children. I’ve been taking photos for about 6 months, as I prepare meals. Hmmm….. must work harder on that!

    Cheers, Liz ( Australia).

    1. I created a cookbook of favorite family recipes and gave a copy to each of my daughters as well as other family members. Underneath the name of each recipe I put a little story or notation of holidays/beach vacations/special occasions when I made it, and what it means to our family…lots of memories here! When my grandson began his Junior year of college I gave him a copy – this was his first year in an apartment and he did a lot of the cooking for his roommates – he said one day his buddies sat down and picked up the cookbook and had so much fun reading all of the family memories and notes about the recipes….which of course thrilled this grandma! We add to the book as we find new favorites, and I also have a section in the back for recipes I want to try; if it turns out to be a “keeper” we move it to the proper category. This is all in a 3-ring 3-inch binder with plastic page protectors. So much fun to make, and this makes my meal planning super easy!

  23. Took me a long time (50+years) to come up with this same idea, but must admit it is quite efficient . Most of my food preparation is now from experience so recipes are most often used for ingredient quantities . It’s a much easier place!

    1. I’m envious Carmen! Sadly, some of our regular family meals, I’ve been making since the 1980s and STILL look at the recipe!

  24. I’m probably not the only one who would be in trouble if Pinterest goes away, am I? My old recipe box is languishing under lots of clutter behind the bottom doors of the kitchen hutch, and I’ve been hearing it call my name.

  25. I love your idea to make cards to cross reference to your cookbooks. Then the recipe box can really be a go-to spot when trying to figure out what’s for dinner. I also have a drawer full of clipped recipes that stay in a state of disarray because I just dread copying them over onto my ‘cute’ recipe cards. I’m going to follow your lead and just go with index cards and tape on my clippings.

    Can’t wait to declutter my recipe drawer! Thanks much.

  26. I have moved to a binder, well binders really, using those plastic sheet protector, with tabbed dividers for categories. And I started my blog to keep track of what I’ve made so I often reference the recipes I’ve written up online.

    You might consider adding the main ingredients to your cards for cookbook recipes. That way you could make your grocery list without having to get out the cookbook. I don’t list stuff I always have on hand, just the main ingredients or some odd ingredient I might not have on hand.