A whole generation of children has left school without the cooking skills to feed themselves or their families, an expert in food technology has warned.
Primary schools and boys schools often lack facilities, Anita Cormac says
Anita Cormac, director of Focus on Food, said the national curriculum had failed to teach children the basics.
She said it was not enough to tackle school meals - children needed to know how to cook for themselves.
The government announced this week that it would bring back cookery lessons for secondary school pupils.
Ms Cormac - a former secondary school head of food technology - said the way schools taught the subject and children's lack of knowledge was a cause of concern.
"We met some 10-year-old children who could not recognise a bowl of tuna. One pupil called it a donkey," she said.
She added that children regularly failed to recognise common vegetables such as leeks and onions.
"Since the national curriculum was introduced in 1988 children have not been learning the practical skills to actually make food.
"Where a school has chosen to emphasise food technology the approach will be to learn through cooking," Ms Cormac went on.
"But many teachers have felt constrained and under pressure to emphasise the design element of technology lessons."
She said there was a "serious shortage" of teachers qualified to teach food technology.
Food technology is taught as part of design and technology in schools, and is compulsory in primary but not in secondary schools.
Focus on Food - an educational charity founded by the Royal Society of Arts - trains teachers as well as primary and secondary school pupils to cook using correct chef's techniques.
It tours schools across the country with lorries containing state-of-the-art cooking facilities.
It offers schools a week of free training and support, with the aim of enthusing children and teachers for cooking and food.
"We have young children cooking bruschetta and filo parcels," Ms Cormac said.
"We cover advanced skills with the older pupils and teachers."
And she said schools were always pleased with the response of pupils.
But improving teacher training was key to increasing teachers' confidence and competence," Ms Cormac went on. And that would lead to a better pupil response to the subject.
But some teachers had a fear of cooking because they had not been trained to teach it, she said.
But Ms Cormac recognised that over the last few years attitudes were changing towards favouring learning to cook.
And this week the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said cookery lessons would be brought back into secondary schools as part of a review of technology lessons for 11 to 14-year-olds.
She said she had asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to consider how to put a greater emphasis on teaching pupils practical cooking skills.
The topics children should cover include diet, hygiene and food preparation.
"Preparing and cooking food is a key skill that will benefit them as they move into adulthood and independence," a spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said.
Ruth Kelly has pledged to eliminate junk food and bring back cookery
The national curriculum says that at Key Stages 1 and 2, pupils should be able to "design and make assignments using a range of materials... including food, items that can be put together to make products, and textiles".
At Key Stage 3, pupils should be able to work using a "range of contrasting materials, and/or food".
Pupils can still take GCSEs or A-levels in home economics. There were 44,762 entries at GCSE level this year and 1,185 at A-level.
A spokesperson for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said a shortage of facilities meant some schools were not able to teach food technology.
"A lack of facilities rather than staff is sometimes the problem. Some schools get round it by using local colleges or businesses, but it can be a problem," the spokesperson said.
However, Ms Cormac said schools should understand that cooking could be achieved with just tables and simple equipment.