Home-cooked meals made from scratch are said to be beneficial for long-term eating habits rooted in a balanced, healthy diet. A new study, however, finds that recipes created by popular television chefs - a main source of inspiration for many home cooks - don't contain the most desirable nutritional content.
Published last month on the British Medical Journal website bmj.com  the study found that the average television chef recipe contains more protein, fat and saturated fat, and less fibre per portion than own-brand supermarket ready meals (which already have a bad reputation).
The research team, based in an arm of the British National Health Service in Tees, and Newcastle University, randomly selected 100 main meal recipes from five best-selling cookery books and 100 ready meals from three leading British supermarkets.
Recipes were included from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals and Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver, Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale, Kitchen by Nigella Lawson, and River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Own-brand ready meals were from Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco.
The researchers then compared both types of meals to dietary guidelines published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British Food Standards Agency (FSA).The average recipe created by a television chef was high in fat (27.1 grams) and saturated fat (9.2 grams) and low in sugar (8.3 grams) and salt (1.6 grams), according to guidelines from Britain's FSA. In contrast, the own-brand supermarket ready meal was high in saturated fat (6.8 grams), had a medium level of fat (17.2 grams) and salt (2.0 grams), and was low in sugar (6.8 grams).
Despite reported efforts from the industry to reduce the salt content of prepared meals, only 4 per cent of the ready meals met the WHO recommendation. The recipes were more likely to comply with the recommendation, although the researchers point out that salt used for seasoning was not assessed.
They say that maximum nutritional benefit "is likely to be derived from home cooking of nutritionally balanced recipes primarily using raw ingredients, rather than relying on ready meals or recipes by television chefs".
The authors also suggest including nutritional information on recipes in cookery books.
Consideration should also be given to regulation of the recipes demonstrated by television chefs similar to that which limits the advertisement of foods classified as high in fat, salt, or sugar, they add.