Writer Maud Smulders tries planning her meals with ChatGPT for a week
We are all familiar with the inevitable panic that arises when you come home from a day of sitting on the floor of the Learning Hub to a fridge that contains half a questionable-looking onion, a block of cheese, and a can of baked beans. For many students, including myself, deciding what to eat for dinner seems like an impossible task during these moments. A solution for this would be making a meal plan at the beginning of the week, but who has the inspiration for a whole week of food? Perhaps ChatGPT can help you out once again.
The first question I asked ChatGPT was simple: can you make me a meal plan? The answer that followed was an extensive list asking about my requirements. This included: dietary preferences, goals for this meal plan, daily caloric intake, cooking skills and time, food preferences and special occasions. To properly explore the possibilities of ChatGPT, I kept my requests simple, asking only for “a 4-day vegetarian plan for dinner. The meals must be cheap and easy to prepare. My budget is £40. One of the dinners will be for my birthday.”
Despite the simplicity of my request, it still took three tries before ChatGPT gave me a meal plan that worked for me. On my first attempt, the chatbot told me to eat stuffed bell peppers (the one vegetable I do not eat), although admittedly it had asked me for ingredients I disliked, but I left that question unanswered so as to not limit the results too much. On the second attempt (peppers excluded), the AI suddenly told me to include store-bought or complex homemade desserts every evening. This seemed like an unnecessary addition. Whilst it was possible to ignore these desserts, it would substantially influence the budget I had provided. Finally, on the third attempt, I was successful. The meal plan included a dinner, a side, and a vegetable, as well as an approximate shopping list. Initially there were no recipes included, but these followed quickly after I asked for them. I was told to eat pesto pasta with steamed broccoli and garlic bread, vegetable stir-fried rice with tofu, creamy tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, and spinach and ricotta stuffed pasta shells covered in tomato sauce with garlic bread and steamed asparagus for my birthday dinner. Tasty enough, but perhaps lacking in creativity.
Meal planning through ChatGPT is a process that could go more smoothly; the programme made mistakes and included some odd choices. For example, the meal plan told me to eat garlic bread twice, but the recipes forgot to add the garlic. It also told me to mix pesto, an oil-based sauce, with oil to create a pesto sauce. The “no bell pepper” request was also something the software simply could not handle. Rather than simply provide bell pepper-free recipes, it instead said to leave out the peppers from tomato sauce and garlic bread, two food products that usually do not include bell pepper.
The recipes ChatGPT provided were easy, quick to prepare, and also very cheap. Perhaps too cheap. I gave ChatGPT a £40 budget per person, yet the groceries cost under £30 for two people. This is hardly something to complain about given most student budgets, but the low budget was noticeable in terms of both amount and once again, creativity. One cup of rice or one can of soup for two people is far from filling.
In conclusion, using a generated meal plan was helpful after long days of studying, taking the difficult decision as to what on earth to have for dinner out of the equation. The meals were fast and easy to prepare. Although the recipes were not that detailed,they were easy to follow and none of them took longer than 45 minutes to cook. However, whilst ChatGPT can provide some fun dinner inspiration, it actually saves little time or effort. Planning meals through the tool requires you to pay attention and make adjustments to the amounts and recipes. Rather than letting the program plan a complete meal plan, consider asking for an idea and make your version or find a recipe yourself.