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Bringing your own food to a dinner party

I invited my family for Christmas dinner, when asked if they needed to bring anything I informed them all to bring their beverages of choice, as I have all the food taken care of. My sister-in-law informed me yesterday she was bringing a ham - not some ham - an HALF ham. After my initial shock of the what I perceived to be rude (bringing the main dish that is not part of my menu) I thanked her and reminded her we don't eat pork. To which she replied she was bringing it to serve with what I am making and offered a side as well. In channeling my Mother I thanked her and gave up trying to make sense of this woman.

Said sister-in-law informed me this morning she is bringing a potato casserole (with all sorts of dairy products in it that I can't eat). I informed her that her dish will go great with the potatoes I am serving and that they sounded yummy and have since ignored all other text messages (as she doesn't call people she texts them).

If you are invited to a dinner party is it ok to bring the main course and a side dish after you have been informed by the hostess that nothing is necessary beyond your beverage of choice? Or am I being upset unnecessarily by someone's generosity in providing a meal that my family can't/won't eat instead of the lovely (and expensive) meal that I have chosen to serve?

Thank you all for you help - and responses as to how I can 1) prevent this from happening in the future and 2) not shoving that ham somewhere where a polite hostess shouldn't be thinking.

By the way - there are no food allergies or vegan issues in the family and this is the second time she has decided what the whole family is going to eat for dinner when invited to my home. The last time it was bbq wings and she took her children to McDonald's to eat.

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  1. Your SIL is into control. Or she really, really doesn't like your cooking. I am reading between the lines here, but it sounds like these are religious dietary issues? No pork or dairy? Her unwillingness to eat your food sounds offensive.

    Unless there is some compelling reason that you have not mentioned, I would cross her off the list for next year. Or, entertain them some other way for the season, perhaps by seeing a movie together, or eating at a restaurant.

    You have every right to be upset, but the more gracious you can manage to be, the better you will come off. She will be the one who appears insecure and domineering. But why put yourself through this next year. You deserve better.

    What a shame your SIL can't get out of her own comfort zone, and surrender control over this small thing. I pity her. But you still deserve better.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sueatmo

      I can't eat any dairy and hubby grew up on pig farm. I hate not including them for family holidays when sister and dad are there. Yet they don't host at the holiday.

      1. re: countinonit

        You have my sympathy. Just a suggestion: in future host a casual evening get together where she can bring something, and you can make something, and maybe play games, or piano, or whatever your family likes to do together. That way food isn't so much a power struggle.

        I still say you deserve better. I hope you find a solution.

    2. Family ... sigh!! You just have to gracefully ride it out.

      1. I kind of think that holiday dinners are different - people like to bring things - we all have sentimental favorites on holidays and not much can persuade us (meaning me!) that something else will do.

        Even if the rest of the year we're totally open to eating whatever is being served!

        5 Replies
        1. re: harryharry

          So - if I invite you to Thanksgiving Dinner and I am *not* serving a roast turkey, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, or pumpkin pie (let's say these are your sentimental favorites) - you would probably turn on your heels and stalk out? Or just endure the evening and flee at first opportunity never to return?

          1. re: huiray

            I agree -- if you accept an invitation to a holiday dinner, you by default agree to suck it up and enjoy whatever your host is serving. If you just have to have whatever your favorite might be, make it for yourself before or after, and don't be a jerk by insisting on bringing your own food, especially when you've been told multiple times not to.

            1. re: sunshine842

              I agree with you. However, if a family member insists on bringing some food to a holiday meal, let that family member put it out and ignore it. I would not make any special effort for or against it at this point. The following year, if it comes up again, be more emphatic that you would like it if they did not bring any more food. Enlist the spouse of the offender to help you in this matter.

              Once several years ago a family member brought mashed potatoes to an Easter dinner we were hosting. We were already planning on having mashed potatoes. The visiting potatoes were returned to the family member's vehicle for a cool trip home.

            2. re: huiray

              Yup. Good thing you didn't invite me....

              1. re: harryharry

                Glad I got the warning note here. Rest assured, you won't ever be placed in the position of needing to decline an invitation from me.

          2. Can you talk to your brother about it? Maybe he can do something to diffuse the situation for next year. For holiday dinners, I hate to say but I would bite the bullet and just go with it. No one wants tension - especially you as the host - for Christmas dinner. Your best bet is too mentally store her bringing extra food as a funny story you'll relate to a friend after she leaves. Oh, and get extra tupperware for the leftovers.

            Or maybe treat her like a toddler and call her up a week or so before the event and say "I'm going to make either A or B. Which one would you prefer? Once she chooses, you say Great, that's what we'll have. No need for you to bring anything extra.

            1. Do you think she feels funny not bringing something? I have a friend like that. I insist I have everything covered yet she still brings something.

              I'd probably just let it slide & ignore it.

              1. I agree with HarryHarry and think that holiday meals like thanksgiving and Christmas fall into a category other than 'dinner party'. People, especially family, have special associations with certain dishes on these holidays and want to be able to bring their contribution. I find holidays to be more about gathering and sharing time with family and friends than about making the perfect meal.

                If she decided to bring ham to a dinner party you were having in February, even after being told not to, that's a different story.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pollymerase

                  Your SIL is out of line and I have a feeling that she is very difficult to deal with. I'd let it go this year. But next year, as the hostess be very firm when you invite her and say, .."I've planned a special menu and I insist that you don't bring a thing except a bottle of your favorite wine."

                  1. re: pollymerase

                    If I had such an attachment to ham for Christmas (say) that I would be unable to abide a Christmas Dinner without said ham I would decline the invitation to a meal where I knew the host/hostess was not intending to serve ham - such as where I knew that the host/hostess did NOT eat pork.

                    If it was an "unavoidable family gathering" I would try to have my Ham Dinner before or after said event, on my own with those of my immediate family who might also demand ham; but go to said family gathering without towing along a ham attached to my person, after I had been informed that I should not bring any food, and with knowing that said relatives did not eat pork.

                  2. My first reaction is to offer my assistance with the impolite shoving, but after some reflection, and realizing it probably wouldn't be as much fun as first imagined, it occurs to me she may have a good reason she wants to bring something. Maybe she just wants to contribute? Maybe she just wants to share in the giving season? Maybe...Wiat, she took her kids to McDonlads before coming to your house and then brought bbq wings to boot? Tell her to shove it.

                    Just kidding. She is either clueless, in which case the best thing is to just let her do what she'll do and do your best to ignore it or she really is trying to be nice. Based on your tone I think the former is more likely than the latter.

                    Good luck.



                    1. Grin and bear it. Really, in the big scheme of life, this is truly not an issue of importance and certainly not a reason to never invite her again. Good grief, talk about mountains and molehills. I agree, it's rude and presumptuous, but this might be how your SIL grew up, with people bringing their own dishes to holiday dinners.
                      I too love to bring a dish, and always offer, but unless I am asked specifically, I refrain.

                      1. I agree with all with the hypothesis that she is being giving/generous, etc. except: 1) "Well, we ended up getting three hams for Christmas and we couldn't possibly eat them even by Easter (so I am being re-gifted) 2) I told her I had already purchased the meat and we don't eat pork ("I am bringing it anyway") 3) she brings absolutely NOTHING when my sister hosts 4) She made her husband cook the bbq wings on my grill with my charcoal and while we were outside cooking the wings she LEFT and took her kids to McD's and didn't offer to bring anything back for the two other kids there 5) I told them all that this was my gift to them as they have small kids who are in school and you know how stressful the holidays on parents who have kids and work whereas ours are gone off to college and we are semi-retired.

                        I will be nice and gracious etc etc. I just do not understand why after being asked repeatedly not to bring anything but the kids and beverages someone would insist on foisting off there extra ham on people who specifically said they do NOT eat pork and make a side dish too - the DAY BEFORE said dinner???? If she would have done this a week/two weeks ago I could have saved myself from buying a 10# brisket and gone with a smaller one. Guess she is taking home a brisket whether she wants it or not! LOL

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: countinonit

                          I'd be rejoicing if I could count on leftover brisket. Really, she sounds like a bonehead but me thinks you're looking for a fight here.
                          I could be wrong, but it sounds like she has a history of pissing you off and maybe you've got a short fuse when it comes to her (and "yell" in caps as well as use excessive punctuation which tells me you're pretty torqued).
                          Also, I don't get why it's such an offense to bring ham (which isn't regifting, it's using good food instead of wasting it) just because you don't eat it. If it's a religious issue, then no way, but you just don't eat it so why not? Others might really enjoy it.
                          Just food for thought from an outsider. We all have our family issues, heavens knows!

                          1. re: countinonit

                            I can sympathize. Last year, my family planned out our meal as a group. I had a two-day drive to get there, but since I was arriving the day before Christmas, and everyone likes my cooking, and they were all not arriving until Christmas day, I was asked to cook the turkey and dressing. So I hauled ingredients and knives 1200 miles across the country, and started cooking. Only to have someone show up with a ham, and someone else show up with a turkey breast. Aaarrrgh. There were only about 10 of us, so we sure didn't need that much meat. I really wouldn't have minded them bringing these things at all. If only they had TOLD me they were going to do it. I could have been spared the trouble of bringing the ingredients and cooking in a strange kitchen. Instead, I went to all that trouble (at their request), and it was completely unnecessary.

                            But what can you do? Family will be weird. My advice (and my practice) is to drink early and often.

                          2. She may also have decided to bring food that she knows her kids will eat. The fact that she took them to McDonald's for your last gathering sounds like she thinks her kids won't eat what you have made. I suggest this because years ago when my nephews and niece were young, our family dinners were held hostage because they would not eat ANYTHING and their grandmother (my mother) planned the meals around them. It sounds like you have a lovely meal planned and perhaps your SIL knows how special the food will be but that her kids will likely not want it.

                            I agree that, for peace, put her food out but serve your meal as you intended. Enjoy your Christmas.

                            1. the day of the event is not the time to discuss it. sometime in late january give her a call and ask what's up with that. maybe you will get an answer you understand, maybe you won't. but it sure isn't going to happen rationally "in the moment."

                              and no, you are not being over sensitive about it, perfectly normal reaction. Of course after reading threads in chow for a few years now, there is oddly nothing at all unusual about being put in that situation . . . it's amazingly common, especially at the holidays, especially with family.

                              A deep breath, a healthy swig of your preferred adult beverage, and its on with the show.

                              good luck!

                              1. Sounds plain rude to me- but sounds like you handled it gracefully. I wish I could find the post about a guest who insisted on bring ribs to a party, when the host was making ribs and had all the food covered. It was a classic- one of the best threads on these boards. I will try to find it and post the link. You will love it.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: macca

                                  Yes, please do! I'd like to read it too. :-)

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    I cant find it- .hopefully another poster may remember and provide the link. It was a classic!

                                      1. re: RUK

                                        Could be...macca, is it the one you had in mind?

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          Thats it- has to be one of the best threads ever. Have to bookmark this!

                                        2. re: RUK

                                          holy cow!! that's a beaut of a thread.

                                          1. re: RUK

                                            Thanks for posting this. Not sure what I did wrong in the search, but had no luck.

                                            1. re: macca

                                              I used to have the same problem. You have to modify the search to include all years. The default search parameters are the last 12 months.

                                              1. re: John E.

                                                I used google (and specified the thread on Chowhound), not the search function on Chowhound and got lucky.

                                    1. Let her bring what she wants and simply serve what you would like to.

                                      And make sure to give her back her left over at the end of the evening.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Withnail42

                                        The flip side of this situation was when my friend asked a relative if there was anything she should bring to Thanksgiving dinner she was told the roasted and stuffed turkey. Seriously.

                                      2. It sounds like, for whatever reason, that she doesn't like your cooking and/or is a control freak. So I agree with sueatmo, do not go out of your way for a group that includes her. Make it a potluck and save your time, effort and money for guests who will be happy to enjoy the menu who want to prepare.

                                        1. There's a lot of speculation here about motivation, and about what should be overlooked for the sake of the family and/or holiday. But I think there are common-sense rules that trump all of that:

                                          1. This is your home. You are allowed to set house rules. And to enforce them, but no one who puts you in that situation should be considered a good guest - or a repeat guest.

                                          2. Invitees who don't like the house rules should either put up or decline the invitation.

                                          3. If the invitees refuses to do either one, it's certainly within your right not to invite them.

                                          That makes for a more enjoyable, and certainly less dramatic, day for everyone, and leaves little room for argument: questioning the offender's motivation - or yours - is moot.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: WNYamateur

                                            But you're assuming that if you set a rule people will follow it. This is family which lives in a whole different sphere. One can set rules, and not invite people, but they may well be eating along for many holidays---not that that's a bad thing.

                                          2. This subject comes up on the boards periodically, and I think there is general chowhound agreement that it is indeed rude to bring food to a dinner party (or a party involving any meal) especially if you have been asked repeatedly (albeit in the politest of language) not to. Since I don't know your SIL, I couldn't speculate as to her motive. But, I've had to deal with this more than once at parties I've given, and I believe that the people who insisted on bringing something were motivated by generousity and a desire to share. I think that potlucks have become such a ubiquitous form of socializing that people have kind of forgotten the pleasure of entertaining. Or, for some people (see the thread on the eternal guest) entertaining is not a pleasure, so they are projecting their own wishes on the hapless host. In any case, at the holidays or any other time, I think there's only one thing to do when a guest shows up with food that you didn't plan to serve: just serve it. As someone else said, that way you know that you will appear gracious, and you can leave it to the other guests how the person who brought the food appears.

                                            An aside to all this: A few years ago, for various reasons Christmas eve (which is usually a big but more casual meal with the whole family and often friends) was a very small affair with just my sister and brother in law, his best friend, and me. On the way to their house, I had stopped in Solvang at what I believe is the best Danish bakery there and bought a box of delicious cinamon pinwheels to share. Then I got to thinking about all the threads I'd read here about how presumptious it is to bring food to a meal. So I got all nervous, and I asked my sister if she thougt me rude for bringing the pastry. It turned out that in all the meal planning, they had completely forgotten about dessert, and the stuff I brought saved the day!

                                            1. I went to a Tgiving dinner at a friend recently and she made 80% of dinner and asked for a couple sides/desserts. One guest made a cranberry sauce and brought wine and made the loudest noise about how amazing her sauce was and what fabulous wine she'd brought. I thought it was disrespectful because our hostess had made such an incredible dinner that was clearly 2 days of work and this other woman had maybe spent 30 minutes on a cranberry dish and had shopped for wine.
                                              I'd rather guests not make any food for me, I'm hosting and cooking just bring what you drink.

                                              1. We've been invited for Christmas Eve dinner at in laws house. When we inquired about what to bring we were informed the Sis in Law's Sister was going to cook an Indian themed dinner. As soon as I heard that I thought of this thread. We were told we could bring whatever we wanted, by the Sister that is not cooking. We've decided not to make any side dishes (I know nothing about cooking Indian cuisine) and will only bring a cheese and salami platter to nibble while we watch some football. I am looking forward to seeing what they make and wish to sit back and just appreciate what they've made.


                                                1. I can understand being offended. But, it's hard because it's family. I really feel for you. I have friends whose son is picky and they bend to his every whim. i know he hates my cooking (they are meat-centered carnivores, and we're vegetarian, and this teenager won't really give it a fair shake). When it takes you two or more days to make a meal, it's hard not to be offended. I imagine that it makes them all uncomfortable. So, I just don't invite them for dinner.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: IndyGirl

                                                    BTW, these are great friends, and we go out together all the time, or go to their place. So it all works out. I would never let it damage our friendship, but the hurt feelings aren't worth it to me.

                                                  2. "If you are invited to a dinner party is it ok to bring the main course and a side dish after you have been informed by the hostess that nothing is necessary beyond your beverage of choice? "

                                                    No. It is rude and thoughtless. Always.

                                                    1. I'll happily stand corrected, but I believe the etiquette for unrequested food brought to a party is the same as unrequested wine brought to a party.

                                                      It is solely the option of the host whether or not to serve it, and if the bringer doesn't like it, tough toenails.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        Agree. I say wrap up the unasked-for food, shove it in the fridge, smile politely and thank them to tomorrow's dinner. You don't need to serve it at all.

                                                      2. Its irritating, its a control thing, it isn't about the food, its about who is controlling the food. Having my share of odd SILs and so on, I know my plan of attack here is to graciously thank the bringer for the food, and do one of two things. The first is put it on the table and serve it up with a smile. The second is to say "this is WONDERFUL, thanks for bringing this, it will be perfect for tomorrow's lunch" then pack it right into the fridge. And carry on with dinner. Of course, this can open you up to confrontation, which has to be handled, as she is likely to demand her food be served. So if you can handle that and say something like "Well, I've planned the meal carefully, and there is plenty to go around so just enjoy yourself" and carry on, then go for it. On the other hand, sometimes the path of least resistance is to just plop it on the table and ignore it. It just depends on what you are prepared to handle at that moment and the personality of the other individual involved.
                                                        But it isn't about the food, its about control. SO been there.

                                                        1. It is not ok to insist on bringing unrequested food to someone else's home but in this case, it's family. Let her put the food out and just don't mention it or talk about her food in any way. If this were a dinner party you could always not invite the offending party for a return visit but family puts this in a different situation. I'd let is slide this year. The next time she mentions bringing food, be more emphatic that she is NOT to bring any food.

                                                          1. The fact that you don't eat Pork or dairy seems to be enough reason to be as rude as they are and tell them, in no uncertain terms, that those foods are not welcome in your house. I honestly can not believe the hutzpah of those woman, family or not!!!

                                                            1. Follow up - I set out the ham (which was like rubber) and the cheesy potato dish - not many ate it, so the ham got thrown out. I asked the kids if they wanted hot dogs or brisket and they all wanted hot dogs....but the one and only child that actually ate of hers ate ham and cheesy potatoes (the other one wasn't hungry when he realized ham was on his menu instead of a hot dog). The next evening we went to sister's and she brought NOTHING but a bottle of 2 buck chuck and her kids ate nothing. So, we have leftover brisket which did not go to waste, the ham got thrown away and the potatoes went back home with SIL - all in all a good evening, but now I get to worry about next year! ha ha ha Thanks for all the input - glad to know that I was not crazy in thinking this was really rude to bring the main and a side, but channeled my Mother and was polite :)

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: countinonit

                                                                Next year, make *very* clear to your brother that unrequested food should neither be offered nor brought, and that it's his job to enforce that so that you are not put in this position again. Do not hedge.

                                                                1. re: countinonit

                                                                  Good for you for managing all this in a way that leaves you with no regrets. I don't think you need to worry at all. Next Christmas, as you start to plan, text her and ask her what she's bringing. Then set whatever-it-is out with the rest of your lovely dinner and watch everyone ignore it. :D

                                                                  1. re: countinonit

                                                                    Sad as it is, you'll be in for it next year. So get your head around the fact that unexpected and unwanted food will arrive. And do exactly what you did this year. It'll be absolutely fine, just a small blip on the dining radar!

                                                                    1. re: countinonit

                                                                      My family is almost always in a bring-a-dish mode, though the host does the main. But my mother DOES Christmas Eve. It's her night and she just straight out says "it's my night" and it works. She says it plainly and it works. Best of luck for next time.

                                                                    2. Maybe it is a control thing. But maybe it's also a cultural or class disconnect. Some families have a culture where every woman brings something to a family or holiday dinner, especially the less upscale housewife type women from blue collar backgrounds. Having a family dinner with one family providing all the food, might seem to her like showing off on your part, or your being a control freak, shutting out the other women and being center of attention. Some blue collar housewife types act like group food all about the female pecking order (who gets to make dessert, who gets "main dish rights", etc) and they could care less about the culinary quality of what's put out, or what your theme is.

                                                                      Maybe you can try to have a conversation with her that allows you to feel out how family dinners are coordinated in her family, what the culture is behind her assumptions.