How to use iPhoto as a recipe manager and meal planner

One of the most dreaded questions in any household is “what’s for dinner?” The question is fraught with complex issues of family responsibilities, finances, and personal preferences. While it won’t do the dishes, iPhoto (s aapl) has become an indispensable recipe management and meal planning tool in my family.

Many people have a collection of recipe clippings culled from magazines, newspapers, and the supermarket. But where do you put the clippings? Ideally, you type it out and put it in a recipe manager (my favorite is SousChef). If I only had the time. What I do instead is either scan the recipe directly into iPhoto from my Mac, or if I can’t easily clip the recipe, I’ll take a picture of it with my iPhone. When I see a recipe I like on the web, I take a screen shot to easily get it into iPhoto, too.

Once in the iPhoto, I rename the photo to match the actual recipe title, and then in the keywords I put the important ingredients that I’d need to know when shopping such as “chicken breast” or “celery.” This is also a handy way to search for recipes when something is on sale or in season. Then I just drop it in an album I call “Cookbook.”

I also have an album called “Current Recipes.” I, and other members of the family, will put especially interesting recipes into this album. I’ll sort them in the album to create both variety and efficiency in shopping. I have the recipes synced to a password-protected MobileMe site as well for ease of browsing. With iCloud’s Photo Stream feature, which arrives in September, this should be even easier.

You can also sync those albums to your iPhone and iPad so that you always have all your recipes close at hand, which can be useful if you stop in at the grocery store on the way home from work. Not only is this a great reference, but recipes can be easily emailed from the iPhone to whoever’s doing the shopping.

With the recipes in digital form, cooking with iOS in the kitchen is also breeze. I’ll use either my iPad or my iPhone to check out the recipe(s) I need. After cooking, I’ll return to iPhoto and modify the ratings and notes for the recipe so we know whether to make it again. If it was lousy, we delete it from the album.

Keeping my recipes in iPhoto has reduced our reliance on eating take-out, as well as being a great way for everyone to contribute to dinner. Considering every Mac comes with iPhoto, it’s also cost-effective and easy, too. Anything you think might add even more to my system?