What to Cook: 5 Steps to Create a Healthy Recipe Collection

You have an overloaded bookshelf of cookbooks. You’ve torn hundreds of recipes out of magazines. You spend hours bookmarking and pinning recipes online. Yet when it comes to meal time, you don’t know what to cook. Are you a master recipe collector, but find yourself falling flat when it comes to execution in the kitchen? Stop collecting recipes you’ll never cook and turn the ones you love into heart healthy favorites. Use this 5-step process to turn your recipe collection into a personalized healthy cookbook you’ll actually use and can build upon for years to come!

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1. Become Aware of your Dining Habits

The perfect recipe collection should be tailored to your lifestyle. Track your cooking and dining habits for one week to find out what types of recipes your collection needs. It’s important to track what you actually do, not what you aspire to do. Self-awareness is key here. Your eating pattern is unique to you – why you eat the way you do reflects years of habits and preferences. Recognizing your personal eating pattern is an important first step in making healthy change.

Take the What Kind of Eater Are You? quiz below to help you determine the total number of recipes you should have in your personal recipe collection, and what percentage of those recipes should come from each category. For example, you shouldn’t have 20 Thanksgiving Day dinner recipes in your collection if you never cook for Thanksgiving…

How to become aware of your eating habits so you know what to cook

Here’s an example:

Breakfast

QuestionAnswerNotes
Cook Breakfast at Home?2 days/weekI make hot breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings only
Take Homemade Breakfast to Work?5 days/weekI take a smoothie to work M-F
Eat Out for Breakfast?0 days/weekAlmost never, unless a friend wants to meet for brunch

Lunch

QuestionAnswerNotes
Cook Lunch at Home?0 days/weekI never cook lunch at home
Take Lunch to Work?5 days/weekI take lunch to work M-F
Eat Out for Lunch?2 days/weekOnly on Saturday and Sunday

Dinner

QuestionAnswerNotes
Cook Dinner at Home?5 days/weekI typically cook quick weeknight meals Sunday through Thursday
Eat Out for Dinner?2 days/weekAlways on Friday and Saturday nights

Snacks and Desserts

QuestionAnswerNotes
Make a Homemade Snack?1 day/weekRarely, but sometimes a hummus or snack mix recipe will inspire me
Eat Pre-Packaged Snacks?5 days/weekI take pre-packaged snacks to work with me M-F
Cook Dessert?0 days/weekI’m not a big baker, so homemade dessert is pretty rare

Special Occasions

QuestionAnswerNotes
Cook a Holiday Recipe?12 days/yearI can usually find a special occasion to celebrate with food once a month
Cook for a Cocktail Party?0 days/yearLove the idea of hosting parties, but it doesn’t happen too often
Cook a Group Meal?0 days/weekI don’t regularly have big groups of family or friends over for a meal

Tally it Up

Tally up all of the meals in each category (EXCEPT the days you are dining out – you aren’t cooking those days):

CategoryAdd & MultiplyNotes
Breakfast2 + 5 = 7, and
7 x 4 = 28

I need 28 breakfast recipes; mostly smoothies, some hot weekend breakfasts

Lunch0 + 5 = 5, and
5 x 4 = 20
I need 20 lunch recipes; things I can take to work
Dinner5 x 4 = 20I need 20 dinner recipes; specifically quick weeknight meal ideas
Snacks and Desserts1 + 0 = 1, and
1 x 4 = 4
I only need 4 recipes here; all for homemade snacks
Special Occasions12 + 0 + 0 = 12, and
12 x 1 = 12
I need 12 recipes for special occasions; specially those that reflect a variety of holidays throughout the year
GRAND TOTAL84This is the total number of recipes I should have in my recipe collection to start

Analyze the Results

Take the information you collected above and further analyze the results to get a clear picture of what percentage of your grand total should be coming from each category.

Pie chart with percentages of each type of recipe your collection should include

2. Identify Heart Healthy Recipes

Now that you know which recipe categories to focus on and how many recipes in each category you need to match your lifestyle, it’s time to start adding recipes. But don’t just start adding your old pile of recipes. Use these heart healthy eating guidelines and the following questionnaire to analyze each recipe before adding it to your collection.

Grab a favorite recipe and ask yourself the following questions:

Questionnaire flowchart to identify if a recipe is healthy or not and what to cook

3. Build a Recipe Binder

Create one or several recipe binders with defined sections that reflect the categories identified in Step 1. Make notes on each recipe with any important substitutions identified in Step 2. Put each recipe in its own sheet protector before adding to the binder (this will protect them while you’re cooking). You can even number each recipe for easy reference (label the sheet protector, not the recipe, so you can rearrange easily – I like these sticker labels) and include a folder pocket at the beginning of each section to store recipes you want try in the future before making them a permanent part to your collection.

Group of binders with favorite recipes stored in kitchen

4. Add to Your Collection

Each category should have at least the number of recipes identified in Step 1. For categories that don’t have enough recipes, find new recipes that fit the criteria in Step 2. Where should you look for new healthy recipes?

  • Cookbooks: Check out this list or revisit your old books for inspiration. When you find a recipe, scan, print and add it to your binder. Donate the cookbook once you’ve copied everything you need from it.
  • Online sources: Visit online recipe blogs and Pinterest boards for new ideas. Print recipes that interest you and add them to your binder.
  • Magazines: Page through your favorite healthy cooking magazine and tear out pages with recipes that interest you.
  • Friends/Family: Ask your friends and family for their favorite healthy recipes.

5. Get Cooking

Keep your recipe binder within arm’s reach in the kitchen. Use the page numbers to help you meal plan each week (identifying what you want to make and creating a detailed grocery list based on the ingredients needed). Experiment with new recipes, making healthy substitutions where possible, to create a well-rounded collection of recipes that you love.

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