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Adults that have been "sheltered" from cooking?

My elderly mother has been having some health issues and I've been realizing how helpless my father is in the kitchen. He's 75 years old, military-retired and has pretty much relied on my mother to take care of all the cooking and cleaning for most of their lives. Not that he's a chauvinist, but he's always just been used to sitting down and having meals appear and dirty dishes disappear. I'm now helping to take care of them, but left to his own devices, if he has to get his own meal, he will either microwave some hotdogs, or have a bowl of soup (heated in microwave) and a peanut butter sandwich. He doesn't seem to be very comfortable using the oven or stovetop. Wondered if others find this is pretty common with this generation?

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  1. Mom and dad are on the older end of the baby boom generation, and mom pretty much handles all cooking duties. Left by himself, my dad probably can't handle anything more complicated than a sandwich. If mom is away for some reason, he generally nukes some leftovers or does something very basic. It's a rare occasion to see him at the stove.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gilintx

      My husband and I are also on the "older end" of the baby boomers, and life in our home is quite different from what gilintx describes. I do most of the cooking, but my husband clears the dishes from the table, loads the dishwasher, cleans pots & pans, etc. He also cooks breakfast on weekends (and also does laundry, btw). I'd say we have an equal opportunity kitchen. My dad, OTOH, sat back and watched my mom do everything house/kitchen related, except for occasional repairs.

    2. I am in the same age range as gilintx's parents and we are retired. Mr. Sueatmo gets his own breakfast and lunch most of the time. I do cook breakfast or lunch for both of us sometimes. But he likes certain types of food that I don't and vice versa. I make all dinners. He really doesn't cook, but he can heat stuff up or nuke things. He is a cleanup champ though, and I truly appreciate it.

      My sons all cook. There is a time when kids will be interested in cooking. I let mine have the run of the kitchen when they were interested. They can take care of themselves in the kitchen very well.

      My dad didn't cook at all, ever. He was offended one Christmas when I gave him a coffeemaker. He did finally take that chore over though. He drank far more coffee than my mom did.

      People are staying single longer than in the past, and so I think many more men learn to cook, unless they want to eat out all the time. One thing I noticed in my lifetime though, is that plenty of women my age and younger never really mastered cooking for their families. They were making dinner, but they hadn't really learned to cook.

      1. the church i go to has a high percentage of seniors. when the wife passes first, or has to be hospitalized for a while, almost invariably the husband needs help with feeding himself. of course there are exceptions to every rule, and fortunately in Hawaii you can barbecue all year long. I'm glad my parents (both of them) expected my brother and I to be able to at least do basic cooking.

        1. My SO didn't haven't parents who were much on cooking... we're both children of the 1970's. He makes a mean egg, pasta from a jar, tacos from a packet and sandwiches. But, he waited tables for 20 years and lived largely on staff meals. He eats enthusiastically, does a lot of the wash and will devein shrimp/toast nuts/butcher chickens whenever I ask. Left on his own - it's takeout or coldcuts.

          1. my dad can make his own bacon & eggs, and cook some rice. he can boil water for pasta too. but that's about it. and heat things in the microwave, of course. when my mom got sick, my sister and i took over all the cooking for both of them. now it's just him, and it's a PITA because he likes less and less as he gets older, and it's also harder for him to chew with his dentures. poor guy. i do think it's a generational thing (he's 83.) my 48-year-old BF cooks all the time and does it really well - he learned early on because his mother wasn't a great cook, and he also worked at a buffet restaurant and learned how to make a variety of items. and he has excellent plating skills!

            1. I actually find that there are 'sheltered' adults of all ages, but the reasons why they've avoided having to learn to cook are very different.

              At the older end, you have situations like this - men who grew up when cooking and housekeeping was women's work, who married, and followed traditional gender roles. They don't know how to cook because that wasn't their job, their wives wouldn't know how to change the oil in the car or mow the lawn because that was men's work.

              This becomes less common with decreasing age, as gender roles changed and more women were out working, rather than full time home-makers.

              However, as you get younger you get people who don't know how to cook because they've never needed to eat in a fashion that was both cheap and healthy. They've spent their adult life getting by with a combination of minimal preparation (ramen noodles, canned soup, sandwiches, microwave dinner, bagged salads and baby carrots, maybe boiled pasta and jarred sauce if they're feeling ambitious) plus buying pre-prepared food (fast food, take-out, deli section at the grocery store, eating out).

              On the even younger end, you have people who haven't had to cook because the food has always been provided. Either they've been at home, and their parents did it, or they've been living in a environment like a university where there is a cafeteria on hand to get food at.

              My mom was at home while my dad worked, but my Dad was a gourmet hobbiest cook. He was one of six kids, with only one girl, and a mother who was ill for a stretch of time - all the men in his family know how to cook properly.

              6 Replies
              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                dh was once getting gas at a service station in *old-school wealthy area suburb* and a lady of good vintage age approached him, in somewhat of a flutter. she needed to put gas in her car and had no idea how to do it, as her husband/s had always done it. i dunno, maybe he was ill or away. after she explained this to dh he picked his jaw up off the ground and helped her out. there was a bit of a class element to dh's shock-- after all, his grandmother and mother and law were perfectly capable of riding motorcycles, helping to run the family construction business, etc. so he was not used to such rigid gender roles.

                at the other end of the age spectrum there are a lot of kids who continue to be treated as children into their teens and even college age. my college freshman roomie didn't know how to do her own laundry, another friend had to ask me how to make rice without a rice cooker-- she actually didn't think it was possible to make it in a pot. there was a thread not long ago about what age kids should be helping out in the kitchen, some folks were really adamant that kids well into their teens shouldn't be chopping or mixing or preparing finished dishes. when i was a kid i had to be able to put together basic meals in order to babysit neighborhood kids or be left alone with my brother, so i could capably prepare food without burning the house down at age 10 or so, full meals with homemade scratch bread and dessert by age 12 or so.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  My college roommate didn't know how to pump gas because she lived in a major city that was all full service. Therefore she also didn't know that cell phones while pumping gas is a no no.

                  1. re: melpy

                    That is actually an urban myth.


                    ETA: But don't do it anyway, because the gas station attendants get mad and it's just not worth the trouble.

                    1. re: LabLady

                      Ever been to New Jersey? "We don't pump our gas, we pump our fists". I didn't know how to pump gas until I was in my early 20's.

                      1. re: southernitalian

                        She was from San Fran and there are still signs up about the cell phones at the pumps so I'm not going to risk it. She also didn't know about turning off te car.

                    2. re: melpy

                      My freshman roommate was from Jersey so she'd never pumped gas before either.

                      ETA: whoops, just saw that SI

                2. When neccesity presents itself, people will learn, and if they "choose" not to learn, than it's ramens, mickey d's and microwaves.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Myself, as a retired soldier, four years younger than your pop, I could still go out in to the countryside
                    with a couple of mess tins and some matches to cook up what ever I took along.

                    As long as he is safe getting the meals you mention, allow him to do so and then
                    input nutritional meals when appropriate.

                    Here in England there are firms who will deliver , ready to microwave meals of a very high standard.

                    Here . for instance:

                    Your are not going to get him up to speed on stove top cooking as things seem to stand.

                    You have to work around the problem.

                    My very best regards.

                    1. My partner is in his 30s and when I don't cook, he goes out to dinner or gets takeout or heats up something out of the freezer. I know a lot of people in my age group (both genders) who don't seem to have much interest in cooking. I used to be amazed that people couldn't learn basic techniques, but then it ocurred to me there are plenty of things that are "normal" to other people that I can't/am unwilling to do, so I got over it. I like to cook. Some people don't.

                      In my own family, my parents split the cooking pretty evenly (though honestly, neither one was a great cook and my siblings and I all took over when we were old enough to do so--we all enjoyed it and were much better at it than our parents).

                      1. Yeah, that's my dad too. My mom had Alzheimer's (she died recently), so for the past few years he's had to step it up a bit. He started going with her to the grocery store (because she got lost once coming home), so they would do things like buy a pound of hamburger, then call me to ask how to make it into hamburgers. He really had no idea, and she forgot. Another time they bought a box because it had a picture of a cake on it, and were dismayed to get home and discover that you had to BAKE it to get a cake. She had an excuse—her brain was deteriorating—but he honestly had no clue what a cake mix was.

                        Now he lives alone in a retirement community where they have dinner in a dining hall, but he has to do his own breakfast (he can handle that) and lunch. I bring him a lot of frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s.

                        1. I've got a story from the opposite end of the age spectrum: one of my coworkers is married to a guy who will not cook. I mean, will NOT cook. He will not even use the microwave to reheat meals she puts together for him. If she's not home for dinner, he gets take-out or goes out. They're 31 years old. They started dating in college... he basically went from his parents' home, to 1 year of cafeteria food, to living with her. So he's never really needed to cook - and he has no interest in learning. (I think he does clean up, though.)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: truman

                            Your story brought back the memory of Nina my cousin having a day out in London,
                            expecting to be a bit late home in the afternoon, she left a small pan with a tin
                            of tomato soup by it's side and a note for Daniel the hubby to warm that
                            up and she would be home to cook the evening meal.

                            She arrived home at 1800 hrs to find Daniel sat in the dark kitchen (he hadn't
                            even turned the light on) with the pan and soup untouched.

                          2. My mother is 75 with Parkinson's and hasn't been able to cook for 3 years now. My 80 year old father seldom cooked - their roles were firmly defined. When he did cook my mom prepped everything and he would put it together to make his "famous" whatever.

                            He has really come through and is handling all the day to day cooking and shopping quite well. He has devised a lineup of quick, tasty and fairly nutritional meals. I say fairly nutritional simply because they have such a small number of vegetables which they will eat.

                            While he knew some basics, I think he was able to adapt to the day to day need for quicker recipes more easily due to the "Aprons" program at Publix. They have samples, recipe cards, the key grocery items and an employee at a demo station. He would taste it, look at the recipe and ask questions, be able to gather the goods easily and come home and make it.

                            Parkinson's is so odd - my mom can't remember a lot, but she can still tell you exactly where to find something in her kitchen!

                            My ex-father-in-law had no kitchen skills what so ever. After my mother-in-law died he was a mess. He was retired air force and the VA set him up with a nutritionist who provided him with basic nutrition/meal planning/cooking pamphlets. I think they had some instruction available too. He ended up eating healthier than ever, but it was a process that spanned several years. He also developed a strong respect for his wife's ability to cook huge meals day after day and make it look simple.

                            1. When my mom was recuperating from surgery (this was the 1970s), she told dad to put a "TV dinner" in the oven for himself. Later, kitchen filled with smoke, 'cause that's exactly what he did--TV dinner, in the oven, still in the box. He never did learn to cook.

                              1. My step-father didn’t cook… he was in WWII and Korea and was a Titan of Industry (so to speak) but he wouldn’t boil water to make himself tea (we got a microwave for that)
                                …oh wait, he had a ‘famous’ onion dip that he made… what’s with these guys and their ‘famous’ dishes? Hahaha! Famous because he actually MADE something?

                                When my Mother was taking some courses for her job, she wouldn’t get home till sometime after 9pm… after commuting an hour and back, working 8 hours and then going to school, he’d still expect her to prepare him dinner
                                (I was 13… guess when I started to get really into cooking??)
                                he ate lunch out every day and I suspect if Mom weren't there to make him dinner, he would surely eat every meal in a restaurant or at the country club

                                Both my grandfathers were great cooks! So is my Dad… now that Dad’s retired, he’s actually taken over most of the cooking for him and his wife.

                                1. I've seen this with my dad (78), father-in-law (80 next month) and husband (56). Dad's philosophy is "if you can't nuke it, the hell with it." FIL eats out practically every meal, which kills me because his custom-built house has a kitchen I'd give my left ovary to have and it's NEVER been used. NEVER. My husband doesn't get past nuking canned soup and frozen waffles--if I go away I make sure I put a big pot of something like soup or chili that he can nuke plus some oatmeal so he's not eating out of cans and boxes. Amazingly my 51-year-old brother has become quite an accomplished cook--because his wife doesn't cook and his daughters have no interest in learning.

                                  1. My dad was 75 when my mom died - I don't think he'd ever cooked before.
                                    Suddenly a whole new world opened up to him and now he adores spending hours cooking complicated dishes. This last weekend he bought Seville oranges and made marmalade, and he cooked a rabbit dish that I didn't really hear the details of. When I phone him the first thing he tells me is what he's cooking and what he's planning to cook and as a non meat eater I don't pay attention to the gory details!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Peg

                                      This is so lovely.... I am so happy for him.

                                      1. re: Peg

                                        That IS lovely! Get him signed up on Chowhound. We'll pay attention to all his "gory details!"

                                      2. He's from a generation in which the women manned the kitchen and the men did not. Before he married your mom, his own mom probably took care of the kitchen and cooking chores. He didn't really need to learn kitchen skills because, culturally, it wasn't the norm then. But as we all know times change quickly and they have. My parents are from what Tom Brokaw termmed the "greatest generation" meaning depression era and WWII. My father, uncles and grandfather were all fairly competent cooks, but they had a much different approach to the food than did my mother, anunts and grandmother. It was more basic, less fussy, more straightforward.

                                        Fast forward to the present and I am now doing the elder-care thing for my mother (who is 92) and to a lesser degree for my aunt (who is 94). Both of them were pretty good cooks, my aunt being a little better than my mother, my mother being a little more adventurous in what she cooked. Neither one of them has done much cooking in the last 12-15 years, nor have they really had much interest in it. Their appetites have slowed as has their interest in food. They don't have the interest or energy in producing full meals or any thing very complicated. It doesn't mean they still don't like a good meal, it just means they don't want to cook it themselves. Both of them will nuke things like leftovers, soup, etc, but they won't make it for themselves. My mom is perfectly fine eating a toasted English muffin with peanut butter and a banana for breakfast 6 mornings out of 7. On the 7th she'll nuke precooked bacon and cook an egg in addition to the banana. That's about the extent of the cooking she wants to do.

                                        So, is your father's lack of apparent cooking skills:
                                        1) a cultural hold over from a time when men traditionally didn't cook
                                        2) a lack of skills
                                        3) a waning interest in food and satisfaction with small, simpler meals
                                        4) All of the above

                                        My bet's on #4 ;-). One thing I have found helpful with my mom and aunt, especially when I travel or work late, is to stock their fridge and freezer with easy meals that I know they'll eat (like meatloaf, mac & cheese, spaghetti, etc) so that they can nuke it and still have the benefits of a home cooked meal.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Yes, definitely #4. He's strictly a meat and potatoes guy and won't try anything more exotic than americanized Chinese food. The other thing with my dad is that he won't take the initiative to do anything or seek something out. He's happy to do things if asked or told, but has to be given instruction, e.g. putting dirty dishes in the sink, taking out the garbage, looking for a hotdog or hamburger bun in the fridge or freezer instead of using a slice of bread (because the bread is sitting right there on the counter.) When the weather is warmer, he will grill some things, but unfortunately he doesn't have the knack for the grill like most men seem to have. This last summer I gave him a plate of burgers, with each patty sitting on a piece of foil, just so they could be easily picked up and put on the grill. When he brought the burgers inside, they looked like they had been boiled. I didn't give him instructions, so he had cooked the burgers on the grill with the foil, didn't even flip them over so they weren't even browned on one side.

                                          1. re: gmm

                                            Not even removing the foil on the grill? Wow that *is* pretty culinarily challenged.

                                        2. I don't know about all this. I was never allowed to cook in my Mother's kitchen, but used to call her for help and recipes when I lived in an apartment at college. I enjoy cooking and do probably 90% of the cooking in our home................ have for the past 15 years, since I stopped traveling so much for business. I'm a few years younger than the OP's Dad and, admittedly, rather unusual for my generation, but there ARE some of us out there. My wife doesn't particularly enjoy cooking and finds it tedious, so this works out well for us.

                                          1. It was common in that generation, but not universal. My father (who would have been 83 this year) was always comfortable in the kitchen, and a very good cook.

                                            1. Dad's 80, Mom's 76. He worked more than full-time when we were kids, Mom did the stay-at-home thing once kid#2 came along (she was a teacher before that and went back to work after kid#1). After #3 was in school, she taught violin privately after school. She did most of the cooking, except for the grilling on the weekends. She wasn't particularly good, didn't enjoy it, and will admit to both now. Dad took to hobby cooking in the 70s, when he got into good food and wine, but it was always special occasion stuff.

                                              After he retired in his early 70s, he slowly took over more of the cooking and now they're at the point where he does all the cooking for both and the shopping. It gives him something to do, along with many other hobbies, and Mom is happier to never have to set foot in the kitchen except to clean it up. The one bone of contention is that sometimes she'll clean a pan or bowl before he thinks he's done with it. Much good-natured sniping ensues about what constitutes "dirty" and it keeps them occupied and is, admittedly, rather entertaining to we now-adult children.

                                              1. My dad will be 70 this year, and while I don't remember him cooking much while I was growing up, he does cook plenty of meals since his retirement. There were a few years there where my mom was still working, so my dad was on his own for lunch, and cooked most dinners.

                                                However, my dad was single for most of his 20's, so he learned how to feed himself, although I'm not sure how well. Upon marrying my mom, he vowed to never again eat Hamburger Helper.

                                                1. I've looked at houses for sale in south Fl where the owners proudly announce that the stove has never been used and the manuals are still in the plastic bags inside.

                                                  1. My father is in his mid 70's and for many years he didn't cook -- although he is great at the grill. Then he retired and my mom was still working. He started doing the grocery shopping and more of the cooking. Now they are both retired and I suspect my mom does most of the cooking, but he helps. And there are things he makes -- like pasta with garlicy clam sauce.

                                                    1. Before he passed away and after my mom died, my dad took it upon himself to start experimenting with cooking. He came up with some things he liked such as fried tofu seasoned with soy sauce and Mrs Dash (don't go there - please) and navy bean or split pea soups (which he made very well). A few dishes he cooked, I would eat when I came over but my brother and I did all the cooking for him after mom died up until we moved out and started our own families. He had some miserable failures in the kitchen (the scariest thing he could say to me when I came to visit was "Hey Don, c'mere. I want you to try something") but he also stumbled on a few really impressive culinary discoveries. Overall, I was very proud of him for stepping up to the plate (or pan, if you will) the way he did and cooking for himself. My dad never took the easy way out for anything and his first cooking experiences were no different. He was a WW II veteran and like your pop - was used to mom doing everything from the cooking to the cleaning up. I was genuinely surprised and impressed that he was able to adapt in his 60's to cooking for himself. He passed away 3 years ago on Easter weekend at the age of 82.

                                                      1. My parents are the same age as yours, and my dad can't cook. He does know how to grill, though, so if left to his own devices, would eat nothing but nuked hot dogs and lots of grilled salmon and meat. He also does a great job washing up.

                                                        I think it's pretty typical of that generation for men not to have learned how to cook, unless they did it for a living or were military cooks. My husband (late 40s) doesn't really know how to cook either, but occasionally will hear a recipe on NPR, of all places, scrawl it down and try to make it. Ming Tsai's delicious meatloaf comes to mind.

                                                        1. My dad was in food service - mostly mgmt, some hands-on - but wisely left the home kitchen predominately to Mom.

                                                          But one of the things I adored about him was that he always volunteered for the most labor-intensive tasks: peeling/deveining shrimp, prepping veg, etc. He'd say to Mom: "I'll peel apples if you'll make a pie".

                                                          He lived to 90, she to 95. I miss them both.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. I think that depending on the generation it was very common not to teach the men "household" skills.. My husband was born in 1950. His mother (no shrinking violet, and college educated) carefully taught both his older and younger sister all sorts of useful domestic skills. My sweetie? Nada. Not cooking, not sewing on a button, not laundry.

                                                            His theory is that he was supposed to be helpless, so he'd be eager to marry.

                                                            In his defense, it didn't work. He painfully learned to take care of himself, and waited for me to come along when he was 30.

                                                            1. I have a friend's father who feeds himself similarly. One thing that we managed to add to his repertoire (because upping the veg intake was a must and salads were out of the question) was a simple one-pan stir-fry. We bought him a wok, oil, and low-sodium soy sauce. Over the course of a weekend my friend (also a male, I think this helped) took him to the grocery store with a list of ingredients (things that were already familiar to him) and showed him how to make three simple dishes. We stocked his freezer with frozen vegetables and I am pretty sure he does use the wok at least once a week now. We are so proud :)

                                                              1. My maternal grandfather never once cooked a meal his entire life. He went straight from his mom's cooking to my grandmother's.

                                                                He was so absolutely helpless feeding himself after my grandmother died, that I would spend every other Thursday night grocery shopping for him, every other Friday night cooking and bagging things up in Seal-A-Meal bags, then every other Saturday driving 200 miles each way to deliver two weeks of meals he could either heat up in a pot of boiling water or in a microwave. Even had to go buy a microwave oven for him, and teach him how to use it. Thank goodness he had a big side-by-side fridge/freezer, so I could put meats on one shelf, starches on another, and vegetables on a third.

                                                                For breakfast he would have either cereal or head down to a local coffee shop for eggs and such.

                                                                Luckily he wasn't a fussy eater, and preferred rice to noodles, so it was easy enough to bag up lots of single portions of rice that he could eat with almost anything. I once found a Big Mac in the freezer, he figured he could buy two, freezing one for later, but when he looked at it, he thought better of it and just left it in there.

                                                                On the Saturday afternoons I'd spend with him, I usually cooked up his favorite meal, shish kebab. I'd marinate lamb or beef at home, pop it into a bag, then cook it fresh there. I taught him how to line a shallow pan with foil so he could warm up leftovers himself during the week without having to clean anything up, and how to fill and run the dishwasher for his plates, glasses and cutlery.

                                                                This went on for about three years while I was in my mid-20s and he was in his early 80s, before his health declined to the point where he couldn't walk unassisted, and required full-time care.

                                                                Having had an interest in cooking from an early age, I was amazed that someone could make it 80 years without ever even putting together a sandwich, but things were different in earlier generations. The kitchen had been my grandmother's domain, and that was that.