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Have We Lost Our Food Skills and How to Get Them Back was the bait-clicky headline of a recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. The article by Paula Goodyer with contributions from dietitians including Profs. Clare Collins and Margaret Allman-Farinelli makes the point that “a host of factors have led to a generation who lack cooking nous. The effect is a wider waistline and a thinner wallet”. It is worth reading. But we seriously question putting the food skills of previous generations on any sort of pedestal (think seriously overcooked vegetables for starters).

Historical mother in kitchen

Back in 2010 I created Recipes My Mother Cooked for Allen and Unwin. As well as their Mum’s recipes, I asked the book’s contributors (chefs, food writers, dietitians) to share some of their family fare memories. Some mothers were clearly truly amazing cooks. Many, however, had pretty basic skills and while family mealtimes were memorable, the meals themselves, not so much. Hadleigh Troy (then Restaurant Amuse, Perth; now Hampton and Maley) put it this way: “Although Mum says she taught me everything she knows when it comes to cooking, those who know her and love her are in on the joke.”

Recipes My Mother Cooked

By food skills, Paula Goodyer is essentially talking about learning to cook and to plan and prepare meals. Clearly, it’s important to be able to feed yourself (and your family if you have one) healthy fare. But, here at GI News we think it’s time to take off the nostalgia blinkers because what we all need today are some new healthy food skills to equip us to thrive in a world with a very different food supply from any previous generation. Along with an abundance of locally grown and imported fresh produce available year round, we have an abundance of convenience foods from frozen vegetables and meals to home-delivered meals and takeaways to help us put dinner on the table at the end of the day (and possibly provide breakfast and lunch as well).

The practical healthy food skills we need to develop or to upgrade are our:

  • Food knowledge skills to help us understand where the food we eat has come from, how it is grown, how animals are farmed, and whether or not it is sustainable. 
  • Food shopping skills to help us choose fresh produce and to make smart choices with convenience foods, home-delivered meals and takeaways. 
  • Food and nutrition skills to help us build healthy eating habits and to choose the sustaining foods we (and our families) need for good health and to cut through countless fads about foods, fad diets, and the misconceptions about healthy eating. 

As for the suggestion we need to turn off the tap with convenience foods, we think that’s idealistic rather than realistic in this day and age. Remember, in the end what really matters for good health, well-being and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is the overall quality and quantity of the foods we consume – and those foods may be home cooked from scratch, assembled, delivered from a restaurant or healthy food provider, picked up as a takeout, or purchased as a frozen or pre-packaged meal from the supermarket.

There are many reasons people choose convenience foods. Sometimes it’s the only option for those on the road or working insane hours; for people doing shift work; for the frail elderly who can no longer cook but want to stay in their own home; for those with a disability who can’t cook; and for those who don’t have cooking facilities. Other times convenience food buys us time. As Prof Jennie Brand Miller says: “I don’t want to spend more time in the kitchen. I know how to cook but I want the food industry to provide me with high quality, healthy convenience food (takeaway food, eat-in food, plonk-together-in-a-saucepan food) so I get to do other things higher on my priority list such as being outside, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, reading, sailing … We know the food industry can give us anything we want but they work by the law of supply and demand. We have to DEMAND.”

To help our readers choose healthy convenience meals of all kinds, we’ll be adding an Eat Out/Take Out story to What’s New? from this issue of GI News. – Philippa Sandall, Editor.
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