THE NEW YORK TIMES

How to use AI for family time

How to use AI for family time

Last week, I walked you through how to turn artificial intelligence into a tutor and research assistant. In the final installment of our how-to editions, we’ll take what we’ve learned and use it to make the most of family time.

We’ll focus on a few tasks that can take up a lot of mental bandwidth at home.

Weekly meal planning is a major chore, and gift giving can be daunting, with various birthdays and holidays throughout the year. And any adult who has read books for children knows that it can become repetitive, and the books aren’t always relatable to a child’s situation or growing pains.

Here’s how AI can help.

Meal-planning superpowers

Foodies and private chefs have been enthusiastically using AI to sketch out comprehensive meal plans that consider people’s preferences and dietary restrictions. (Cooks are less gung ho about AI-generated recipes, which can be a disaster if a bot screws up.)

It turns out that brainstorming meals is a borderline superpower for a chatbot like ChatGPT or Bing. As always, the more detailed you are with your requests, the better.

For example, a private chef posting on Reddit shared an example of a prompt asking for a three-day meal plan for a diabetic vegan with a nut allergy.

I asked ChatGPT for a meal plan formatted in a printer-friendly chart that can be stuck on the refrigerator. Here is my prompt:

Act as a private chef. I have a family of two, me and my wife. Plan meals for us for five days, including breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. We like Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Italian food. I like meat; my wife prefers chicken and seafood. We have no restrictions. We are trying to shed a few pounds after the pandemic.

The chatbot answered with: Certainly, here is a five-day meal plan tailored to your new preferences, incorporating Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Italian cuisines, while keeping the meals lean and healthy for weight loss.

It listed a breakfast, lunch and dinner, and two snacks, for each day.

Generative AI often produces different results from the same prompt. If you want to shuffle the deck and get slightly different menu suggestions, you can always enter the prompt again. And by all means, tweak the instructions for different results.

What about the actual recipes to make these dishes? I followed up with this prompt: “Can you find recipes for all of those meal suggestions? Please include a link to the recipes online so I can check the source.”

ChatGPT responded with a long list of recipes from sites including The Food Network, BBC, and specialist food blogs.

(The subscriber-only version with GPT-4 produced the best results here; the free version with GPT-3 returned some broken links, presumably because its training data is older. Microsoft’s Bing’s chatbot is also good at this type of query, but Google’s Bard bot declined to return specific links to recipes.)

One last trick: Ask your bot to compile a list of ingredients for all the recipes. It can even group them by grocery store aisle.

As always, to play it safe, double check the recipes to make sure your bot isn’t hallucinating.

Give better gifts

Let’s move on to gift giving – a talent that some of us possess more than others. There are several AI tools that aim to make selecting a gift easier, including a website that comes up with gift ideas based on someone’s Instagram profile.

I preferred DreamGift, which uses a chatbot to ask you a series of questions about your gift recipient’s age, gender, interests and hobbies, along with how much you’re willing to spend, and automatically provides ideas and links to order the items online. (My wife confessed that she liked some of the bot’s gift suggestions, which included an indoor herb-growing kit, more than some of the gifts I’d given her over the years. Ouch.)

If you prefer to use a chatbot, that will work, too. Bing and Bard, which are connected to search engines, are powerful shopping assistants. The trick to getting bespoke recommendations is to share voluminous details about your budget and the people you’re shopping for.

Tricks for bedtime

Let’s end with something more creative. You can use AI to create a customized bedtime story or even your own hard-copy children’s book.

Give a chatbot like ChatGPT or Bard a detailed prompt that includes your child’s preferred storytelling style, any details you’d like to include and the situation that you want the story to address.

Here’s a prompt I wrote for a hypothetical child who is unhappy about moving to a new home. I asked it to involve some familiar characters:

Act as a children’s book writer, mimicking “Frog and Toad.” My kid is going through a rough time – we are moving to a new home and changing schools. Write a story to help him process that. Incorporate our dogs, Max and Mochi the corgis, as characters.

The chatbot generated a heartfelt story about Max and Mochi, a pair of furry siblings. They enjoyed playing in the park and were sad to move to a new home. But they supported each other and eventually went to a new school, where they made new friends: Bella the sprightly beagle and Charlie the cheeky chihuahua. Everything worked out in the end.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can generate illustrations to accompany the text. I asked Midjourney to produce an illustration for a children’s book of two corgis playing in a park together.

To produce a full book, I’d ask Midjourney to generate images to accompany each paragraph of the chatbot’s story. Then I’d use a photo service that offers a book option, such as Google Photos or Shutterfly, to have the custom-made children’s book printed and shipped to me.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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