How to Cook Like a Stay-At-Home Mom, When You’re Not

Links on this page may be affiliate links. All opinions are my own. See full disclosure.

From married stay-at-home mom to divorced working mom. I still needed a way to keep the kids fed and happy.

It seems like eons ago, but there once was a time when I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Before the divorce. Before other concerns took over my life.

I was always a busy mom, especially when I had a house full of toddlers, and then all the years of homeschooling, but it doesn’t compare to life after divorce.

These days, in addition to having the responsibility for everything I did as a stay-at-home mom, I am now, for most of the day, also chief breadwinner.

I know. I know. Working moms have been saying for years that it’s hard to juggle work and everything it takes to raise a family. There’s just one difference – my kids are spoiled. My young ‘uns have been raised to expect nothing short of a gourmet meal, or so I thought, and it left me feeling a bit guilty when I simply couldn’t keep up.

Enter… The 80/20 Solution

Having recently read the book ‘The 80/20 Principle‘ by Richard Koch, I decided to see if there were a way for me to apply this unusual rule of nature to the home front.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the 80/20 Principle, also known as Pareto’s Principle or Pareto’s Law, says not all action is equal. Pareto’s Law, discovered in 1897 by a guy named… you guessed it, Pareto, asserts that a small number of causes in basically any situation, creates a majority of results.

In business for example, it is a well accepted fact that approximately 20% of customers bring in 80% of the revenue. Criminologists know that 20% of criminals account for 80% of the crimes committed. Insurance underwriters understand that 20% of the people create 80% of all accidents. And so it goes.

The pattern has been proven many times over.

Here it should be noted that the exact split is not always precisely 80/20. It could be 80/30 or 85/15. The point is, there is an imbalance and smart people look for it and use it to their advantage.

Does it apply to situations around the home as well? Does your carpet get worn in spots? Yes. Approximately 20% of the carpeted area receives 80% of the wear and tear while the other 80% goes almost untouched. Do you wear everything in your closet? Not likely. If the 80/20 Rule holds true, about 20% of what is in your closet is what you wear 80% of the time. The remaining 80% is unworn or seldom worn for whatever reason. Now I want to see if I can apply the 80/20 Principle to my cooking routine.

Looking for 80/20 in The Kitchen

If I cook 3 meals a day, that’s 21 meals a week and approximately 84 meals a month. Some meals are repeats, so approximately 60 different meals are, or were, part of our regular rotation.

Not all those 50 meals are spectacular, nor well-loved by my children. In fact, Pareto’s Law says only 20% of my cooking accounts for 80% of the love and appreciation received. The other 80%… it fills the stomach I guess, but is not anything they care one way or the other about. I could throw ham on bread and fill the stomach too, for a lot less work.

Only 20% of what I do will be missed!

That’s a sobering and somewhat depressing thought, but let’s see if I can use it to my advantage. If I can find out exactly what menu items are part of that 20%… that is where I need to focus my cooking energy.

My next step is to get some data I can work with, so I decide to poll the kids. I gave each kiddo a list of all commonly prepared meals, and I asked each to do the following:

  • Circle 10 favorite items.
  • Draw a line through 10 most disliked items.

I want to find out their favorites, but because the 80/20 rule also works in reverse, I might as well learn what their least favorites are as well.

What I Learned

Finally, results were in and a few things surprised me. First, many of the dishes I prepared prior to the divorce did not make the favorite list. Hmmmm? Interesting. Could it be I was cooking mainly to please the ex who left? Or did I make the same ‘favorites’ so often everyone got tired of them? Regardless of the reason, it was good information to know.

Also interesting – and a bit disappointing – is the fact that some of my personal favorites didn’t make their list. For example, not one child chose fried chicken livers with mashed potatoes and gravy. Darn!

After consideration, I decided the following:

  • Any item chosen as a favorite by all would be weighted heavier (and made more often) in the meal rotation list.
  • Any item disliked by all was off the meal rotation list forever – even if one of my personal favorites. (Who cares! This is all about making my life easier, so I’m already winning here.)
  • Any item disliked by 1, would be removed forever only if not chosen as a favorite by anyone else.

What this short exercise has left me with is a shorter list, but a more well-loved list. I still fix sandwiches and other fast meals often, but when I do have time to cook, I know that what I’m making is something they truly love.

It works for me.

I’ve come to terms with not doing it all. 20% is good enough.

Image courtesy of marin at

Have you ever put 80/20 to use in your life? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’m always looking for better ways to do things.

Reader Comments