School pupils should be taught how to cook classic meals such as spaghetti Bolognese and shepherd’s pie to help tackle rising obesity levels, schools secretary Ed Balls said yesterday.

“We've lost touch with making basic dishes from scratch, even though there has never been a wider range of food in our shops," Balls said  “Cooking and budgeting means you can prepare healthy, nutritious meals cheaply even in the face of rising food prices. It puts you in charge of your own health so that you can avoid salt, sugar and fat unlike with ready meals.”

His comments coincide with the launch of a Whitehall-sponsored cookbook called Real Meals, which will be issued free to all 11-year-olds.

The Government will also be ploughing £150m into the creation of new teaching kitchens in schools, with cooking set to become compulsory for 11 to 14-year-olds from 2011.

“Celebrity chef cookbooks are best-sellers but for too many people cooking is now something they watch on television instead of doing themselves,” Balls added. “Cooking is not quantum physics. Once you've mastered basic dishes and techniques it is a straightforward skill you can build on for the rest of your life.”