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Dads Can't Cook

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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). See also Ramen as Dehydrated Noodles for a similar food-related stereotype.



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    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.

  • 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; 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.

  • 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 attemps 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 prefered rotten eggs.

    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.

    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.


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