Mothers Rely on Limited Number of Recipes for the Family

Discussion
Nov 23, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By
Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

With
more mothers working outside the home than ever before in both
the U.S. and the U.K., and less time than ever to shop, prepare
and cook for their families, it’s no wonder a recent survey claims
that the “average” mother primarily relies on just nine different
meals to feed her family.

Although
conducted in the U.K., the survey of 4,000 mothers may not have
produced results indicative only of that country. It may, in
fact, be a more global phenomenon. Mothers – or whoever produces family
meals, because sometimes fathers venture into the kitchen as at
least one blog post responding to the original survey pointed out
– may be guided by what their families want to eat as much as by
the time available for producing meals. They may also be guided
by grocers and the range on their shelves. After all, this particular
survey was sponsored by Merchant Gourmet, a producer of packaged
ingredients aimed at “making a difference” to dishes.

Apparently
a combination of “hectic lifestyles, fussy children and partners
who work long hours mean mothers are stuck in a rut when it comes
to experimenting in the kitchen.” In fact, Reuters reported
that “nine in 10 mothers polled admitted cooking the same meals
over and over again while one in four made the same meals on the
same day of the week.”

Having
established all that, many said that they prepare at least two
meals each evening to satisfy everyone, often preferring to feed
children first and have a quiet adult meal later. There was also
an element of economy in decision-making as many prefer not to
waste money trying to feed their children new food only to have
it wasted when rejected. Food enjoyment, taste and health were
cited by approximately one quarter (each) when deciding what to
cook. With such a range of reasons for menu planning, the “stuck
in a rut” judgement may not, in fact, be the most appropriate conclusion
to draw from the results after all.

Discussion
Questions: Do you think American mothers have more or fewer than
nine recipes that they repeat regularly? Is that much different
than in the past? Should retailers be looking to drive more diversity
or capitalize on family staples?

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15 Comments on "Mothers Rely on Limited Number of Recipes for the Family"


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Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Whether the number here in North America is 9, 19 or none, this reflects the reality of the over-worked, time-stretched, out-of-balance family. Set aside the importance of family meal times to the development of children for a moment, and look at the potential for retailers. First, the direct opportunity to figure out what the “top 9” meals being made here are (and let’s hope they’re a little more interesting and healthier than those from across the pond!).

More interesting though is the possibility of taking the lead to educate and entertain customers with new and easy ways to ‘spice’ up the menu (see last week’s interesting post on videos in the store).

People seem bored…with eating and with shopping. Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone?

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

We all need to be stimulated to expand our conceptual thinking–even the most creative chefs, writers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and merchants. Moms get stuck in a rut on cooking. Providing them with innovative solutions to unleash the creative juices takes them well beyond “9 specialties”–but I’m sure glad to be “going home to some of Mom’s finest” in a couple of days…if she changes that recipe for the oyster stuffing, I’m going to protest.

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 5 months ago
The list of 9 meals included pizza which I doubt Mum is preparing herself. Therefore, the perspective on this topic would possibly include: What are the menus? And how are the menus prepared–cooked at home entirely or brought in prepared? Once we know how the existing meals are prepared, we can identify the opportunities for the retailer (and fast food restaurant). Of course, as the article stated, there are many variables that affect a household’s menus. A desire for variety may not be one of them…and that is the underlying assumption. If there are essentially 9 different menus, are families craving for more and different meals, or happy with the way things are. Having raised two children while I was working, I found it daunting to think of something new to prepare every other day or week. I was happy that I was able to figure out how to put a wholesome meal on the table and have everyone partake. Now that the kids are out of the house and it’s just me and my… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

It would be interesting to see if a study like this has been done anywhere else in the world 50 years ago. Just a gut feeling but I would bet that the average number of different meals that were served has been a constant and in fact, if anything, it has gone up instead of down because of more diverse eating habits and availability of different foods and spices.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 5 months ago

Looking at the last few quarter’s numbers for the private-label frozen prepared food category, I would say it’s zero. Who has time to make a meal from scratch? And even if moms could or wanted to, couldn’t they easily look up a recipe on the internet? Does that count as having a recipe? I’m noticing a trend in family households where the computer or laptop is situated in the kitchen for easy internet access.

Grocers are going a long way to entice customers with recipes and sampling and I think it’s a great way to increase the basket. My ‘Entertaining Expert’ program was a great success for a local chain here in Toronto last season. This year we will expand the project by offering pre-printed handbills with associated recipes and products.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Some retailers are working hard to increase the choices that families have for meals. Wegmans has in-store cooking demos regularly and others are subscribing to or developing their own in-store video broadcasts that can help shape family eating habits. In Ukrops stores they have recipes and Food Network personalities sharing tips over the deli counter where shoppers are a captive audience. Others have family meal displays that can broaden the menu for busy shoppers. Retailers need to be aware of all of these opportunities and act on some or all of them.

Expanding the menus for families can mean increased sales for creative retailers and help time-starved consumers to give their families more variety.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 5 months ago
I would be surprised if the US number differed significantly. The key is not so much the number of meals. Rather the source, ease of preparation, and ability to make minor modifications to these meals to create the impression that the nine meals represent a month’s worth of interesting meals would appear to be very meaningful to the time-starved consumer. While we like balance in our lives, we also like a bit of tension, i.e., something new and different. This is why we try new restaurants, new retail formats, etc. The “tension” of meals at home could be created by offering variations to these preferred meals. This is something that food retailers could and should be doing. If done properly, we can change the perception from meal assembly–so automobile manufacturing oriented–to convenient meal involvement. In the latter case, food retailers can partner with harried consumers to prepare nutritious, tasty meals that communicate love and affection to the family–a new twist on mom’s meatloaf, that leaves the family clamoring for more varieties of mom’s stable of… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Nine? My family would revolt.

We long ago decided that we’d have a real homecooked meal each night, despite very busy schedules. Our teens make some of these meals and ask me to purchase ingredients from the market. This gives us control over what we’re consuming and helps enable quality family time around the table. People–branch out a little, and make it yourself!

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Nine would be good in our house! Clearly, the study shows the impact of carry out on the average consumer. You don’t really need to have more than nine if you can pick up something that you can’t make yourself (Whole Foods?) or that everyone just loves (fast food). I would think the number will go down as all grocers and restaurateurs get better at meals to go.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 5 months ago
What about the dinners that the MEN cook? My wife and I both work and we both share the cooking, with the nanny doing most of the shopping now (although I still find myself doing a lot of fill-in grocery shopping and the monthly “big buy.”) I find the shopping time a great time to spend time with my three daughters. Let’s see here; my (our) meals:1. Homemade Mac and Cheese – Yum!2. Homemade Spaghetti and vegetables (not homemade) – garlic bread3. Daddy’s special “meat” pizza – Yum!4. Daddy’s special hamburgers – low fat – but great nonetheless5. Marinated Pork chops and chicken6. Burritos – Yum!7. Taco Salad8. Special nine layer bean dip – yum9. BBQ chicken10. Almond chicken (not as often as I should make it) 11. Fajitas (not as often as I should make it)12. Chicken Parm – Yummm! Looks like we beat the norm. Also, we use this time as complete down time with the kids. My wife will have a glass of wine and play games with the kids (while I… Read more »
Carlos Arambula
Guest
11 years 5 months ago
In countless qualitative studies the “routine” cooking repertoire is evident. It’s usually one for every day of the week with a couple of other ones thrown in for the family’s perception of variety. I’ve seen this in mainstream moms and in US Hispanic moms, different recipes but same weekly routines. Here is the interesting part: They are all tired of it and want to change things, they just need help and assurance that a new entry to the weekly cooking repertoire will be accepted, eaten, and enjoyed by the family. With health and obesity being a concern in the country, retailers and food manufacturers should be driving variety and adoption of new healthy ingredients and techniques, hidden cooking shortcuts, and trials of new products. The critical part is satisfying the family, because if it doesn’t happen, it will be the last time mom will trust the retailer and manufacturer. If the manufacturer and retailer get it right, mom will repeatedly look at them as a source and will become a loyal costumer.
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 5 months ago
Did you have spaghetti night or meatloaf night or (homemade) pizza night or Sunday pot roast at your house? We did, but then I grew up in Kansas. Mom and Dad both worked, and our predictable menu made food preparation and shopping much, much easier, not to mention budgeting. We were growing kids, so we hoovered anything Mom put on the table. It was delicious, though, because she had perfected every recipe. Maybe that’s why our friends hung around the house near dinnertime. With our kids, set menus went out the window. My wife was a homemaker and excellent cook, and had the time to devote to new recipes. And to our kids’ credit, they loved everything. Partially as a result, both are superb cooks today and we frequently share recipes and tips via email. If we had a standing menu request from the kids, it was what they called “hot and a lot.” This could be anything from spaghetti to cioppino to pot roast to “daddy burgers” (I worked my way through college cooking… Read more »
John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
11 years 5 months ago

My wife and I were just discussing this. We are stuck on about nine (or less) meals. We would love to have more and challenge ourselves to do so; the enemy is always time. Consistently good meals tends to win over taking chances. With that said, more restaurants and grocers should be able to take advantage of this, especially in local neighborhood locations.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 5 months ago

Interesting discussion. I think it kind of depends on the age of the children in the family. Whether the favored recipe count is nine or fifteen, the point for most parents is that it’s healthy and that the kids will enthusiastically eat it! Young kids especially are not too hung up on variety and are more focused on the fact that the served selection not be “yucky.” Sometimes even a moderate menu variation or an ingredient substitution can cross that fine line. Also, in this time of economic stress and stretching family finances, it is all the more important for many moms to know the food will be eaten and not wasted or thrown away if the kids don’t like it–another impetus to stay with the tried and true recipes.

Older kids are usually a bit more adventurous, especially as they start to eat meals as guests at friends’ houses and see what THEIR moms’ favorite recipes are!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
11 years 5 months ago

50+ years ago when I was a child, our family ate well. We did not have, however, a lot of variety. My mother prepared approximately 6 or 7 different meals each week. As she was a homemaker with domestic help, time was not a problem. The fact is, she prepared what we wanted to eat. Putting something on the table that everyone wanted to eat was the prime consideration.

I believe that is still a huge factor today.

Today’s housewife does face a time compression problem which makes the tried and true even more appealing. Thankfully, at my house we have discovered some absolutely wonderful frozen meals in our grocer’s frozen section. This has allowed us to broaden our meal selection with minimal preparation. Now our five favorite recipes can be used to cover two or three weeks instead of just one.

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