If you’ve ever searched for a recipe online, you know how incredibly overwhelming it is to find a good one. There are millions of recipes out there, and as you may have discovered, not all of them are great. It’s so frustrating when you’ve bought a ton of ingredients and spent hours in the kitchen, with hungry kids staring at you, only to figure out about about three quarters of the way through that this is going to be a fail.
Over the years, I have developed a personal knack for discovering recipes online that work, so I’m sharing my five tips with you. Hopefully this helps you streamline your time spent meal planning, and gives you more confidence to try some new recipes!
And hey, pro tip: Sign up for our newsletter so you get our weekly meal plans sent to your inbox. I personally curate them each week!
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Narrow your search
First, decide what type of recipe you’re looking for and be very specific. Like, don’t Google “dinner recipes!” That’s what our Recipe Rescue group is for! Instead, for example, decide that you want to make “meatballs”, and maybe more specifically, “spaghetti and meatballs.”
You can start your search by typing “spaghetti and meatballs recipe” into your search engine. And make sure to use the word “recipe.” You can also use things like “easy” or “fast,” because just that simple search above will get you 16 million recipes.
Before you click the recipe at the top (which is usually an ad, by the way), look at the first 6 to 9 recipes that show up, and check the ratings. Skip anything less than four stars. The more you search and click on certain sites, the more those sites (and the similar will show up), which is actually a good thing in helping you narrow things down.
After looking at the ratings, look at the short list of ingredients under the image, and choose one that immediately fits your family’s preferences. If you don’t eat meat, you will want to type “vegan” or “vegetarian” in the beginning of all of your searches. And don’t select a recipe where the first ingredient listed is something you would never eat.
Look at the time required and servings
After choosing a recipe that looks interesting, be sure to double check the “total time” it will take you to prepare this meal. I chose this Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe from Once Upon a Chef (I go to this site often so it showed up high on my search). It should tell you the total time it will take you to make this dish. Just keep in mind the total time doesn’t usually account for chopping time.
And while you’re there, double check the servings, especially if you have a large family. Most recipes are for 4-6 servings, but sometimes it will just be for 2 people.
Look at the list of ingredients
Really looking at the list of ingredients is the most important thing to do when to choosing a recipe you haven’t tried before. First, do not choose a recipe that has ingredients you have never or would never buy for your family, unless you know a good substitution that will work. For example, I do not like veal and will not ever buy, cook or eat it. This recipe calls for a “meatloaf mix” that is equal parts beef, veal, and pork, which can be found at most supermarkets. I might have skipped this recipe completely, but I do know from past experience I can just up the beef or pork and skip the veal.
Next, the list of ingredients should have at least 2 or 3 items that you already have, or would normally have, in your pantry or freezer. If the recipe calls for ingredients that you have never purchased or have no idea what they are, skip that recipe. And, in my opinion, the list of ingredients shouldn’t be longer than the instructions. My rule of thumb: if there are more ingredients than would fit in one grocery bag, it is not the recipe for me.
And finally, if you read through the list of ingredients and any of them make you think “gross,” or “that doesn’t sound like it would taste good together,” trust your gut (literally) and skip that recipe. Each of the ingredients listed would be things that I would eat by itself; if not, then they don’t belong mixed up next to each other in my belly.
(Keep in mind: I’m cooking for my family and sticking within a budget. There’s nothing wrong with trying new cuisines and flavor combinations, but that might be something you do on your own or with your partner first).
Related: How to stock a pantry
Read through the entire recipe
Just skim through the entire recipe directions. If it all sounds doable then great! If you read through and there is a crazy step that just seems too confusing or requires that you have some elaborate kitchen appliance, it may not be the recipe for you. Just look for another recipe that doesn’t add any anxiety to your life; no one needs any more of that.
Read the comments from people who have tried the recipe
Before you make the final decision to give a recipe a try, read through the comments or reviews for the recipe from people who have actually made it. I find a lot of good tips here, especially if I am subbing any ingredients for allergies or personal likes/dislikes. If there are only a few reviews, or some vaguely negative comments, I would move on to another recipe.
And yes, this recipe for Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs from Once Upon a Chef is one of my family’s favorite recipes that I discovered through a Google search a few months ago. It now lives in our dinner rotation around here because it just that good, and is really easy to throw together. I keep a jar of sauce and extra meat in the freezer for those nights when I am wondering what the heck I’m doing for dinner.