Britain hasn't got a great track record when it comes to cooking. While our European neighbours learn how to shape pasta at their nonnas' skirts and make whipping up coq au vin look as effortless as a drag on a Gauloises cigarette, most Brits consider cheese on toast a home-cooked meal and churn out the same uninspiring dishes every week.
New research from the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation further confirms Britain's apparent ineptitude in the kitchen. Surveying 2,000 UK adults on their cooking habits, the organisation found that most were unable to cook basic dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, curry, guacamole, sponge cake, and even boiled eggs. One in ten admitted to never cooking from scratch and one in five said that they relied on takeaways and ready meals because of their lack of knowledge in the kitchen.
This lack of knowledge encroaches on even basic culinary skills. Twenty-six percent of survey respondents did not know how to prepare rice and 32 percent were unsure of how to slice onions.
When asked why they thought so many people struggled to perform such simple kitchen tasks, 53 percent of respondents blamed the lack of food education in schools and 67 percent said that it was because recipes and cookery tips were no longer passed down through families. Where's Nonna when you need her?
But the effects of being without basic cooking skills go beyond losing Great Aunt Mabel's heirloom trifle recipe. In 2014, a report by waste research company WRAP found that people who weren't confident in the kitchen were less likely to find uses for leftovers and therefore wasted more food. Other studies show that those who eat convenience foods and regularly order takeout are more likely to throw edible food in the bin than those who cook from scratch.
As well as stemming our huge food waste problem, equipping people with cooking skills is shown to improve health. MUNCHIES reached out to Malcolm Clark of the Children's Food Campaign, a charity that helps parents pass on healthy eating habits, to find out how teaching kids to cook at school can impact them in later life.
Clark said: "The food, nutrition advice, and cooking skills children are provided with at school has a key role to play in shaping their present and future diet, and their behaviour and health. The re-introduction of cooking and food education back onto the curriculum for five to 14-year-olds in 2014 was a welcome move, and should put today's kids in a better position than their parents. But teachers and schools need more support to ensure those lessons really count. And children from poorer families should not be prevented from taking part simply because they cannot afford the ingredients."
Clark's comments are echoed by Sarah Bentley, founder of Made In Hackney, a community cookery school that teaches London residents to cook healthy, plant-based dishes. Bentley told MUNCHIES that she has seen first-hand how basic cookery skills can improve the health of people of all ages.
She said: "Having basic cooking skills and knowing what to do with fresh ingredients is the cornerstone of health and wellbeing. You don't have to be a masterchef—I'm certainly not—but you need to be comfortable in the kitchen and not be scared of using fresh, whole food ingredients."
Bentley continued: "Many of our class participants tell us after attending our courses and starting to cook more at home using fresh ingredients, they experience a range of health improvements. We've had cholesterol levels going down, weight loss, energy levels improving, and even a type two diabetic no longer needing to take insulin."
And her top tip for those unsure in the kitchen?
"The trick is to start with basics. Learn a couple of new skills a week and don't overwhelm yourself with complicated recipes using loads of ingredients you don't have, that's just off putting."
And if you need some inspiration, we suggest you start here.