Health organisations, teachers' unions and children's charities are demanding compulsory cookery lessons in schools.
Concerns have been raised about growing levels of childhood obesity
More than 50 bodies, including the British Heart Foundation, say it is a scandal that so many pupils leave school unable to cook.
They said voluntary lessons in cookery would not reach those pupils most likely to have poor eating habits.
The Department for Education and Skills said, from 2008, schools had to offer lessons to pupils who wanted them.
In a letter to Education Secretary Alan Johnson the organisations - coming together as the Children's Food Campaign - claim his predecessor Ruth Kelly had committed to making cookery a compulsory part of the curriculum in England's schools.
But the DfES said Ms Kelly had not made such an undertaking but had welcomed recommendations by the school meals review panel that all children should be taught food preparation and practical cooking skills.
A spokesman said all pupils starting secondary school from 2008 would have an "entitlement" to these lessons, meaning that schools would be obliged to offer them if requested.
'Vicious circle of ignorance'
But many high-profile organisations, such as the British Dental Health Foundation, Unison, the National Obesity Forum, the British Medical Association and Friends of the Earth, believe this does not go far enough.
Their joint letter to Mr Johnson said: "It is a national scandal that so many young people leave our schools unable to prepare a simple meal. Poor diet is a key cause of the current obesity epidemic.
"And, quite simply, those without basic cooking skills are very likely to be condemned to a shorter life because they will be left with little alternative but to buy expensive, processed food - high in fats, sugar and salt - and pass this pattern of behaviour onto their children."
It said, for 15 years, children had been leaving school with little or no practical ability to prepare and cook food.
"Many of those children will now be parents themselves and, unless they were lucky enough to have been taught these skills in the home, will have been left lacking the ability to look after themselves, let alone others in their care.
"There is an urgent need to break the vicious circle of ignorance and poor diet which is maintained by our failure to give all children this basic life skill during their school life."
A spokesman for the DfES said: "We are setting a priority on teaching children practical cooking skills.
"This is why we have asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to consider how to put a greater emphasis on teaching pupils practical cooking skills in secondary schools through its broad-ranging curriculum review.
"This is also why we recently announced that every pupil should have a cooking entitlement, ensuring that schools must offer practical cooking lessons to every pupil that wishes to learn them."
Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb, said: "It is right to offer cooking as an option in secondary schools but not to make it compulsory.
"It would be odd for citizenship and cooking to be compulsory, whilst studying a modern foreign language is not.
"Schools are there to educate our children and cannot be expected on their own to tackle every social problem."