How Can I Start a Family-Dinner Tradition When My In-Laws Hate My Cooking?

Ask Demetria: Too bad the first meal didn’t go the way you wanted, but with a little creative planning you can improve the next one.

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Dear Demetria:

I cooked a huge Sunday dinner for my husband, my family and my in-laws because my husband wants to start a new tradition. He wants this to be a regular thing. My family was complimentary, but my in-laws were very obviously less than impressed. I’m a bit offended and sad that his family wasn’t happy with the food. I’m a decent cook but never pretended to be great. By the way, my husband is not the type to get in the kitchen and says that potlucks are rude. Should I keep practicing new recipes to get in good with my new in-laws and focus on bringing everyone together, or suggest to my husband that we cut this new tradition? —Anonymous 

Kudos to you for taking on this task and stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s unfortunate that your in-laws didn’t show more appreciation.

I’m guessing that this was the first big dinner you prepared for your husband’s family and possibly for a large group. You probably put yourself under a lot of pressure and had high expectations for how it would turn out. Of course you’re bummed that things didn’t go as planned. And everyone reasonable would understand why you would take offense to your in-laws being visibly unhappy, especially when you put in a lot of effort with the best intentions to satisfy your guests. It was unquestionably rude to treat you that way, especially in your own home. 

That said, taste, and what is considered “good” or “bad,” is subjective. I’m not surprised that your family complimented your cooking, since you likely learned your core recipes from them. Your in-laws prefer something different. That’s fine, even if their reaction is not.

I like your husband’s idea of starting a regular tradition to unite each of your families. Ideally, that is how families are supposed to operate. But changes must be made if this is to continue. You shouldn’t solely bear the brunt of the responsibility in the kitchen for these regular gatherings, especially if your in-laws are unhappy with your cooking. That will be torture for everyone and lead to more problems. Without change, you will eventually become resentful of your husband for placing this enormous responsibility on you and not helping in the kitchen, you will resent your in-laws for treating you poorly and your family will dislike your in-laws’ poor treatment of you.

Let’s tweak this tradition before things get out of hand. You obviously want to impress your in-laws, and you didn’t mention that they are known for treating you shady, so let’s chalk this up to a bad experience. Before the next dinner, swallow your pride and reach out to whoever among your in-laws is known to “throw down in the kitchen”; ask if she or he would be willing to share some family recipes and could come by to give you some pointers on your cooking.

Be honest: Say that you noticed the family wasn’t happy and that you want to improve your skills. And you can, with constructive advice and practice. The other bonus here is that you get to do some bonding with your in-laws away from the high-pressure environment of “performing” for a big dinner.

Your husband is going to have to get into the kitchen, too. That might not be his thing, but cooking isn’t yours. You both need to get out of your comfort zones and put in some effort. Download a recipe book; the two of you can then test out (and tweak) the instructions, prepare delicious meals together and practice so that both of you have something to serve for your family dinners. In addition, my hope is that once your husband sees the work and time that goes into cooking, he’ll realize how ridiculous he’s been to place this burden solely on you.

Hopefully your husband is on board with cooking, since creating a new tradition is more than just coming up with an idea, delegating the work to someone else, and then rejecting the most obvious way to make sure everyone enjoys something on his or her plate. If he’s not, you still have options: Enlist the help of a member of your family and an in-law in your kitchen the day of the event; insist on making this tradition a potluck, no matter how rude your husband thinks it is; pay to have this tradition catered; or, as a last resort, because your husband is being unreasonable, cancel it.