You can’t beat home food, says leading restaurateur

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The Three Chimneys owner says Scots are eating too many restaurant dinners, ready meals and fast food, writes Mary O’Connor

The owner of one of the world’s most highly-acclaimed restaurants is encouraging Scots to dine out less and devote more energy to freshly cooked home meals.

Shirley Spear, who runs the award- winning Three Chimneys eaterie on the Isle of Skye, said eating out tends to lead to greater consumption of fattening side dishes, alcohol and sugary drinks. She suggested that cutting down on restaurant meals would help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis.

Spear, the former head of the Scottish Food Commission, which advises the government’s diet strategy, also criticised local authorities for failing to curb the spread of fast-food outlets, which she believes should be made to disclose the nutritional content of food in the same way as supermarkets. “We need to entertain in our own homes more rather than going out to eat and drink,” said Spear. “People who eat out are probably drinking more alcohol or sugary drinks than they would do at home and they’re eating more of the extras and accompaniments that come with dishes at restaurants.”

Spear’s comments coincide with research that reveals UK households spend almost four times more on eating out and hotel stays than on drink and cigarettes.

Our high streets are being taken over by quick food joints of all sorts, everywhere is a chain

Average weekly spending on restaurants and in hotels rose last year to more than £45 a week — the first time that figure has been reached in five years when adjusted for inflation — according to the Office for National Statistics. The body said high levels of employment and rising disposable incomes explain the increase in dining out.

This year, it is estimated that Britons will spend more than £54bn on eating out.

Spear argues that a family-driven approach to home cooking and meal times would improve Scots’ physical and mental wellbeing and help them to learn more about the hidden unhealthy ingredients in their food. She warned that too many families rely heavily on ready meals, which are typically loaded with salt and fats.

“We’ve overlooked our food culture in Scotland for too long and lost a degree of understanding of the huge variety of raw produce, seafood, beef and all the other things that make us a great food nation. By returning to the basics of home cooking, people will eat healthily and take more outward pride in what we have to offer in Scotland.”

In Scotland, almost two-thirds (65%) of adults aged 16 and over were classed as overweight in 2015, including 29% who were obese. More than a quarter (28%) of children were at risk of becoming overweight, with 15% at risk of obesity. There has been an increase in the proportion who are overweight or obese among both sexes (aged 16-64) since 1995, from 52% to 62%.

Spear said it is time “to take a very, very serious look at how we give planning permission for all these fast-food establishments”. She added: “Our high streets are being taken over by quick food joints of all sorts, everywhere is a chain. Why do these places get the planning permission? It’s so obvious that they are sending out completely the wrong signals to people.”

Spear expressed doubts over the sugar tax, arguing that it would not deter Scots from buying fizzy drinks, and would not compel manufacturers to rethink how they produce a particular product in a healthier way. She suggested that a ban on junk-food advertising on TV, in shops and public transport would be more effective in reversing the culture of unhealthy snacking.

She also condemned moves to increase business rates on the independent food and drink sector, arguing that the government’s healthy eating agenda would be undermined by small businesses that provide fresh produce being forced to close due to unaffordable taxes.