Photo by Mike Penney
Some cookbooks in Katy Wilkens’ collection

You Are What You Eat: Cookbooks

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

I read cookbooks at night in bed. I love reading about food and looking at recipes and photographs of food. I am not alone. Americans buy more cookbooks than any other type of book.

I have shelves of cookbooks, baskets of cookbooks, notebooks full of recipes torn from years of cooking magazines. I have recipe cards, my own and those inherited from my grandmother and my sister, and people keep giving me more. And of course, there is the Internet. When I want to make something new, now I can explore five to seven totally different recipes at once, then compare and combine them into something that is really “my” recipe.

I use only two cookbooks day to day. I love my old “Betty Crocker Cookbook” (the 1970s version, with real, fresh foods and no mixes) and “Gourmet Grains,” written by one of my professors at the University of Washington. Other than those two, I have a revolving door of recipes I am trying out, from cooking magazines, websites, recipes passed along by friends, recipes I want to try, and recipes I probably won’t ever get a chance to make.

So many cookbooks, so little time! What to do with all those cookbooks, some which I use every day and some which realistically I will probably never cook out of?

I have seen some great ideas for getting into the recipes you have, or for simplifying your collection. These are my New Year’s resolutions:

1. I will not buy a cookbook unless it has practically a photo for each recipe. I notice I hardly use a recipe without a picture.
2. I want cookbooks that are recipe-tested, or come with good recommendations from cooks I trust.
3. I will put one cookbook on the counter the first of every month, and try making three to five recipes that month. If they aren’t great, I will consider letting go of the book.
4. I will ask family and friends to choose recipes from a cookbook they would like me to make for a birthday or special meal.
5. I will try more recipes from cookbooks I own, with a goal of one per month, to share with my colleagues at potlucks, my family at holidays, my friends at picnics, my co-workers at lunch.
6. If I am keeping a cookbook, I have to like five or more recipes from it, otherwise I will copy or scan the recipe I like and then donate the book.
7. If I have cookbooks I don’t like, I will re-gift them in a fun themed cooking basket, or give them to a thrift store.
8. I will scan all my torn pages of magazine recipes so I can index them. This would give me room on my shelves … for more cookbooks!
9. To save money and room on my shelves, I will go to the library and check out cookbooks, like test driving a car.
10. I will continue to donate my gently-used food magazines like Cooks Illustrated or Sunset Magazine to nonprofit organizations like Northwest Kidney Centers for their patient waiting areas.

These are my goals for cooking in the New Year; what are yours?

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See her recipes at]

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