We all know that ready meals are bad for us. Those microwaveable plastic dishes are filled with enough salt to rival the North Sea and the contents resemble a bucket of pigs' swill as opposed to actual food. Yet ready-meals make up a huge part of the food industry in this country, with billions eaten every year in the UK. Baffling, when you consider the number of health warnings about these mass-produced meals. What is also baffling is the number of young people turning to takeaways for dinner, as opposed to cooking at home. A recent BBC Good Food Survey has revealed that 16-24 years olds are spending more on takeaways than any other age group. The reason for this, according to the poll, is that the average 16-24 year old only knows how to cook four recipes from scratch (though, from my experience, I'm not sure this should be restricted to 16-24 year olds!).
I would wager that the success of the ready-meal industry also has something to do with a lack of knowledge, and confidence, in the kitchen. It's much easier and quicker to order takeaway or pop a ready-meal in the microwave than taking the time to plan, prepare and cook a meal. And this has got me thinking: can ready made products provide the answer? Can they help encourage people to cook at home?
Take pastry, for example. Pastry is a fantastic ingredient in many dishes. Flaky puff pastry makes the perfect pie topping, or is delicious as an alternative pizza base. Short crust pastry is perfect for chocolate tartlets or savoury quiches. But pastry is quite tricky to make, and requires practice (a lot of it) to achieve a consistent result. Puff pastry in particular is so tricky to make that it's a wonder anyone actually others. Lives are busier than ever, what with work, family, friends and catching up on the latest episodes of Game of Thrones/Bake Off/Law & Order: SVU (delete as appropriate). Who has the time to perfect their pastry making skills?
Perhaps, instead, a ready-made version could help those who lack confidence and skills in the kitchen, and might be more inclined to pop down to the local bakery as opposed to making their own pie. And in terms of those all-important nutritional figures: well pastry is never going to be the healthiest of foods with flour and butter as the main ingredients. Of course, making your own from scratch does mean you know exactly what has gone into your food, but for those wishing to ease into cooking, a ready-made product may be perfect substitute.
You may also consider making your own seasonings and dressings from scratch, but you could also argue that a ready-made version is a much easier option compared to pounding away with a mortar and pestle to create the perfect rub for meat. And if paired with healthy, fresh ingredients, there's no reason why you cannot create tasty and nutritious meals at home; without resorting to a takeaway or ready-meal.
So while some may view using ready-made products as cheating, I'm not sure I agree. Yes, there are many advantages to making everything from scratch, including complete transparency with your food. But if we are trying to build up the confidence of young people and adults alike, so they are more inclined to cook at home, why shouldn't they use high quality ready-made products that make the cooking process easier? If ready-made products encourage more people to cook at home, and to ditch the takeaways and ready meals, then using them seems like a great idea to me.