Our television schedules are crammed with cookery programmes, and it seems everyone in Scotland is going barbecue bonkers. You’d think we were a nation of food lovers, but the gloomy health reports remind us that we are instead a nation of fatties.

We’re constantly bombarded with healthy eating messages – the latest is that sugar and salt should be taxed, and vegetables prescribed on the NHS, according to England’s National Food Strategy.

But isn’t there a much simpler and more sensible approach – teaching people to cook?

We avidly watch sultry Nigella, jolly James Martin and my own favourite, enthusiastic Rick Stein peel, chop and sauté heavenly creations in their enviable kitchens, but that’s all most of us do: watch.

There’s clearly an interest in cooking, but not enough of us have the skills or the confidence to emulate these celebrity chefs, resorting instead to convenience meals and fast-food, heavily loaded with preservatives, salt, fat and sugar.

The argument for the sugar and salt tax goes that unhealthy, processed food is cheaper, more instantly gratifying – especially for kids – and more filling for low-income families than healthy, fresh food.

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I find that rather patronising. Sure, food manufacturers can play their part by cutting down on sugar and salt, but we should be taking responsibility for our own diets. We’re not fussy toddlers, after all, but some adults simply refuse to eat their greens. I know one young man who has never eaten anything other than sausages and chips – ridiculous.

I remember speaking to the parents of two peely-wally children about their family’s unhealthy diet. As they unloaded a week’s load of frozen meals, salty snacks, and sugary sweets and cereals in their smart kitchen while waiting for their Chinese take-away, they explained they were too busy and too poor to cook from scratch, and that “you don’t get cooking lessons in Pollok.” The children, meanwhile, broke off from watching the enormous telly to shyly tell me they loved their granny’s lentil soup and mince and tatties.

And there it is – our grandmothers and great grandmothers shopped for and cooked healthy but plain Scottish food on low incomes through a depression and a world war, right through to the 1970s, when processed foods arrived and we entered the era of molten-lava Findus crispy pancakes, frozen chips, and chicken nuggets.

At first, my mother enthusiastically embraced these foods to our dismay, used as we were to her fantastic home-made meals, and we four children were delighted when she decided they were disgusting and unhealthy. We were lucky – so many families never looked back and are now stuck in a rut of heating up brown, breaded food that goes straight from the freezer to the oven.

I don’t buy that processed food is cheaper or always even quicker. It takes minutes to make an omelette or a tasty pasta sauce from simple, store-cupboard ingredients, rather than peel back the cellophane and wait for several microwave pings.

Our grannies used cheap cuts of meat to make nourishing and filling stews, stovies, and mince and tatties. A big pot of soup that costs pennies made with ham hock, vegetables and dried legumes could last a few days, while porridge – cheap and a superfood to boot – kept everyone full until lunchtime, unlike the bowls of pure sugar that pass for some cereals today.

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And if that sounds like too plain fare for modern palates, Asian cooks are adept at taking cheap ingredients to conjure up delicious curries. Spanish food, prized by us on holiday, is cheap to make as it grew out of peasant cuisine. Paella was originally a dish for the Spanish servants of the Moorish overlords, made up of whatever leftovers there were in the kitchen.

Isn’t it about time we taught ourselves and our children to cook? My mum – a great cook and daughter of a "good plain cook" – used to say, “if you can read, you cook”. She was right, and even more so today when there are so many great recipes and tutorials online. Just add a pinch of confidence and, as Raymond Blanc likes to say, voilà!

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