Ed Balls, Secretary of State for children, schools and families, deserves a pat on the back for trying to reboot our national cooking skills by announcing a package paving the way for compulsory practical cooking lessons in secondary schools in England for 11 to 14-year-olds from 2011.

The money behind the scheme is inadequate - £150m to build food technology teaching areas in secondary schools currently lacking facilities and £750,000 to recruit and train 800 new food tech teachers - but it's a good start, because it recognises that taking control of your own diet, by cooking from scratch, is the best-single instrument for fighting diet-related disease. 

For people who are constantly struggling to make ends meet and/or battling obesity, cooking skills represent a lifesaving get-out-of-jail card - liberation from dependence on a diet of processed food. If followed through properly and replicated throughout the entire UK, this initiative could immeasurably improve the nation's health.

The Government has already published a free online Real Meals cookbook with 32 dishes nominated by the public as the basic dishes every child should learn how to cook. Unfortunately the recipes, drawn up by the British Nutrition Foundation, contain a preponderance of ubiquitous globetrotting dishes all too familiar from supermarkets. 

I can understand that you can't go freaking people out with anything too radical, hence predictable staples such as spaghetti bolognese and chilli con carne. But why does chicken, the most intensively reared meat, appear in no fewer than five forms (roast, tikka, casserole, fajitas, stir-fry)? Seafood isn't represented at all. There's another posse of recipes with a central component of that well-known native ingredient, rice. Mind you, the same lack of focus on native foods afflicts Jamie Oliver's efforts. His 'parmesan chicken breasts with crispy posh ham' sounds more Emilia Romagna than Rotherham.

Forget the dietician's obsession with calories and low fat. We need a new, inspiring national list of dishes that are healthy in the broadest sense and use a genuinely varied range of ingredients that are 90% UK-produced. This would improve not only the nation's health but also our food security. Straight off, I'm nominating soda bread as an effortless antidote to Chorleywood pap Anyone else got suggestions?

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.