This blog entry is in reference to the pancake recipe I posted earlier. Sorry it has taken me so long to get out. Please believe me when I say that recent days have been eventful and action-packed. Some day that narrative will be written, but for now, let’s talk pancakes.

I have loaded the pancake recipe into the Tony’s Plate Calculator and set it to be open to everyone. Click here to view the recipe. To create a recipe like this, we start by going to the Tony’s Plate Calculator. Then, because we are interested in the carbohydrate content of the food, we select the “click to create a new nutrient-data recipe” link. That gives you a blank recipe that will draw its food items from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The column on the left contains some items that we can fill in now and some we can’t. “Recipe Name?” That’s easy: Pancakes. “Total Quantity Name?” Well, there really isn’t a name for the total batch of pancakes we produce; we can leave it blank. “Piece Name?” That’s another easy one: pancake. The other items in the column, the “Total Recipe Quantities” and “Recipe Serving Size,” are things we likely don’t know yet, so we’ll save them for later.

The “Total Quantity Name” and “Piece Name” are actually labels for special measurements and are included for convenience. They let you express things like a serving size of “1/48 sheet cake” or a total quantity of “37 meatballs.” Putting names to these measurements can be useful if you want to use the product of one recipe as the ingredient of another. For example, you might want to use 3 pancakes from the Pancakes recipe into the recipe for your breakfast.

But let us turn our attention to the ingredients of our pancake recipe. You search for ingredients by entering search terms in the text field in the upper right corner and clicking the [Find Ingredient] button. When you locate the ingredient you want to add, fill in the quantity and use the drop-down box to select the unit of measurement, and click the [Add] button.

A note about one of the ingredients in this particular recipe: The USDA did not include tablespoons as one of the possible units of measurement for granulated sugar. You can measure your sugar in packets, teaspoons, cubes, cups or grams, but not tablespoons. I can think of a couple different ways to handle this. If you know that there are three teaspoons in a tablespoon, then it’s easy enough to figure out that there are six teaspoons in two tablespoons and then specify “6 tsp” as the quantity. Another way to do it would be to measure your two tablespoons of sugar onto a scale set to grams and then enter the quantity as that number of grams.

If you examine the ingredients in the pancake recipe, you will notice that some of the quantities are specified as fractions, like the “1/2” teaspoon of table salt. The Tony’s Plate Calculator tries to be smart about numbers and will recognize “1-1/2”, “1 1/2” and “1.5” as one and a half.

But let us now skip ahead in time. Assume that we have located all of the pancake ingredients and added them to our recipe. What do we have then? Well, we have a recipe that we know will have about 1,735 Calories and about 234 grams of carbohydrate. And unless Tony becomes a lumberjack, he probably doesn’t need to eat that much. We have to be able to figure out the nutrition for a smaller portion of the entire batch.

Turn your attention back to the bottom of the column on the left where the “Total Recipe Quantities” and “Total Serving Size” are specified. By default, the total quantity is “1 entire batch,” but you can specify the total quantity in multiple ways. In the case of our pancakes, we can count the cooked pancakes to find that we have produced 16 roughly-equal pancakes. Or even better, we can put the pancakes on a scale—make sure to zero out the weight of the plate—to find out that we have produced 802 grams of pancakes.

Once we have identified the total quantities made, we can set a serving size that uses the same units. So if we tell the Calculator that we produced 16 pancakes, we can set the serving size to 3 pancakes. Or if we tell the Calculator that we produced 802 grams of pancakes, we can have a serving size of 153 grams of pancakes. The Tony’s Plate Calculator will then have enough information about what fraction of the whole is in a serving, and you will get the nutrition information you need.

Is it a little complicated? Maybe. But having the computer do the math beats sitting at the kitchen table trying to work it all out with a pencil, paper and a pocket calculator. At least the computer can have the answer before the pancakes get cold.