HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


worst cooks in America....was your mom one?

Another thread just got me started. My moms idea of dinner consisted of au gratain boxed potatoes and canned tuna. Beans and Weenies. Canned spaghetti sauce and french onion soup mix over noodles. Pork loiin diced in bottled teriaki sauce and boiled. On Fridays she took all the leftovers and diced them into a pot to boil w/ water.... soup( I guess) and i mean all the leftovers no matter what they were or if they made sense, the things listed would be in that pot plus maybe rice and canned veggies. Eeekkk.... no wonder I can cook. Someone had to in the house so we didn't starve. God love her , she tried.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The two worst cooks who have ever served me dinner were both, oddly and coincidently, nutritionists. I wonder if it is a little like the D.D. (Dr of Divinity) who lost his faith somewhere along the way to graduation.

    4 Replies
    1. re: GraydonCarter

      Do what i say not what i do should be their motto!

      1. re: GraydonCarter

        My mother is a dietician - so I will speak up for her cooking...as well as mentioning there were horrors along the way.

        My mom got into food/dietetics totally as a way to avoid her mother's own awful cooking as well as her family's trend to obesity. So she basically had to throw out everything she learned about cooking from her mother/family and really start over. Growing up in the 80s, I think we got to try every standard vegetarian hippy collective recipe book - to mixed results. Lots of crunchy beans and brown rice, but some other creations that I still crave to this day as weird chilhood favorites (elbow macaroni, canned fat free refried beans, and yogurt anyone?).

        The one strong lasting trend from my mother, is her strong belief that all salt in all quantities is evil (basically that enough of it ends up in our diets, so never to add it when cooking unless baking). So now when I'm cooking if I taste something and think 'it needs salt', or go to add salt because I "assume it needs it" - I never have a clue of what is enough/too little/too much.

        1. re: cresyd

          And now the latest medical information is that salt is not the evil doer that everyone once thought it was.

          1. re: John E.

            I think with all "food professionals" - there are very few that I have met that apply 'everything' they know from work in their personal cooking, especially when they have kids. Some dieticians I know are very big on "rehabed" recipes (unhealthy recipes made healthy), others are more fad oriented - but I will say that I know more than one over weight dietician (just because you're an expert in what to do, doesn't mean you do it). Just like there are physicians who smoke. Or who are overweight.

            Also, there are personal tastes that override scientific issues. My mom has a huge sweet tooth and will indulge (occasionally) in sweets. She personally does not like salt. Now there are reasons to avoid salt for weight loss (it makes you more thirsty, and thirst can often be confused in the brain as hunger) and healthy living. But my mom's refusal to salt food at home was always tied to a personal preference as much as a professional opinion.

            My mom's bad hippy food was also because she was a hippy who though brown rice, black beans, cauliflower and cheddar cheese caserol was the perfect weekday meal.

      2. What a cruel thought, about the woman who got us from womb to here. They all did the best they could with what they had.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          I agree that many of our mothers were probably not making succulent taste the focus of our meals. Nutrition, and making do, and stretching what they had, were probably more important.

          1. re: Veggo

            I was in no way being cruel. I said she was a bad cook. That is true. Even she says she's horrible. I cannot argue facts. She gladly handed me the cooking reigns when i was 11. I am sure there will be others to agree with me. Some moms aren't good cooks. It happens. My mom just never learned how to cook and had no interest. It is what it is. If i went into full detail, you may faint. Ill spare you.

            1. re: Veggo

              I totally agree. It would never occur to me to criticize my mother's cooking. I even have fond memories of some of it.

              1. re: Veggo

                Saying that your mom was a bad cook isn't saying that they were a horrible person. My mom isn't a great cook, but she wasn't awful. Her mom was a wonderful baker- but some of the things that she made for meals were questionable. (she did the dump all the leftovers together at the end of the week thing too.) However, I have respect and love for both of them.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Indeed, Veggo. Indeed.

                  I would eat stir-fried maggots with freeze-dried feces if that's all my mother had to feed me.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    That sounds like my family's June, 1959 menu!

                    Not as bad, as it sounds.


                  2. re: Veggo

                    You've never had my mother's cooking. For all her virtues, she hates to cook - or hated,since she no longer does it - and relied on packaged goods whenever possible. When I was back east cooking for her when my sister,her normal caretaker, was on vacation, she complained that I was spending too much time making "gourmet" dinners, which seemed to refer to anything made with fresh ingredients, especially vegetables.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      We don't have to take a Chowhound post in a spirit it is NOT meant. Your second sentence would have made your point more gently. (And I KNOW you have a great sense of humor, Veggo. I've long giggled at your posts.)

                      1. re: Vetter

                        Thanks, and I like to be playful here, but dissin' your mama is like burning the flag. We'll get through this, and us "V" people need to stick together..!

                        1. re: Veggo

                          But what does loving your parents, and stating a fact that ones mother couldn't boil watter without a recipe have to do with each other? How is not lying and/or stating a fact dissin' her?
                          It's still love as long as you're not being mean about it. For example.
                          "Mom, you're stupid because you can't cook meat loaf." Bad. No love.
                          "Mom, I love you but your meatloaf tastes like sweat socks." See?! Lots of love. :)

                          1. re: Midknight

                            Some women in their 80's can take a little ribbin' and tough love, others are more sensitive and easily bruised. I see no profit in taking the risk. "Hey mom, great meatloaf. Where is the knife sharpener?"

                    2. Well, my mom always made oatmeal cookies without sugar. She insisted that the raisins alone were sweet enough, nothing else needed.

                      In fairness though, her beloved grandmother died of diabetes at a fairly young age, and she was terrified of that happening to her and her children. She thought of sugar as poison. Our "birthday cakes" were a concoction of fruit puree and yogurt, frozen in a cake shape--sort of a combination cake and ice cream.

                      I'm not sure my mom was a bad cook, but she was certainly an unusual one.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: texanfrench

                        So your littel friends stop going to your birthday parties, right?

                      2. My sister might have been one of the worst cooks ever which is interesting because our mother was a good cook. My sister was talking to my Mom on the phone one time trying to get some ideas for cooking and my mother mentioned something about Bisquik oven fried chicken (the recipe is on the box). Well, what my sister did was to make Bisquik biscuit dough and attempt to wrap it around the raw chicken and bake it. I never heard the rest of the story about how things turned out.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: John E.

                          Isn't that Chicken Wellington? ;o)

                        2. My mom used onion soup mix religiously - but when i want comfort food, i find myself reaching for the same thing. My fondest food memories are almost all from her kitchen - and the ones that aren't from her are from her mom. My mom's meatloaf with rice - my fave dinner, even to this day.

                          1. This is the funniest title I have read.

                            I have always read that people claim their moms being the best cooks they have ever met. I don't know if they are being kind and polite, or if their moms are truely very good. Objectively speaking, my mom is a good cook, but not a great cook. She and I have different styles of cooking. I would say that her skill is different than me, but no better than me. Nah, actually, I am a little better than her (on average).

                            1. My mom was a very, very good cook, and to this day I prepare several of her staples. Her fried chicken, however, was dry and her tasteless. And her sweet and sour pork? Well, the less said--and eaten--the better.

                              Now my maternal grandmother was indeed a pretty lousy cook. She'd occasionally create abominations such as leftover beans added to spaghetti sauce. ~shudder~

                              1. I don't know why the OP would want to restrict this to board members who live in America. Those of us who, in that context, are foreigners may well have had mothers who could win international "worst cook" competitions.

                                Mum got married in 1948, when Britain still had a number of years of food rationing left, in the aftermath of World War 2. That might explain her limited scope, if ingredients werent there. but it goes no way to explain her passion for overcooking just about everything. And then trying to breath life into by the use of copious amounts of butter. So, I grew up eating an awful lot of fatty slop. Probably a good thing that sugar remained on ration until 1954, so I never really got a sweet tooth.

                                That said, her cooking was a joy by way of comparision with the mother in law who is still with us and still inflicting her vile food upon the family.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Harters

                                  We'll hear the rumble from across the pond when MIL is alerted to your post....

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    And I thought that was Mount Etna erupting...

                                  2. re: Harters

                                    By no means is this limited to America. It was s tounge in cheek on a title of a cooking show here in the states. I know there are great and not so great cooks everywhere, but it sounds like you can embrase this post instead of dislike it. That's the spirit,not to smash mama but to say " hey, mom wasn't that great in the kitchen". We lived right? Can't be all the worse for wear

                                    1. re: suzigirl

                                      Thanks for that, suzi. I think we may have had a similarish programme here - called Kitchen Criminals.

                                    2. re: Harters

                                      <her cooking was a joy by way of comparision with the mother in law who is still with us and still inflicting her vile food upon the family.>

                                      Ha ha ha This is awesome!

                                    3. My mom doesn't qualify, fortunately. She was/is a good cook which is quite surprising in light of the fact that *her* mother was truly an awful cook. Grandma hated cooking, hated food, hated eating altogether, and didn't teach her daughter a single thing about cooking. My father and Sunset magazine were my mom's teachers.

                                      1. Suzigirl's mom was Julia Child compared to Ruth Reichl's mom.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: knucklesandwich

                                          I think Ruth got some of her stories from me. :-)

                                        2. For all I know, my mom might have been a terrible cook, but it was pop who cooked breakfast and dinner. We had soup (Campbell's) and sandwiches for lunch; mom may have made them. Nothing fancy but always good.

                                          The worst meals I can remember were the lunches at an English grammar school back in the '50s. Second to that, hot meals in Army mess halls in the '60s - but I almost always ate at the PX or off post instead. Didn't have that option in Leeds.

                                          1. My Mom worked outside the house, and used a lot of mixes, packets, boxes, and other shortcuts in order to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour after she got home. To my young self, everything generally tasted just fine, though I wouldn't try to recreate those dinners in the present unless I'm having a craving for comfort food like her tuna noodle casserole.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: beachmouse

                                              When I was about 10, realized that if I started cooking before Mom got home from work, it might (a) save her some effort, (b) save us some Alka Seltzer. In later years, she got better, but she never really enjoyed cooking.

                                              1. re: pine time

                                                Good for you (cooking skills) and good for your family. I had to start dinner, being the first one home (school lets out earlier than work). I always grumbled about it, but now I appreciate it.

                                            2. Didn't have my mom in my life long enought to really answer this question. She passed away when I was 8, brother 5, and sister 2.5. Only food memory I have is her chicken catiatore (spelling?) served in a bowl I still have that only was used for spaghetti. My grandmother stepped into the family and took over till we were old enough to be "home alone". She was a good cook, nothing fancy, and pretty much no recipes for stuff... a little of this, a little of that.

                                              My Dad was a pretty good cook but had some DISASTERS along the way. He was hard-gheaded and stubborn. It was obvious that he went out of his way to seriously deviated from a recipe. He made HIS verion of coq au vin... and used "cold duck"... it was NOT good! He dabbled in wine making?!? Made one batch that was actually pretty good... but never wrote down what he did... think he did that on PURPOSE! The next batch... coulda been good for stripping paint!

                                              1. My mother was a pretty good cook, and self taught. Her Slovak mother wouldn't let the kids cook and take a chance of ruining food, so her daughters had to learn when they were on their own. Unfortunately, Grandma couldn't describe how to make her delicious meals (a handful of this, a little of that), so my mother used the Joy of Cooking and magazine recipes to teach herself. Now and then I come across one of my mother's dishes in Joy, never having realized that's where she got the recipe.

                                                1. I remember one time when I was a child, my mother was making me cinnamon toast in the morning. However, instead of using cinnamon, she used pepper.

                                                  Let's just say that I didn't eat it.

                                                  1. No, but she was not great either.

                                                    My wife is a much better cook, and I have told her (and others) so. There WERE a few dishes, that my mother did well, and my wife has adopted and adapted a few of those. Same for a particular dish from my paternal grandmother, though we had to reconstruct the recipe from my only shopping with her, when I was about 6. Still, we managed to get it down, on about the 5th try.

                                                    Actually, I am probably a better cook, than my mother was, but it is about a totally different philosophy, and also a different time. She cooked food, so that one could "eat to live," where I (and my wife to a greater degree), cook so that one can "live to eat."

                                                    As far as a different "time," canned food was still pretty new, and frozen food was very new. My mother felt that only "poor people" ate "fresh food" from a farm. That was a mistake, but I understand how she made it. The "Great Depression" was still pretty fresh on her mind, and WWII, with the rationing, etc., was very fresh in her memory. We were in the "post-war" affluent society, and she wanted to leave the farm behind. That was a mistake, but easily overlooked, due to those times.

                                                    Still, we ate fine, and existed just fine, though there was a lack of "spirit" in the food. My wife brought that.


                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Mom grew up on a farm, doing very hard physical work from childhood on, so once commericial canned and frozen foods were available, they were her saviors from labor. I understand, but would love to have had the fresh butter, milk, meat, eggs she grew up with.

                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                        What are the family recipes you adapted/reconstructed?

                                                      2. My mother was a fantastic baker but fair cook on a good day. One of her favorite stories was when she got married she had gone to the butcher and asked for a roast and he said what kind and she said the kind you cook on Sunday. There were two spices in our house until I was a teenager. Salt and Pepper. Meat was well done or burnt. The upside though is my 3 siblings and myself all learned to cook at an early age and the 4 of us are better than average cooks and two of us are pretty decent bakers. She learned, we learned better. Now we just have to get our children to think we are lousy cooks so they can be better cooks and surpass us.

                                                        1. I don't see this as any sign of disrespect or lack of appreciation for our mothers--in their generation, women did the cooking, period, whether they liked it or were any good at it or not. My mother was absolutely not cut out to be a cook, as she had some kind of OCD that made her deathly afraid of germs. She only used frozen vegetables, as fresh ones might be dirty and would take hours to sanitize; only cooked inside the oven, never on top of the stove, as that might make a mess, so the hamburgers routinely caught fire and the bacon was broiled to unrecognizability; and needless to say all meat was dry and overdone. Toward the end she started making these insane combinations--she once tried to get me to feed a baby something that involved a microwaved egg and lemon yogurt, and I once saw her mix leftover Chinese food with a can of tuna and spread it on bread for a sandwich for my father (and yes, he ate it.) When I went off to college I was basically unfamiliar with actual food.

                                                          1. Not my mom, but my Granny. When people hear I have a Mexican grandmother, they start salivating and imagining homemade tortillas, tamales, etc... Nope, not unless she bought them from the neighbor. My Granny cooks everything on the highest heat possible. But growing up with that, it is what I was used to. The first time I ordered chorizo and eggs in a restaurant, I was horrified because I thought they were serving it to me raw. My mother had to explain to me the chorizo is not supposed to be black.

                                                            1. My mom was a pretty good cook, but as life went on, she drifted away from cooking complete meals and has more snacky-type meals: a can of green beans at home, potato skins at a restaurant, etc. I visit twice a year. Mom is pretty opinionated and outspoken, and the way she does things is the only way. During our visit, one evening I asked whether she'd mind if I tore a muffin recipe out of a paper. Her response, regarding how stupid it would be to go to all the trouble to bake something when you can just buy pastry at Wal-Mart, on top of my frazzled nerves from talking with her all day, made me cry ... thankfully, an hour or two later, after we'd left for the evening. Sigh.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: occula

                                                                Heh heh. My mother-in-law makes me cry. And it has nothing to do with food!

                                                                (And dear, if you happen to read this, I'm just joking!)

                                                              2. My mother was a horrible cook, but luckily dad did okay. My grandmother, who was the kindest woman on this earth was the WORST. And she admitted it. She was so afraid of foodborne illnesses that she overcooked everything. And used the same several boring recipes all her life. She passed away earlier in the year, and I spent several months with my pappy to ensure he'd adjust and be okay, and he was almost mystified by the meals that I served him. He always would clean his plate and look at me and say "You cooked this? In the kitchen? My oh my". And he was watching me prepare a chicken to raost one afternoon and told me how much he loved my grammy, what a good wife she was, but she was just such a shitty cook. It cracked me up!

                                                                1. My mom was a horrible cook (but a wonderful person!). She would cook a piece of meat to well done, then cook it some more, just to make sure it was done. I never knew pork could be juicy and flavorful. I didn't realize that I really liked steaks, until I was old enough to move out of the house!


                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Burghfeeder

                                                                    Don't think I knew that turkey had any juice until I cooked my 3rd or 4th one--had used Mom's "recipe" (cook until leathery).

                                                                  2. My mother was not a good cook. (My mother is still living, but I believe my father has pretty much taken over cooking since he retired.) She did not try her best, because she considered cooking a tedious chore to be done with minimal time and effort. This wasn't because she was pressed for time. The time frame I'm talking about was early 70s to mid 80s, when she was a stay-at-home mom with all three kids in school.

                                                                    I don't know whether I can say that she was among the very worst cooks in America, as the post-war era was not a golden age of home-cooking in the U.S. Many of her not-so-great offerings were typical back then, canned vegetables, store-bought white bread, cake mixes, and iceberg lettuce and bottled "French" dressing salads. But in some ways, we were spared some of the worst types of home cooking. She never used instant mashed potatoes or made anything involving canned cream of mushroom soup. Her fried pork chops (every Tuesday) were pretty good. Her stuffed cabbage was very good, but she only made it once a year because it was "so much work."

                                                                    As for whether she was in the bottom 5 or 10 percentile of home cooks, I offer these exhibits:

                                                                    Something called "Sunday special." When I asked what "Sunday special" was, she replied that it was "roast." When I asked, "roast what?" She replied "roast Sunday special." (When I read about concerns that Siberian peasants helped themselves to a wooly mammoth uncovered by an avalanche, I wondered if that was the Sunday special secret.) Actually, it was a chuck roast, laid in a dry Pyrex baking dish, surrounded by potatoes and carrots. Cooked at 350 for 4-5 hours until there was not a moist molecule to be found. Occasionally spruced up with jarred beef gravy. My mother had no notion at all of braising.

                                                                    "Macaroni" was my mother's term of a dump-and-stir meal of ground beef, elbow macaroni, canned pork and beans, and canned stewed tomatoes. If not for the tomato, it might have been tolerably palatable, but those slimy tomatoes over everything made it impossible for me.

                                                                    Wednesday was "soup" night. "Soup" consisted of a turkey leg or pieces of chuck (poor chuck) simmered or boiled for several hours with noddles, carrots, and whole allspice and served in the cooking water. It was pretty much downhill after I ate the allspice balls.

                                                                    Among the worst cooks in America? I'll let the jury decide.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: MrsBridges

                                                                      I've made this statement before, but here it is again. If iceberg lettuce were rare, difficult to grow, and expensive, all the top chefs would be serving it in their restaurants.

                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                        And I've applauded this statement before.

                                                                      2. re: MrsBridges

                                                                        Ah, yes, I remember my mother's 'poor chuck'!

                                                                      3. I owe a lot to my mom's cooking. I just think back to what she did, and I do the opposite. Her worst sin, the one she may never be forgiven for, was taking canned asparagus and then overcooking it. I never knew that vegetables had an actual taste and texture beyond yucky mush until I started to cook them myself. I know love asparagus. The only veggie I would eat when I was a kid was raw peas. I love them. Mom never figured out that lightly cooking veggies would be the way to go.

                                                                        1. My mother was a dab hand in the kitchen. Her skill set, honed by a farm upbringing, was impressive. She didn't really shirk from many kitchen tasks. She loved cooking, and was a little obsessive with reading recipes and food articles. We had a huge garden, hunted lots of game, had the freshest eggs and meat from neighboring farmers. But for all that input, the output was really...well, bland and boring.

                                                                          You see, in addition to all of the above, she had my father to contend with. My father truly believes that there should be no other seasoning than salt and pepper (and light on the pepper! No fresh ground nonsense!), was vehemently against condiments other than a dab of catsup, and gawds forbid anything even vaguely "foreign" be on the table. And his word was law. Elsewise, he would refuse to eat. So mom had a very limited range within which to work. She did sneak cloves of garlic into the jars of pickles we'd put up by the dozens every summer, but we kids were charged with fetching the pickles jars when needed, and we knew to fish out the garlic before dad could see it. He'd have shot through the roof seeing garlic. And any other flavor-inflicting sauce/herb/spice...you get the picture. He'd actually throw out spices and condiments she'd purchased, so she wouldn't "inflict" them upon him.

                                                                          Dad did not have a job that required any travel, but on those rare occasions he left for a few days, mom got to play with seasoning food! She was at her shining best then. Too bad she didn't get to practice what she clearly loved on an intellectual basis.

                                                                          I wonder how many of the moms (or dads) who are remembered as lousy cooks just never had the chance, due to a similar spousal situation? My mom, in her later years, loved to be in my kitchen, sampling favors and ogling spices and condiments. My dad, still set in his ways, complains over the phone from 150 miles away if he hears any cooking noises happening in the background. "I suppose you're using garlic, aren't you?" (Yes, my dad may well be a vampire, but his schedule is wrong.) He's an old dog who likes his old tricks, and I accommodate when I am cooking for him, but it gets a little onerous. I sympathize with my mom, and forgive her all the blandness.

                                                                          Has anyone else floated in that boat? My mom was good, but could have been great given some rein. Dad squashed it. I guess you all know on what side of that parental argument I fall.

                                                                          ETA: We did have some great simple food, no question. But the realm of food growing up was rather truncated by one very pushy person with a very (self-admitted) limited palate.