One step closer to making meal planning easier.

A few years back I read an article in Real Simple magazine about taking all your favorite recipes and creating a recipe binder so everything would be in one place. It was the ultimate 'aha' moment for me. I loved it and immediately started my recipe binder project. Over the years, I've added many recipes so the binder was quite large and unwieldy. I also got lazy and didn't put them in the clear sleeves and just stuck them in the front, which made it difficult to find what I was looking for. It just wasn't serving the purpose any longer. I needed an intervention.

I recently finished transferring all the recipes into smaller, more manageable binders that sorts the recipes based on main ingredient (chicken, beef, seafood, pasta, etc.) and I feel so much more organized. Here's how I did it...

What I bought...
  • Four cheapie 1 1/2" binders from Staples ($.79/ea)
  • A box of 100 clear sleeves (3-hole punched) ($12)
  • A four-pack of dividers (5-tab), one set for each binder ($5)
What I had...
  • Shipping labels
I started by brainstorming the types of food my families eat the most and left more room for more recipes in those binders. We eat a lot of chicken, so I knew I'd need a good amount of space for those recipes. I logically made groupings of what I thought I'd use together, where it made sense to do so. I made the following tabs into four binders...

  1. Breakfast, Appetizers, Desserts, Breads
  2. Salads, Soups, Lunches, Kid-Friendly, Snacks
  3. Chicken, Seafood, Pasta
  4. Beef, Pork, Quick Favorites, Vegetables, Side Dishes
There was a method to my madness in putting certain recipes in the same binder, but you need to do what works for you and your family. For example, I put vegetables and side dishes in the same binders as quick favorites so I wouldn't need to pull out two binders as frequently (although they are slim).

I used existing printing labels to print labels for each binder (as you can tell from the pictures - a bit of cut & pasting). It was important I could see what categories where in which binder from the spine. You could also use binders with customizable spines, but I didn't want the spend $5 a piece on them when I could make pretty versions of them at home.

Then I began transferring all my recipes from my overflowing, unorganized recipe binder into the corresponding section. It took me about an hour. If you don't have existing recipes printed out already, then just start from scratch. If you come across recipes in a magazine, tear it out (or print out from my personal fave - the online collection at www.allrecipes.com) and plop it in the clear sleeve in the proper section in your binder. After a short while, you'll have an organized collection of go-to recipes for under $25 when you're wondering...What's for dinner?

Be sure to pull a recipe from your collection if you try it out and it doesn't make your repeat list. This will keep your collection manageable moving forward.

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