May-August 2016

 

Creating Automated Menus

 

NYC’s Auto-Menu creates randomized meal plans for any number of days with suitable main dishes for each meal, and with sensible side dishes for each main dish.  Auto-Menu provides great variety in your meal plan because every new auto-menu is different.

 

To demo the Auto-Menu feature:

1) open the EXAMPLE cookbook (File... Open Cookbook...),

2) select Menu… Automated…

3) check the box "include side dishes in menu", then

4) press the Create Menu button.

 

How Auto-Menu Works

 

For an auto-menu, NYC randomly selects main dishes from 4 categories in your cookbook:  “am-breakfast”, “am-lunch”, “am-dinner”, “am-snack”.  So you must categorize any recipes you want used for auto-menus into these 4 categories.  If NYC did not require this, and it used your entire cookbook (which might include 74,000 recipes), you would end up with recipes like Bread Dough for breakfast and Pot Roast for a snack in a randomized selection of main dishes.  Not all recipes make good main dishes, and not all main dishes work for breakfast.  You need not categorize all 74,000 recipes into the 4 “am-“ categories – only the ones you want in a randomized menu.  It is very easy to categorize lots of recipes into the “am-breakfast”, “am-lunch” etc. categories using Recipes… Categorize Multiple Recipes, and this gives you complete control in customizing your auto-menus to use your favorite recipes. The more recipes you have categorized into the “am-“ categories, the less frequently recipes will repeat themselves in your auto-menu.

 

We could offer a canned set of recipes where we pre-categorize them into “am-“ categories so you would not have to – but NYC philosophy has always been able to use all the zillions of recipes that folks have put out there on the internet in various food forums since the 1980s.  Thus, the best way to ensure that the resulting auto-menu makes most sense to the user is to let the user decide what is a “breakfast” recipe and what is a “lunch” recipe – so main dishes are categorized into the “am-” categories for this purpose.  FYI, if a recipe is suitable for breakfast and lunch, then categorize it into both “am-breakfast” and “am-lunch” as desired. 

 

Similarly, we have to constrain the randomized side dish selection so you don’t end up with Pizza as main dish with Scalloped Potatoes as a side (yuk!). 

 

So here is how NYC’s Auto-Menu (Menu… Automated…) feature works:

 

NYC first selects main dishes (recipes) randomly from these special categories:

  am-breakfast - breakfast main dishes

  am-lunch - lunch main dishes

  am-dinner - dinner main dishes

  am-snacks - snack main dishes

 

NYC's Auto-Menu minimizes repeated recipes in your menu period. NYC only repeats a main dish if the number of days in your menu plan exceeds the number of available main dishes for a given meal (breakfast, lunch, etc).

 

Once main dishes are selected, side dishes will be added to the menu if you checked the box "include side dishes in menu" when you ran Auto-Menu. Sides for a main dish are randomly chosen from the "Auto-Menu Side Dishes:" section in the main dish’s recipe directions.  If a side dish name in that section matches or is embedded in the name of a recipe in the cookbook, that recipe will be considered a side possibility for that main dish.

 

The resulting auto-menu is a regular NYC menu with extension *.mnu, which you can later edit as desired (Menu... Plan...).  And each time you run Auto-Menu on the cookbook, you will see a different sequence of main dishes, with a variety of appropriate sides for each main dish.

 

Preparing to Use Auto-Menu on Your Own Cookbooks

 

1. Create the following categories (Recipes... Recipe Categories...) if they do not already exist in your cookbook  -OR-  NYC will create them when you first press Create Menu on the Auto-Menu window:

am-breakfast

am-lunch

am-dinner

am-snacks

 

2. Categorize recipes to be used as main dishes (no side dishes) into these categories (Recipes... Categorize Multiple Recipes...). You need not categorize all the thousands of recipes you have; rather, categorize only those you wish to be candidates as main dishes in an auto-menu.

 

3. For some or all main dish recipes, add an "Auto-Menu Side Dishes:" section in the recipe directions (Recipes... Recipes... select am- category, dbl-click recipe to edit it). Include this section only in main dishes that you think need sides (some main dishes are complete meals and do not need sides).

 

To avoid typing side names in Step 3, press the Add Sides... button on the Directions tab in the recipe edit window. This will tile the recipe editor to the left of the recipe selection list. From the list, select sides for the edited recipe, then rt-click the sides in the list and select the popup "Add selected recipe(s) as sides to open recipe's directions". This will create or append the "Auto-Menu Side Dishes:" section of the directions. Side dishes should be listed one per line in this section.

The "Auto-Menu Sides Dishes:" string must be exactly as shown in this example list of sides for a main dish called Lasagna:

 

Auto-Menu Side Dishes:

Spinach Salad

Crusty Garlic Bread

etc.

 

If you only have one side for a main dish, and you later request 2 sides for a meal, you will get repeated sides for that main dish. So make sure you have enough sides listed in each main dish's directions to cover the number of sides you will request.

If you want to diversify the sides, use prudent keywords rather than recipe names. For example, use "salad" instead of Spinach Salad, and NYC will find all recipes with "Salad" in the recipe name, which will broadly widen your side additions for that main dish in your auto-menu.

 

Using Auto-Menu

 

Once the above preparation is completed, you are ready to create an auto-menu:

 

1. Select Menu... Automated... .

2. Enter menu name, start date, and number of menu days.

3. Check which meals you want included in the auto-menu using the meal checkboxes.

4. If you want side dishes included, check the "include side dishes" checkbox, and adjust the number of sides you want for each meal.

5. Press the Create menu button.

 

Each time you use Menu... Automated..., you will get a different menu due to the randomized dish selection process.

 

You can view the menu in the menu editor (Menu... Plan...) at the prompt, or in the View Menu window (View... Menu...). The first dish listed for a given meal on each menu day is the main dish, and remaining dishes for the meal are sides. Save the menu in the menu editor to create a shopping list for it.

 

Other Considerations

 

The more recipes you have in the special "am-" categories, the more diverse your main dish selections will be. The more recipes you have in the "Auto-Menu Side Dishes:" section of each main dish recipe, your more diverse your side selections will be.

 

If you list Baked Apples as a side, and you have Baked Apples and Norwegian Baked Apples in your cookbook, both will be used as potential sides because the string "Baked Apples" is fully embedded in "Norwegian Baked Apples". Thus, you can diversify your sides by using shorter "side names". However, shorter side names increase your risk of inappropriate sides in the menu. For an extreme example, if you specify "Tea" as a side, you will get side dishes like "Sirloin Steak" because "tea" is embedded in "steak".

 

In most cases, you should not use a dish as both a side and a main dish, because your auto-menu might choose it for a main dish on one day and a side on the next.

 

If you don't want any sides in your menu for a particular main dish (say, for a very hearty main dish), just omit the "Auto-Menu Side Dishes:" section in that recipe's directions.

 

For now the Auto-Menu feature only works on the open cookbook. Also, at this writing, side dishes must exist in the same cookbook as the main dishes. It is highly recommended that the cookbook used for auto-menu creation include at least 5000 recipes with a wide variety.  

 


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