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Dads Can't Cook

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The next time Dad gets breakfast
When Mummy's sleeping late,
I think I'll skip the waffles.
I'd sooner eat the plate!
—"Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast" by John Ciardi

Fathers, bumbling or otherwise, show no ability to cook or interest in doing so. When forced to cook because their wife is sick or absent, expect the family to live off of:

  • Canned, frozen, or otherwise very easy-to-prepare food
  • The same dish for days on end
  • Cheap takeout or delivery food (usually Chinese food, pizza, or curry for those works set in Britain)
The main exception to this trope is food cooked outside on a barbecue grill, especially such things as hamburgers, steaks, and hot dogs, perhaps because these foods are seen as stereotypically masculine.

With the increasing numbers of working mothers and single-parent families since the 1990s, this trope has become something of an Undead Horse Trope but it can still be seen from time to time in works mostly due to Rule of Funny.

Supertrope to A Day in Her Apron. Compare Feminine Women Can Cook (the view that cooking is an inherently feminine skill), Men Can't Keep House (not only can they not cook, but they can't clean up either), and Lazy Husband (when the husband is simply too lazy to cook). Contrast the House Husband (who needs to know how since he keeps house while the wife works), Real Men Cook, and Real Men Wear Pink. Not necessarily Lethal Chef, as the food is usually edible, if a bit bland, unhealthy, or repetitive (or some combination of the three). This is usually Played With for Breakfast in Bed, when a husband/father (and/or children) attempt to make breakfast for a mother/wife for Mother's Day or an anniversary. See also Ramen as Dehydrated Noodles for a similar food-related stereotype.


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  • In a Detroit-based 1970s commercial for Big Boy restaurants, a dad says to his 2 kids:
    Dad: OK kids, since mom's out bowling, what's it gonna be — my cooking, or Elias Brothers Big Boy?
    Kids: (in unison) Big Boy!!
    Dad: (to camera/fourth wall) Thank goodness
  • Carl's Jr/Hardy's had a series of radio ads in the early 00s called "Hank's Kitchen: the Cooking Show For Guys". Each one focused on Hank trying to cook something simple, goofing up, and deciding to get Carl's Jr instead.
  • McDonald's had an ad in the early 90s where a mom is going off on a trip and leaves her husband and kids a freezer full of pre-cooked food that the dad just needs to heat in the microwave and serve. He gets frustrated with the overly-complex, rambling instructions she left for him and decides to take the kids to McDonald's instead.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Vegeta in Dragon Ball shows in Super that he can't prepare a decent meal to even please a god as he breaks eggs just by simply grabbing them. All he can make is instant ramen. Then again, judging from what Vegeta says, Bulma isn't any better.
  • Sora Wakanae in Family Compo almost burns the house down when his wife is absent for the day.

  • Ajnabee: Subverted, much to Raj's surprise, Priya's dad was a good cook, so she never learned herself and becomes an awful cook when she tries.
  • Zigzagged in Eat Drink Man Woman: Zhu is a Supreme Chef approaching retirement, but at the beginning of the film he's starting to lose his sense of taste, with disastrous results to his cooking...
  • In Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, Wayne tries to cook a chicken while his wife is away and only succeeds in burning it to a crisp, forcing him and his sons to have peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.
  • In Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel Hillard (in the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire) tries and fails to cook a meal for his wife and kids and sets his fake breasts on fire in the process. He later learns how to cook properly and his kids compliment him on the food.
  • In The Santa Clause, Scott completely fails at cooking Christmas Eve dinner and ends up setting the turkey on fire. Afterwards, he takes Charlie out to eat and only Denny's is open; the restaurant is divided into a section for a Japanese business meeting and another section of single fathers who also burnt their family's turkeys.
  • Kramer vs. Kramer plays this trope for all the drama it can during the first morning after Joanna (the wife) has left to find herself. Ted Kramer can't even make french toast, which is a symbol of how disconnected he is from the rest of his family. By the time he has to fight for the custody of his kid, a year and a half later, he is capable of making it with ease.
  • In Somewhere, Johnny’s eleven-year-old daughter Cleo can cook meals like Eggs Benedict by herself, while Johnny can barely make spaghetti.

  • According to Dave Barry, this is common to all men, who have one single dish they know how to prepare and view it as a considerable achievement. He explored this again when he was preparing to move from Pennsylvania to Florida, as he was left behind with his son while his wife went to buy the house:
    My son and I, who had never been in charge of each other for this long before, embarked on the following rigorous nutritional program:
    BREAKFAST: Frozen waffles heated up.
    LUNCH: Hot dogs heated up.
    DINNER: Choice of hot dogs or frozen waffles heated up.
  • Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing features Peter and Fudge's mother going out of town for a couple days. Their father believes himself to be an excellent cook, particularly good at making omelets. His first effort at doing so ends with him asking Peter where the peanut butter is hidden, and Peter quietly arranges to go to his friend's house for dinner the next day.
  • Cicero from Fairy Oak is really good at making crepés, but the only time he attempts to cook an actual meal his daughters and their babysitter are repulsed by the smell of the cauliflower pureé. Lavender even mentions she would have preferred rotten eggs.
  • In the introduction to the Discworld spin-off Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, Nanny says men can probably run a busy restaurant kitchen where they're bossing people about, but she doesn't believe any of them could feed a family every day for sixpence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Grounded for Life had an episode where Claudia had to work overtime to save up for a vacation, so Sean cooked for the family; apparently he made macaroni and cheese 6 days in a row. Another episode has Sean ordering Chinese delivery food when he thinks Claudia will be spending the night away from home with her mother.
  • Another mac-and-cheese reference in the Hallmark Channel movie Christmas In The Air, which finds a man panicking over having to host a potential business partner for dinner. As he tells the woman he's hired to organize his life, "Mac and cheese is a delicacy in our house!" Other scenes show him and his kids eating pizza. However, later scenes indicate that he actually is a good cook—it's the time to prepare better meals that he lacks, not the skills.

  • In the Animated Music Video for Country Music band Lonestar's 2004 hit, "Mr. Mom", the Dad tries to handle cooking. He gets instructions on how to cook a chicken filet from a book called Cooking For Dummies, and his chicken filet ends up looking nothing like the one in the picture. His attempts to bake a cake also result in disaster, as noted in the lyrics below.
    How much smoke can one stove make?
    The kids won't eat my charcoal cake.
    It's more than any man can take,
    Being Mr. Mom.
  • The annual Dutch children's choir project Kinderen voor Kinderen included a song about a dad who is terrible at cooking, and completely oblivious to his own shortcomings, resulting in the strangest of dishes being served whenever mom is away from home.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes had a story arc where Calvin's mother was sick, so Calvin's father cooked, reassuring Calvin that he lived off his own cooking for 3 years before he married Calvin's mother. Calvin says that his mother claimed that his father lived off of canned soup and frozen waffles 3 meals a day; Calvin's father's response (while holding a can of soup) was "Your mother wasn't living with me at the time, so she wouldn't know. Now get the syrup out." Interestingly enough, other strips showed Calvin's father cooking in their backyard grill quite competently.
  • Close To Home had a strip featuring a restaurant called "Dad's Diner", where the menu featured dishes such as "Jelly on a Graham Cracker", "Boiled Hotdogs", and "Cheetos and Mustard".
  • In Foxtrot, Roger cannot cook burgers to save his life, turning his every attempt at a barbecue into a training exercise for the local fire department. His wife does know how to cook... the problem is she's fanatical with healthy eating, which includes things like her veggie dogs being carrots on buns.
    • The punchline when Andy is out of town for a week and Roger goes to buy all sorts of junk food and frozen food for them, with the cashier correctly guessing Andy was out of town. Roger lampshades the stereotype.
    • An early arc had Andy sick and Roger tasked with making dinner for the kids. What he scrounges up is some very overcooked scrambled eggs (which Peter mistook for steak).
  • In Funky Winkerbean, Les Moore can only cook hot dogs and peas. When Funky's wife broke her ankle, Les sent over the recipe, while his mother-in-law exclaimed "You're going to cook?" in horror. (Yes, Funky owns and runs a pizzeria, what's your point?)
  • Subverted Trope in Sally Forth (Howard), when Sally is sick, and Hil asks her dad if that means they're going to order pizza. He asks if she thinks he can't cook, and she says of course he can, he cooks all the time. That established, he says yes, they're going to order pizza.

  • The Vinyl Cafe, "Dave Cooks the Turkey": Less "dads can't cook", more "dads don't realize all the stuff that you have to do before cooking". Hilarity Ensues as Dave realizes at bedtime on Christmas Eve that he hasn't actually bought the turkey. When he finally finds one at a 24-hour grocery store, he has to thaw it out with the help of an electric blanket, a hairdryer, and a bottle of scotch (for him). And then, the next day, the oven is on a timer and won't open for him...

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted with the protagonist of Daughter for Dessert. Not only is he good at cooking, but he owns a diner in which he handles everything related to the kitchen.

    Western Animation 
  • Show up on a few occasions in The Simpsons:
    • $pringfield (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling) had Homer preparing food while Marge is gambling (this time, it is cooking of the Lethal Chef variety):
    You just have to improvise. Cloves, Tom Collins mix, pie crust...
    • "Bart After Dark" has Homer and Bart living off of TV dinners, which they have at 10 PM.
    • "The Cartridge Family" has this exchange when Marge takes the kids after being frustrated with Homer's gun obsession.
      Homer: So this is the thanks I get for protecting my family? Then go! I'll be just fine. (turns to Milhouse) Do you know how to cook dinner?
      Milhouse: (excitedly) Do I?!
  • Played With in Arthur ; Arthur's dad runs a professional catering business, but at home subjects his family to experimental dishes.


Video Example(s):


Scott vs Christmas Dinner

Scott Calvin is a divorced Dad who has visitation rights for his son, Charlie on Christmas Eve. He tries to make Christmas (Eve) Dinner and fails spectacularly. He then takes Charlie to Denny's were a collection of other fathers have ended up in the same situation.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / DadsCantCook

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