Cookery lessons are to be compulsory in England's secondary schools for children aged 11 to 14.
Pupils will learn to cook for an hour a week for one term. Poorer pupils' ingredients will be subsidised.
Cookery is a ministerial "expectation" but, as an optional part of the design and technology curriculum, is not currently taught in all schools.
The move is part of the strategy to tackle obesity, as experts believe 1m children will be obese in a decade.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families says that about 85% of secondary schools do offer cookery in some form.
It wants those schools to make the change immediately, and the rest by 2011.
The aim is to train higher level teaching assistants to do some of the teaching and to recruit more food technology teachers.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls wants to see 800 cookery teachers trained.
Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast programme, Mr Balls said the plan was tied in with the government's strategy to tackle obesity and improve people's health.
"I think it is important to act now and maybe we should have acted earlier," he said.
"It's not going to be just the technology of food, it will be how you can use simple ingredients, simple recipes, so that children and young people can be prepared for adult life."
He is promising to give schools £2.5m a year to help children from poor homes to pay for ingredients.
But critics have expressed concern about the practicalities of the idea.
Clarissa Williams of the National Association of Head Teachers said the training of food technology teachers had been neglected for so long it would be difficult to see the strategy through.
HAVE YOUR SAY
This is an excellent idea! Most people don't have any idea how to cook even basic meals.
Chris, Salford, UK
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Ms Williams said she was concerned about how schools would get all the resources needed.
"Cookers, microwaves, all of the utensils, all of that costs a lot of money. There's also the expectation that the children will bring the ingredients and for some ... that could be difficult."
The subject has suffered in recent years, according to the inspectorate, Ofsted, which traced the problem back to the introduction of the national curriculum in 1992.
This put food in with design and technology - alongside resistant materials, systems and textiles.
Shortage of teachers
Ofsted said pupils were often taught "trivia" such as "arranging toppings decoratively on a pizza" or using complex engineering computer-aided design software to produce simple drawings of icing on cakes.
Timetabling was made awkward by larger class sizes and a shortage of specialist teachers.
The "unique" way the subject was funded - with parents supplying or paying for ingredients - was also a fundamental problem, the inspectors said.
But officials at the schools department say it is a myth that there was once a "golden age" when everyone learnt to cook at school. This was never the case, they say.
The government is inviting people to send suggested recipes to: firstname.lastname@example.org