Monday, September 12, 2016

Generating menu ideas with a simple Excel spreadsheet

I have often found it difficult to plan menus for our house. So I thought I'd try randomly generating menus, and I'm excited about the results. We've been using this system for about 3 weeks, and here's what I've learned:

  • The most important thing here was to make a list of entrees that we actually cook at our house. That alone is a great resource for planning new menus.
    • "Aaron likes lists, and solving a problem with a new list makes him happy" isn't really anything new. But this is the first time I've tried to make a relatively comprehensive list of meals.
  • We're trying to plan our weeks more tightly. It's ok if we change the plan mid-week. But I'm finding it more useful than ever to have a plan for the whole week.
  • This is of some use in avoiding letting food we buy go bad before we cook it, but only if I stay on top of that issue.

I'm only talking about dinners here. I tried to find the lowest-tech way I could do this fast, and also something that would keep whatever data I generated in a common format. So, here's what I did:

  • Made a list of meal options in one column of an Excel spreadsheet
  • Inserted random numbers in the next column, using "=RAND()" in each cell.
  • SORT the list using the column of random numbers as the sort key.
The sort trick isn't my idea, I got it from searching on ideas for how to randomly sort rows in Excel. 
That's it. I made it slightly fancier by writing a macro to do the sort and tying that to a key combo, but really I didn't do that until I had it for a while. 

Each week I sort the list and then take the top 10 or so options and pick the actual ones I feel like making, freely throwing out stuff we ate recently or that sounds too involved for this week. 

At first I thought I would be generating a list of 5 or 10 items,but sorting the WHOLE list and then just taking the top few items works fine. If I hate most of the top choices, I can just go deeper in the list.

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