1. ITV Report

Tonight: The Food We Eat - Can't Cook or Won't Cook?

We’re a nation obsessed with cookery shows, recipe books and celebrity chefs. Yet it seems we're spending less time than ever doing it for real.

One in five families eat convenience foods at least three times a week and a government survey showed only one in six mothers cook from scratch every day.

In the first of four food programmes over the next fortnight, the Tonight programme investigates why some of us can’t cook or won’t cook and what can be done to get Britain back in the kitchen.

The UK has the largest consumption of ready meals in Europe. It’s no surprise; they are cheap, convenient and easy. A few minutes in a microwave and dinner is served. But for some families the ready meal isn’t always the first choice, it’s sometimes the only choice.

Mia Harris Credit: ITV / Tonight

Mia Harris would love to rustle up her son Zac’s favourite meal, shepherd’s pie. There’s really only one thing stopping her. Mia can’t cook.

“My mum wasn’t one for a lot of home cooking or cooking from scratch and it kind of fazes me, it kind of scares me. My cooking skills are zilch.”

– Mia Harris

Mia is not alone. Nearly one quarter of mothers don’t cook from scratch more often because they just don’t have the confidence to take on the task.

What’s the answer? Well, the government thinks it is learning to cook early. From September, cooking is returning to classrooms across the country for all children up to the age of 14.

Aldo Zilli helping young people learn to cook Credit: ITV / Tonight

Not content to wait until September, Tonight sought the help of top chef, Aldo Zilli, to teach a group of young people the importance of learning how to cook.

“I think cooking is a way of life and it’s crucially important when you grow up because if you can cook from scratch you can go to markets, you can go pass it on to your kids. I think it’s a great skill to learn.”

– Aldo Zilli

Skills are not all you need though to get a home cooked meal on the table each night. Siham Mohammed can cook - she just doesn’t have the time. A busy mum with three boys under the age of nine, she is no stranger to fussy appetites.

“My life is hectic, it’s very busy. I go to work, pick them up from school, I come back home, it’s just chaos…I just want to do a pre packed meal that will take me a short time because time is really an issue for me.”

– Siham Mohammed

Is there another way? Chef Sophie Wright thinks so. Can she convince Siham that she can get a meal on the table within half an hour?

Sophie Wright Credit: ITV / Tonight

So you’ve got the skills and you can find half an hour but there is no denying, ready meals are cheap. Get something on offer and you can feed a family of four one of the nation’s favourite meals, tandoori chicken, for £12. It’s a pretty good deal.

Phil Mundy from the Healthy Food Guide magazine thinks he can do better though. In 20 minutes, the time it takes to zap four ready meals, Phil will get a fresher version on the table – for under half the cost.

A home cooked meal is the goal for many parents and small changes can reap huge rewards. Nigel Denby runs a course in Middlesex teaching families how to make good simple meals from scratch. The results are clear.

“As a parent it makes me feel much better because then she’s not one of those kids that’s just eating chicken nuggets and chips. We’re eating fresh vegetables, and making it from scratch so it makes you feel much better.”

– Mum on Nigel Denby's 'Grub 4 Life' course

Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be difficult, time consuming or costly. Experts say that minor adjustments can make a real difference to the lives of our families.

Nigel Denby Credit: ITV / Tonight

“We all live busy lives, we all have commitments outside the home and again it’s unrealistic for most families to expect to sit down to dinner every day of the week, but try one day. Aim for a day at the weekend when the family sits together, eats a meal prepared from scratch and actually talks to each other.”

– Nigel Denby

If you would like to try Phil Mundy's Tandoori Chicken recipe click here.

Tonight: The Food We Eat - Can't Cook or Won't Cook? is on ITV at 8pm this evening.

Aldo Zilli will be online for a live Q&A on the Tonight facebook site immediately after the programme.