How often do you sit down to a home-cooked meal? According to a 2020 survey by ReportLinker, 50% of all Americans eat three to six home-cooked meals per week. And home cooking is the preferred meal prep method for a whopping 98% of us.
Though ReportLinker doesn’t delve into the specifics of Americans’ at-home cooking habits, it’s encouraging that so many folks can spare the time to prepare their own meals amid all the concerns and obligations competing for their attention.
If you’re not utilizing your kitchen as much as you’d like to, consider making a cookbook or recipe book your whole family can enjoy – even if your “whole family” is you, yourself, and your furry companion.
Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand the wonders a well-organized, easily accessible family cookbook can do for a home cooking hobby – first at the elaborate dinners my aunt gave when I was a child, then at my wife’s grandmother’s butter-laden holiday feasts, and finally in my own home.
Creating your own cookbook doesn’t cost much, and it probably won’t take as much time as you think. Here’s why you should do it, how you can do it, how much it could cost, and what you should keep in mind.
How a Family Cookbook Helps Your Household Budget
When used regularly, a recipe book is likely to be a net positive for your household budget, particularly if you design it with an eye to cutting costs. The following are just some of the budgetary benefits of a well-used family cookbook.
1. Encourages At-Home Meal Prep
The surest way to save money at restaurants is not to eat at restaurants at all. And the surest way to reduce your reliance on meals out – and meals ordered in – is to consolidate all the recipes you’d consider, and believe yourself capable of, making at home.
2. Provides Serving Cost Information at a Glance
Traditional cookbooks usually don’t contain detailed ingredient or serving cost information, but nothing’s stopping you from going the extra mile to include this in yours. You can find fairly accurate ingredient costs on your local grocer’s website or by hanging on to grocery receipts until you’re ready to build your cookbook.
This is a great way to keep a close handle on your grocery budget under any circumstances, and a necessity if you follow aggressive expense-control strategies such as envelope budgeting or zero-based budgeting.
3. Allows You to Categorize Meals by Cost
If you’re not up to the task of outlining ingredient-by-ingredient costs, you can still organize your cookbook with an eye to affordability.
Check reputable recipe websites for budget-friendly meal ideas. Allrecipes has a fantastic trove, for instance. Print out any that catch your eye and place them in your recipe book’s “Cheap Eats” section or bookmark them for inclusion in your digital cookbook.
4. Simplifies Planning for Bulk Meals
With the right mix of recipes, your family cookbook is a fantastic planning aid for multiserving meals, freezer meals, holiday feasts, parties, and other occasions that require you to prep and cook in bulk.
When building my family cookbook, I made sure to set aside an entire section for such meals, which I labeled “Holiday and Specialty Meals.” Written, step-by-step recipes are especially helpful when I’m making significantly more food than my wife and I can eat in a single sitting. Past four servings or so, I just can’t keep ingredient counts and cook times straight. Cooking for 10 or 15 people? Forget it. I need detailed recipes that spell everything out to the letter, or I’m sunk.
More Benefits of a Family Cookbook
Your family cookbook’s benefits extend well beyond your household budget. Below are some additional benefits a family cookbook or recipe book has to offer.
1. Creates a Family Heirloom
It’s natural to wonder why you’d want to go through the trouble of creating your own cookbook when you can buy a beautifully bound cookbook curated by someone who probably knows a lot more about cooking than you do – or simply Google whatever you’re hungry for tonight.
For my wife and me, the single most compelling nonfinancial reason for centralizing our recipes in a single cookbook was that it would create a family heirloom we could use for years to come. It could even outlast us if we treat it well. After all, we recently inherited my wife’s grandmother’s cookbook, which was compiled when my wife’s father was in grammar school.
2. Preserves Older Recipes for the Next Generation
Virtually every family has ancestral recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Or they do for now, at least. As families shrink and the demands of modern life grow, we risk losing our cherished family recipes in the shuffle.
The shame I feel at my inability to replicate my grandmother’s pasta e fagioli from memory is only partway tempered by my wife’s expertise with her grandmother’s dynamite orange cookie recipe. Neither ancestor is alive today; those orange cookies might be safe for now, but that particular bean soup is gone forever. A durable family cookbook ensures that your kids, and perhaps their kids, will carry on your culinary memory after you’re gone.
3. Makes It Easier to Find Family Time
A well-used family cookbook binds families. Even if meal prep isn’t an all-hands-on-deck affair in your household, communal eating certainly is, and those 20 or 30 minutes of shared family time are precious. If team cooking and cleanup sessions extend family time further, so much the better.
4. Creates Teachable Moments for Kids
If you have kids, your family cookbook isn’t simply a single-source repository for your recipes. It’s a ready-made, multicourse curriculum. Your family cookbook can teach your kids about:
- Nutrition. Create a healthy recipes section, or design your entire recipe book with an eye toward healthiness, and make each cooking session a mini-lesson on nutrition.
- Social and Environmental Responsibility. Teach your kids about the environmental and social impacts of their meal choices. You might explain that meat-heavy diets tend to have higher carbon footprints, for instance.
- Planning and Organization. Make collaborative meal planning a routine in your household. Demonstrate the benefits of planning multiple meals in advance: buying ingredients in bulk, reducing shopping frequency, having ready-to-make frozen meals on hand. Over time, give kids more planning power. Eventually, let them run the show themselves.
- Problem-Solving. Guide kids through common meal prep troubleshooting routines, such as replacing missing ingredients, adding volume, and reducing cooking times. Give them the confidence they need to make complicated meals without supervision.
5. Expands Your Culinary Repertoire
Collecting your entire recipe stash in one organized, accessible place is a great way to expand your culinary repertoire. It’s easier to try something new when you have dozens of options at your fingertips, rather than a million options and no idea where to start. I can’t promise that your family cookbook will make you a better cook, but it could stoke your enthusiasm to try new things.
6. Increases Kids’ Culinary Skills & Confidence
A well-organized family cookbook can expand younger kids’ culinary appetites and skills. Scour the Internet, food magazines, and your favorite published cookbooks for simple, kid-friendly recipes with enough ingredients and steps to easily support two chefs.
Young, less-experienced kids make enthusiastic sous chefs. With enough experience, older children are more than capable of taking the lead. Eventually, experienced kid chefs with the right aptitude can take over entirely, planning and preparing meals from start to finish.
An added benefit: You won’t have to worry about your kids picking at their meals because they’ll be choosing to cook food they like.
7. Tames Haphazard Recipe Organization
A well-organized recipe book tames even the unruliest of recipe archives, centralizing your family’s entire culinary capability in a single physical or digital location.
The difference a recipe book has made for my family has been night-and-day. My wife, in whom the bulk of the household’s culinary talent and interest resides, began cooking in earnest nearly a decade ago. As her skills improved, she expanded her repertoire by jotting down recipes from her favorite cooking shows, stuffing torn-out recipes from food magazines into a bulging folder, and archiving recipe links in her email inbox and on a haphazard Word document.
Finally, for her birthday, I spent a day organizing, collating, and binding her entire paper recipe catalog. Now, when we feel like cooking at home, we just break out the binder and flip to whatever sounds tasty at the time.
8. Encourages Healthy Eating
With consistent use, your family cookbook could make your family healthier in the long run. Stuffing your family cookbook with affordable, healthy recipes is a great way to promote better eating habits. And given the obscene amounts of salt, fats, and carbs used in many commercial kitchens, eating at home is often better for you even without an intentional focus on healthy recipes.
Types of Family Cookbooks: Approximate Costs & Features
By definition, your family cookbook will be highly personal, but it’s likely to take one of three general forms.
1. DIY Physical Cookbook
This is the most traditional option, consisting of a three-ring binder or bound book containing paper recipes. Depending on what you already have on hand and the amount of time you can reasonably devote to the project, you can:
- Hand-write or type out recipes in your own words
- Take recipes from primary sources such as food magazines, published cookbooks, and recipe websites
- Do some combination of the two
To control costs and keep things simple, I’d recommend using a three-ring binder (or more than one, if your recipe collection demands it). If you don’t have a three-hole punch on hand, your local library probably does. For added protection, consider encasing recipes in flexible plastic sleeves. You can fit at least two single-sided recipes in each sleeve – more if you’re trying to cut costs or archiving multi-page recipes.
For my family cookbook, I used a three-inch, three-ring binder and plastic sleeves with a three-hole-punched margin. The binder cost $5.91, and a pack of 200 sheet protector sleeves was $11.98, for a total cost of $17.89. (Your actual costs will vary.) The vast majority of our recipes were already printed on standard-sized paper, so fitting them into the protectors was straightforward, though tedious. All told, I spent about eight hours compiling roughly 500 recipes. The compendium barely fit in a single binder, but fit it did.
2. Professionally Produced Physical Cookbook
My family cookbook looks OK. It’s just an overstuffed binder with a block-letter cover and a bunch of plastic pages. All that matters to me is my wife’s approval, which it has. I did consider springing for a professionally produced cookbook, though.
CreateMyCookbook is a good example of a reasonably priced, user-friendly printing service. Depending on how fancy you want to get, CreateMyCookbook can put together a professional-looking, 100-page book for under $20. Fancier bindings cost more, up to $43 per 100 pages. Extra pages cost $0.40 per sheet. And e-cookbooks are a comparative steal at less than $10 apiece and no page limits.
My physical book was destined to be far longer than 100 pages, so I decided to put it together myself. If we’d preferred a more colorful heirloom, we probably would have sprung for a professional version.
3. Digital Cookbooks & Recipe Archives
This option is great for frugal home cooks uninterested in creating a physical heirloom. With no paper or plastic required, it’s by far the most eco-conscious option, and it’s almost always the cheapest too.
You can create a rudimentary “cookbook” on free recipe websites like Allrecipes. Just create a profile, search by ingredient or dish type, and “favorite” any recipes you find intriguing. You can categorize your favorites using the 10 or so standard-issue categories provided by Allrecipes or make custom categories that align with your cooking habits.
Take a more eclectic approach to digital cookbook creation with a food-focused Pinterest account. On Pinterest, you aren’t limited to a single recipe database; you can pin digital recipes virtually anywhere you find them. Pinterest allows more flexibility when it comes to tagging and captioning recipes, both helpful features for home cooks who rely heavily on notes.
Tips for a Better Family Cookbook
Want to get more out of your family cookbook? Try these pointers.
1. Get Input From Extended Family & Friends
Put the “family” in “family cookbook” and source recipes from your network of relatives and friends. A month or two ahead of your target “publication” date, send out a mass email or social media call for recipes. Edit, compile, and print or digitize recipes as they come in.
The wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to receive at least some recipes that fall totally outside your comfort zone – an added bonus, assuming you’re ready to step outside that zone.
2. Include a Table of Contents
You don’t have to list every single recipe in your table of contents, but breaking your book down by meal type and protein (see below) is really helpful. For easier reference, number each page. If you don’t want to waste another sheet or two on a table of contents, use color-coded sticky tabs to mark off sections.
3. Arrange Recipes by Meal Type and Protein
It bears repeating: Cookbooks work better when they’re clearly organized. I’m a fan of organizing by courses: starters, salads, pasta, soups, sides, main dishes, and desserts. You can get more detailed and add subsections for proteins to each meal type section: beef, pork, chicken, fish, and vegetarian. Again, consider color-coded sticky tabs to mark off sections.
4. Add Guide Pages
Along with your table of contents, add any explanatory pages you think might be helpful to present and future readers. My cookbook includes a single guide page outlining the book’s idiosyncrasies. For instance, noodle dishes are under the salads section, and stir-fries are under main dishes.
If you wish, you can also include a glossary with common ingredient and technique definitions, as well as an index with common food-related words.
5. Include a Kid-Friendly Recipe Section
If you have kids already, this one is a no-brainer. Including kid-friendly meals in your recipe book is a great way to broaden your weeknight repertoire and ease your little ones into the kitchen.
If you don’t have kids yet, you never know what the future might hold. Even if you and your partner choose not to procreate, you may well choose to style yourselves as your extended family’s go-to holiday hosts, like the cool aunt and uncle more than capable of whipping up a feast on a couple days’ notice. When it’s time to hang up your chef’s hat, hopefully, you’ll have a super-taster niece or nephew eager to take up the family cookbook for the next generation.
6. Add Make-Ahead Meals
If you have a stand-alone freezer or belong to a warehouse store like Costco, you can use your family cookbook as the basis for a bulk cooking regime that can lower your per-portion expenses and provide quick and easy meals when time is tight.
Look for recipes whose raw ingredients freeze well, such as casseroles. Prep such meals ahead of time and freeze the ingredients until you’re ready to cook. This divides the endeavor into two discrete steps, reducing the amount of contiguous time necessary to produce a finished meal. The upshot is more elaborate weeknight meals within reach.
7. Include Specialty & Holiday Recipes
My family cookbook has an entire section devoted to specialty meals and holiday favorites: stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, oven-roasted whole turkey, baked ham, and various casseroles. Yours might include other food items like home-baked bread or preserved fruits and vegetables. Over time, these recipes seep into your family’s culinary canon, and with luck, your family cookbook will help preserve them long after your generation departs the stage.
8. Include Visuals Whenever Possible
No disrespect to a fierce lady who lived nearly 10 decades on this earth, but I have to say it: my wife’s grandmother’s recipe book is a drab affair. Etched largely in gray pencil or thin black pen on pulpy lined paper, her painstaking cursive has long since lost its luster, at times fading almost entirely into the yellowing pages. There are no pictures.
I’m not saying your family cookbook has to explode with color on every page, but some carefully selected visuals can help make it more interesting and engaging. If you’re using Pinterest to create a digital cookbook, the visual aspect will take care of itself. For a physical cookbook, lean on magazine tear-outs, which often accompany instructional text with oversized photos. Our family cookbook is more than half tear-outs, a vibrant tapestry that required virtually no work on our end.
9. Minimize Clutter
Uncluttered recipe books stand the test of time far better than overstuffed tomes filled with haphazard, multisized papers and all-but-illegible scrawl. Keep handwritten notes to a minimum, relying instead on printed notes or supplemental instructions between actual recipes.
If you’re using protective plastic sleeves, try to arrange no more than two sheets per sleeve, one for each side. Sleeves are expensive, but cramming too many recipes into one can make them harder to read.
10. Make Arrangements for Recipe Cards
Many home cooks jot down simple recipes on index cards, stuff them in a folder or drawer, and call it good. The problem is that recipe cards don’t fit well in bindings of any type. If you simply don’t have time to type up your recipes on standard-sized paper or photocopy three cards to a side, use a single-hole punch to prepare them for a three-ring binder.
You can bind it as beautifully as you want, include tons of helpful details about cost and nutrition, and source recipes from the four corners of the globe. At the end of the day, though, your recipe book is just a book. And, like any expression of the written word, it’s only as good as the use you get out of it. So, use it!
Set a standing family meal on a specific day or days each week. Plan several meals in advance to reduce last-minute dashes to the grocery store and eliminate predictable excuses for ordering in or heating up yet another frozen pizza. Divide labor with your spouse, kids, or roommates to lessen the physical and mental strain of weeknight made-from-scratch meals.
Here’s to a new routine filled with scrumptious, healthful home cooking.
Do you have a family cookbook or recipe book? Are you considering creating one?