When it comes to menu planning, many people immediately turn to cookbooks or websites to find new and healthy recipes that they have never tried before. While recipe books and websites can be amazing sources of inspiration and knowledge, it is easy to think that they are the answer to healthy eating. The reality is, they are just one piece of the healthy eating puzzle. Let me explain by highlighting two of their limitations:
Depending on the number of filters that they provide, you can end up in a frustrating spiral of finding recipes that you have neither the ingredients nor the time to make. While this is an unavoidable part of perusing recipes, it is unhelpful when you are trying to quickly plan out your week’s meals.
Many do not provide an overarching guide or framework to explain the best way to eat the recipes to maintain a healthy balanced diet.
I want to reiterate here—I love recipe books and recipe websites! They are an amazing source of inspiration and knowledge, but, generally, they are not meal planning resources.
So how do we use recipe books and websites to their maximum benefit? I suggest you use a recipe bank.
What is a recipe bank?
A recipe bank is like your family cookbook, a storehouse of recipes that you love making, and can make on the fly. If you don’t have a recipe bank, I suggest you start one. If you do have a collection of family recipes somewhere, this is the time to pull it out and bring it back to life.
Starting a recipe bank
Here is a three step guide to starting a recipe bank:
Think about where you want to store the recipes. I love using an A5 journal, however you could also use a software application, such as Microsoft OneNote or Trello.
Write down all the recipes you love making (and eating!) off the top of your head, in one long list.
Go back through this list and make a note of whether or not you can cook these recipes from memory. If you know the recipe off by heart - great - there’s no need to write it down in your journal. If you don’t know the recipe, either write on your list where you can go to find it, or even better, find the recipe and copy it down into your journal.
Congratulations! You have started a recipe bank!
Maintaining your recipe bank
Although many people can probably think of a few recipes that they love making off the top of their heads, few would make an effort to maintain this recipe bank.
Regularly review your favourite recipe books and websites. Make it a weekly or a monthly thing. What ever works for you. Look for those dishes that really catch your eye and sound delicious. Look through the ingredients list. If it looks like the kinds of ingredients you enjoy and can afford then add it to your recipe bank (again, either write down the full recipe, or just a reference to it). Remember to consider the nutritional profile of the dish. Of course, you can store treats in your recipe bank, but make sure you have loads of healthy options too!
Keep in mind that your recipe bank is an ever evolving index. If you try out one of your new recipes and don’t like it, cross it out. On the other hand, if the recipe was easy, delicious and affordable, then keep it in your recipe bank, and maybe make a note next to it if you really enjoyed it.
Going the extra mile: scoring your recipes
This is how I use my recipe bank to ensure I am meeting my daily food group requirements. Next to each recipe, I write down the number of serves of each of the food groups that the recipe provides. This helps me to balance my daily food group requirements. For example, if by dinner time I have met my daily calcium requirements but not my vegetable or protein requirements, I can choose a meal that contains foods from the vegetable and protein food groups, with less emphasis on the calcium-rich food groups.
Now, when you are doing your weekly or monthly meal planning, you can quickly find a recipe in your recipe bank that meets the criteria you are after without having to be too creative!