CONSUMERS' diets won't improve unless they know basic skills such as how to chop an onion, a healthy-eating watchdog has warned.
A new report for Safefood has shown that knowledge of healthy eating isn't enough unless people have the basic skills for putting nutritious meals on the table.
It found that many consumers weren't comfortable with preparing meals, making them more inclined to consume ready-made or takeaway meals - even though these are generally more expensive and less nutritious.
Lack of time, attitudes, cost, lack of skills and confidence were all cited as barriers to cooking.
There was clear evidence that developing food skills could influence healthy eating, said Safefood director of human health & nutrition Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan. "What we all need are the food skills to plan tasty, quick meals. These skills can range from preparing a shopping list within budget, to being able to chop an onion or cook a tasty stir fry," she said.
The report found that older people were more confident about their cooking skills, while richer consumers tended to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, but also purchased twice as many pre-prepared meals as those on lower incomes.
And it found that cooking had a bigger gender gap than any other household task, with four out of five women cooking daily, compared to one in five men.
"Men's motivation for domestic cooking may be constructed as cooking when they are in the right mood, rather than as an everyday responsibility," it said.
Men sometimes lacked the planning and organisational skills necessary for food shopping, it found. "Many women took responsibility for food shopping because they claimed their spouse did not plan ahead for meals, wasted time and spent more money, with the end result of still not having the necessary food to create a meal," the report said.
The 'Food Skills: Definitions, Influences And Relationship With Health' report also found an increased interest in home cooking, with 42pc of consumers saying they cooked their evening meal from scratch most nights.
It also said that the notion of a "golden age" of good cooking in the past might be exaggerated, as hard times limited meal options, with historical accounts showing many children often made do with a bit of bread and jam rather than a sit-down hot meal with the family.
It also found that most children wanted to improve their cooking skills, but only half reported cooking - at most - twice a year at school.
Safefood, which is an all-Ireland health promotion body, wants to encourage more people to cook at home through a new cookery show presented by actress Angeline Ball which it is jointly sponsoring with Tesco Ireland.
'Home Cook's Academy' will debut tonight on TV3 at 8.30pm and focus on simple home-cooked recipes.