the binder

This is the binder. It's not pretty, it's not fancy, but it's where we store all our recipes... and over the years it's become a sort of litmus test for whether or not a recipe gets our nod of approval. If we know we won't make it again, it doesn't go in the binder. Simple, efficient, the binder represents one of the more blissfully organized aspects of my life. (Trust me, there aren't many.) It's organized into 10 different tabs: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Fish, Vegetarian, Pasta, Soup / Chili, Side Dishes, Breakfast, and Dessert, and clear sheet protectors help to keep the recipes splatter free while we're cooking.

Jared and I started collecting recipes early on in our relationship when we found ourselves cooking dinner together most nights. To help us get started we signed up for The Six O'Clock Scramble, an online seasonal weekly menu planner. Every week they sent us 5 new meals and a grocery list, and we could swap out any meals we didn't like. It was really helpful and I highly recommend it if you want to cook dinner at home more often but aren't sure how to get organized. We started supplementing The Scramble recipes with ones we got from Food Network and Martha Stewart, and it didn't take long before we had amassed enough recipes that we needed a way to keep them all straight... hence, the binder was born.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, it seems to me like the tradition of home-cooked weeknight family dinners has become a bit of a lost art. In the age of processed and prepared foods, I think a lot of people choose not having to think about it over flavor and nutrition. But what those people don't realize is how easy and quick dinner can be if you just take a little time to plan our your meals. So that's why I'm sharing our process with you. It works really well for us and maybe it'll work well for you, too.

Here's how we tackle meal planning... every Sunday morning we sit down with the binder, a notepad, and pen. We take a quick inventory of what we have in our fridge and pantry from last week's meals that we didn't use up (usually things like tortillas, heavy cream, chicken stock, and veggies) and use that as our starting point for meal selection. Meals that feature ingredients we need to use up or already have get chosen first. Then we look for stuff that we haven't made in a while or that will be quick if we have something going on a particular night that week. We also try to pick meals that feature seasonal ingredients (Epicurious has a great tool for finding out what's in season where you live.) The final list of meals for that week goes on a magnetic pad that we keep on our fridge. As for which meals get cooked on which nights, we usually decide that day based on how we're feeling.

So there you have it... the binder, our system, and my two cents about the benefits of cooking weeknight dinners. I'll be posting recipes and tips for some of our favorite dinners in a new regular feature called {made for dinner} (I know, real original) so stay tuned.