Recipe analysis tools such as online software and CD-ROMs are great because they allow you to analyze your recipes for calorie counts and nutrition information yourself, saving you money and time. There are many different recipe analysis tools out there, however, and it can be tricky to know which one is best for your needs. Food businesses owners who are working on complying with the FDA’s menu labeling law, which comes into effect May 7, 2018, for instance, can’t just use any old tool they find. After all, the recipe analysis tools out there vary greatly in terms of accuracy, ease of use, special features, and cost.
So, how do you choose which tool to use if you don’t know the first thing about recipe analysis? Well, I am going to share my advice for choosing a recipe analysis tool by explaining the differences between the tools that are available and outlining the key features to look for when making your selection.
Recipe Analysis Tools: They Aren’t Created Equal
When you go online and search for recipe analysis tools to use for your food establishment, you’ll get a lot of different results at various price points. Some will be CD-ROM software that you purchase and install on your computer, while others will be online tools that are either free or paid. While there is undoubtedly a lot of variation within each of these three categories, let’s take a closer look at each option so you can make an informed choice.
CD-ROM Software: CD-ROM recipe analysis tools are appealing for many restaurant, cafe, and convenience store owners looking to determine the nutrition information and calories for their menu items because they are relatively inexpensive. The problem is that you have to wait for the CD-ROM to arrive, spend time installing it, and then learn how to use it, which can be quite time-consuming. CD-ROM software also tends to be unnecessarily complex to use, and often you have to pay extra for training. So, even though the price is attractive in the beginning, there may be hidden costs that can add up. Also, keep in mind that many computers don’t actually have disc drives anymore and CD-ROMs will likely soon be a thing of the past. Plus, if you use CD-ROM software, you will need to ensure the computer you installed it on has an external hard-drive for backing up your recipes in case there is a problem with your computer. Simply put, your recipes will be safer in the cloud than if you rely on hardware.
Free Online Software: There are many free online recipe analysis tools out there, and they can be fine for personal use (like calorie counting or fitness tracking) but they definitely aren’t appropriate for professional use. Not only are their databases fairly small, but they are likely not USDA-compiled, meaning they might not provide accurate results. While many of them allow you to create an online account, their websites aren’t particularly secure, so you run the risk of your recipes being leaked or shared without your permission.
Paid Online Software: There is also an abundance of paid online recipe analysis tools available, and one of these would probably be your best bet. The quality is generally a lot better than CD-ROMs and free online software, which makes them easier and more intuitive to use. Typically, their websites are also a lot more secure and they’ll have better databases (check that they are USDA-compiled) that provide accurate recipe analysis. Software like MenuCalc, for instance, has over 20,000 ingredients, so the chances of you not finding what you are looking for are slim.
Features to Look for in Paid Online Software
It’s important to remember that not all paid online software is of the same quality. There is a lot of variation, so it’s critical to know what you are looking for so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
Let’s look at a few key features you’ll want your online recipe analysis tool to have:
- FDA-Compliance: Software that is FDA-compliant will generate your nutrition information in the format that is accepted by the FDA. For example, your nutritional values will be automatically rounded in compliance with FDA rounding rules. This can save you a lot of time fiddling with numbers.
- Proprietary Ingredient Analysis: Sometimes databases don’t have every ingredient you need, so choose a recipe analysis tool that allows you to add your own. This is really handy if you get special products from your supplier and use them in your recipes. Proprietary ingredient analysis is one of the features that MenuCalc includes.
- Nutrient Content Claims: Some online software, like MenuCalc, has a feature that lets you know what nutrient content claims (i.e. low-fat or low-sodium) your recipes qualify for. Then, you can use this information on your menus to provide more information to your customers.
- Duplicate Function: Many restaurants have several recipes that are variations on one foundational recipe (i.e. pizza or omelets). A duplicate function is useful because it allows you to make a copy of any recipe and make adjustments rather than reentering the same thing over and over. This is a huge time-saver!
- Expert Menu Labeling Consulting: It’s a good idea to choose a software that has expert consultants available if you need them. Not only will they be able to help you if you have any problems using the software, but they may also be able to assist with any issues of FDA-compliance for the menu labeling law.
As long as you keep the above features in mind when choosing a recipe analysis tool, you should end up with a solid product that can help you comply with the menu labeling law. Remember, with a great tool, nutrition analysis is really quite easy. If you choose the right online software for your business, I guarantee that you’ll be ready for compliance before you know it.