Food board in a stew over fall in cooking skills

CAN’T cook, won’t cook — that’s the attitude of a growing number of Irish people who are over-dependent on ready-to-go meals.

A Bord Bia study has found that 6% of people could not boil an egg, 19% said they could not cook a basic snack, such as beans on toast, and only 32% were confident of cooking a simple dinner.

Bord Bia director of client services Muiris Kennedy said attitudes to cooking were changing. A 2001 survey showed 33% of people regarded cooking as a chore, but that figure had increased to 43% by 2003.

"There's a huge shift to convenience food, something that started in America and is moving to Europe. Irish people are also losing basic cooking skills," he said.

Market growth was being fuelled by snack foods sandwiches, wedges, baguettes and rolls while demand was also growing for convenience meals, he told a conference on developing new enterprises from natural resources, at Tralee Institute of Technology.

But Mr Kennedy also said many people, especially the older groups, continued to be quite conservative in their eating habits, with 24% still in the "meat and two veg" category.

They were also slow to try out speciality and organic foods, with around 60% never buying farmhouse cheese, paté, balsamic vinegar, smoked salmon, or herb breads.

"Price is also an issue regarding speciality foods. People might pay 10% extra, but once you go above that price level you start to lose," he said.

The conference heard that eating while on the move, or at the desk, is increasing here, similar to the US.

One-in-10 Americans eats in the car and, as US food trends continue to take hold here, there's a fast-growing market for fast foods.

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