They may buy Jamie Oliver's cookbooks and sit glued to Gordon Ramsay's television shows, but it appears that many young people are more likely to pass off a supermarket-bought ready meal as their own creation than actually get their hands dirty.

One third of 16 to 24-year-olds have committed "food fraud" by claiming to have cooked something from scratch when in reality they simply pierced a clingfilm lid, turned on the microwave and disposed of the packaging.

Young women are the worst offenders, with 40 per cent of teenagers and twentysomething females admitting that they have lied about their culinary creations, compared with 22 per cent of men.

Overall, one in 10 of the 1,000 people questioned admitted that what their friends, family and loved ones believed was a signature dish, regularly made by their own hands, had actually come out of a carton.

The finding was disclosed to coincide with a new Department of Health campaign aimed at encouraging young people into the kitchen, as well as boosting their fruit and vegetable intake, crucial for the production of cancer-preventing antioxidants.

Health experts have produced a "Fuel for Living" guide containing simple recipes and tips for a generation that, despite the popularity of food programmes and profusion of celebrity chefs, appears to be ignorant of even basic cooking skills.

The survey found that one in 10 young people never cooked a proper meal for themselves because they did not know how. Other research revealed that 60 per cent of 12-year-olds have never boiled an egg and only 38 per cent knew how to cook a jacket potato.

Health experts have called for home economics to be put back on the national curriculum in an attempt to re-educate schoolchildren in the lost art of cooking.

Julie Barratt, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, told a conference last month: "The skills of preparing healthy meals from fresh ingredients have already been undermined by the popularity of convenience foods. Girls are too often not learning cooking skills from their mothers, and with the disappearance of home economics from schools we are faced with a generation-and-a-half of young people who simply cannot prepare healthy meals."

Researchers at Stirling University have identified the present generation of adolescents and young adults as "life incompetent"; unable to cook, sew or perform basic household tasks.

They may buy Jamie Oliver's books, but they never actually try out one of his recipes, and while they have watched Gordon Ramsay, they are unlikely to emulate him at the stove.

Supermarkets have also changed their marketing tactics for ready meals. Food that what was once portrayed as good value, convenience fodder is now presented as to luxury, haute cuisine fare, such as the Tesco Finest range. Television adverts for Marks and Spencer food wax lyrical with seductive descriptions of microwave vegetables.

Their popularity is borne out by the figures - sales of ready meals in the United Kingdom reached a record £900m last year, up 5 per cent on the previous year.

The Department of Health survey found that despite their ignorance of basic culinary skills, many young men and women rated kitchen skills above other attributes, such as wealth or flashy cars.

And the younger generation appear to have home-loving palates, with 40 per cent saying they preferred British food to any other cuisine.

Meals to get the juices flowing


The recent soar-away success of Simon Hopkinson's recipe book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories has clearly added to the popularity of what was once simply a traditional Sunday lunch.


Voted the favourite meal to tuck into on St Valentine's Day, steak is also beloved of Atkins Diet followers, although nutritionists may not approve of the chips and Bearnaise sauce that most people have with it.


Their love of ready meals may account for this dish making it into the top three; although with 8,000 curry restaurants in the UK, there is always the take-out option for clueless young cooks.

* The most popular meals as voted for by the nation's 16 to 24-year-olds