How To Categorize Recipes

Organize In a way that makes sense to you

Have you ever tried to find a recipe that you know you have but can’t remember where you put it? Most people get recipes from a variety of sources such as magazines, the internet, books, hand-me-downs, etc. Having a system for you to save and organize your recipes is not only important for your sanity, it also saves a whole lot of time and money.  If you are a very organized person, then this probably does not apply to you, in which case, I am jealous, but if you, like me are somewhat deficient in organizational skills then maybe you can empathize and understand my pain. I used to have a random combination of recipe categorizing systems like for example, some recipes were saved as word documents, others on Evernote and maybe others in a notebook or a 4×6 wood recipe box. This system didn’t work for me because many times I could not remember where a certain recipe was, making meal planning a dreadful time of the week. No matter how hard I tried though, I just couldn’t become “friends” with digital recipe filing systems. I just don’t like not having paper, which is funny because you would think that becoming clutter-free would be part of the goal. Not for me! I love touching pages, books, paper and I also don’t like the idea of relying on a third party to hold such an important part of my daily life. I’ve invested sweat and tears into these recipes, trial and error, so the idea of losing them makes me anxious. So, the burning question was: How could I organize all my recipes in one place? Having all recipes in one place is ideal, however, different things work for different people. In my case,  I do realize though, the convenience of finding recipes online instead of buying a ton of cookbooks, therefore now I use a hybrid system where I do my recipe discovery online, store them on Pinterest or keep them bookmarked until the recipes has proven to be a success with my family, at which point, I handwrite it on a cute recipe card and transition it to my recipe card box with dividers. My recipe box only holds solid gold, the all-time favorites, the best of the best. My idea is to create a keepsake to pass them down as a little heirloom to my children with my messy handwriting, stains and all. I feel like they would cherish a little piece of their mom when I’m no longer here. Okay, Call me sentimental!

Known methods

There are as many organizing methods as there are personalities. Just because someone else has 200 categories and subcategories all stored neatly on an app on her iPhone, it doesn’t mean you need to feel bad about your less than nifty, streamlined, high-tech ways. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that YOU can find your recipes when you need them, and don’t lose the ones that you have worked so hard to find and test. By organizing your recipes, you can save time and money and avoid the dreaded pre-grocery shopping list when you have no idea what to cook because your recipes are all over the place.

  • A recipe box – I like that it doubles as a piece of kitchen décor as well as a keepsake.  it’s tangible and it’s almost like a little time capsule that I can pass down to my children and grandchildren. Perfect for people who love retro, vintage, old-fashioned stuff. If you decide on this method, it may be important to find a quality recipe box. A lot of the ones available are junky and won’t last a year never mind until the next generation. Here is a suggestion:
Gorgeous Acacia Wood Recipe Box with Cards and Dividers
  • A recipe binder – One advantage of this method is being able to add sections or categories with ease as well as protecting the recipes with clear sleeves. I personally don’t like this method because the binders tend to get bulky and to me aren’t aesthetically pleasing. However, some people really love this method. Here is a suggestion:
Recipe Binder
  • Sticky notes on recipe books – Some people have tons of cookbooks that they have become attached to and use color coded sticky notes on the tried and tested favorites. They go through the books every so often because they love the tactile and visual experience. Also, the books are part of their home décor.
  • Notebooks – I have seen some people who simply handwrite their recipes in a notebook with no categorization. They sort of memorize where they are and have become so familiar with the contents that they can find a recipe with their eyes closed. Some recipe journals come with templates. Hey, if it works for you, do it! Here is a suggestion:
Recipe journal from Peter Pauper Press
  • Online – Storing recipes online is by far the most popular way nowadays. Not everybody wants to handwrite on paper or cards. They enjoy the convenience of having access to their recipes from any device at any time. Besides Paprika mentioned above and Evernote,, Pinterest and are good sources as well. You can also just save them in word documents in your own folder on your desktop. If you don’t have a well-honed system that you have decided on intentionally, be prepared to constantly lose recipes because you cannot remember where in cyberspace they are.
  • Filing cabinet- Now here’s a really archaic one, but I have seen this one too. A small filing cabinet with folders per category, with either printed recipes or torn magazine pages. Mostly people started this method pre-internet years and have decided not to fix what isn’t broken. I would probably use an organizer box like this one:
Collapsible filing box

For those who prefer using a digital method, there is an app called Paprika that I hear is fantastic and has a bunch of features like creating shopping lists from your recipes, double, half or combine ingredients and sync across devices. There is a cost to it, nevertheless people say it’s worth it.  I might give it a shot someday to replace my current digital methods. The important thing is once you decide on a method, try to stick to it in order to avoid being all over the place again. Here are some methods used to organize recipes:

Basic Categories

Once you have settled on a method, the next thing is to decide the categories that make sense to you. Everybody thinks differently, so what makes sense to me might seem too broad to you, for example. Part of the reason why I keep my categories broad is because I use a manual, handwritten method that I started years ago, when my grandmother passed her recipes down to me and I bought myself a wooden recipe box to start a collection. I personally do not like breaking down categories into too many subcategories, I prefer to keep it broad and simple. For example:

  • Appetizers
  • Breakfast
  • Entrees
  • Beverages
  • Soups & Salads
  • Desserts
  • Vegetables
  • Breads
  • Kid’s Lunch Box

Expanded Categories

There are literally hundreds of ways to categorize recipes, it really depends on how you think and your level of organization. Here are some ideas:

  • By type of meal: breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner or snacks, etc.
  • By type of meal course or type of dish: appetizer, main course, soup, salad, dessert, etc.
  • By primary ingredient: chicken, fish, eggs, beef, shrimp, quinoa, etc.
  • By dietary restrictions: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, vegan, keto, etc.
  • By Holiday: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Chinese New Year, Passover, etc.
  • By total time to prepare: 15 min, 30 min, 45 min, 1 hour, etc.
  • By Status: untested, testing, favorites.
  • By method of cooking:  grill, stove, oven, slow cooker, Instant Pot, Air Fryer, etc.
  • By Source: grandmother, friends, Rachel Ray, Julia Childs or Epicurious.
  • By Country: Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Puerto Rican, etc.
  • By Preparation method: grilled, fried, baked, sautéed, rotisserie, etc.
  • By family member: dad’s favorite, mom’s favorite, picky eaters, etc.
  • By day of the week: Meatless Monday’s, easy weekdays, Friday nights, etc.
  • By seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.

Create a Narrative Through Recipes

The recipes that you and your family hold dear, aren’t simply lists and instructions, they also happen to be memories. Organize them in a way that tells a story about you and your family.

  • By range of years: 70’s, 80’s, 90’s
  • By generation: great-grandma, grandma, mom.
  • By theme: sick day favorites, potluck favorites, entertaining recipes, 3-ingredient recipes, etc.

The whole point of saving and categorizing recipes is to have them at our fingertips whenever you need them. Some upfront effort is required in for your system to work, but it is well worth the time and energy. There is a very important additional benefit to saving and categorizing recipes and it’s to preserve culinary knowledge that has been handed down through generations, in other words, recording your family food history will bring back beautiful memories for some, and for others it can be a glimpse of who their family was before they were born. Through recipes, and the notes you write on them, you can build a bond through which your family can learn who you are even after you are gone, keep ancestry alive and evoke vivid childhood memories.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means, that at no cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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