With the huge success of cooking shows like MasterChef, why is it that more than 50 per cent of Kiwis are buying takeaways rather than serving up a home-cooked meal?

The nation spends more than $1.5 billion a year on fast foods, an amount that has quadrupled in the past four years.

A report says almost a third of the hundreds of New Zealanders surveyed say takeaways are cheaper.

That has me scratching my head.

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I rarely go for takeaways because I'm reasonably healthy-food conscious and I think fast foods are expensive.

Last Friday, however, I opted for a fish-and-chips session because I had had a long day knocking down a garage and filling a 9m3 skip. I was too buggered to cook and so went along with the easy-meal plan. It cost about $18.

If we had gone for an Indian take-out meal it would have set me back about $45, McDonald's about $30, and pizza anywhere between $15 and $30.

And that's for three people. Larger crews would cost even more and make cooking meals that much more cost-effective for folk on low or limited budgets.

For example - soups.

Now I'm a soup fiend and there is always a pot of something on the stove.

Buy a frozen chicken, $8. A couple of parsnips, carrots, bit of celery and onions for a chicken (soup) stock. Cost $6-ish. Throw out those stock veges and add in fresh carrots, potatoes, tinned tomatoes. Cost about $6. Packet of buns or loaf of bread $4. So for five litres of good, nourishing chicken soup that will last several days you have spent $24.

For a good easy, cheap meal how about chicken chilli?

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A couple of chicken breasts (on special) $6. Two or three cans of chilli beans (under $2 each). Two cans of tomatoes (85 cents each). Chop chicken, add to beans and tomatoes. Voila. Dinner for $14. Add a basic green salad for $3 or so.

Macaroni cheese?

I tend to go army-size on this one as you can have it reheated over a few dinners or lunches. Packet of macaroni ($2), packet of bacon pieces ($5), packet of cheese ($5), couple of litres of milk ($4). Cook the bacon and the pasta, make a cheese sauce, mix in large baking dish or two and bake. Make a salad ($4). Two or three meals for $20.

Now those examples are easy and will get a run at my place if we want something different.

So will a spaghetti bolognese, which will feed four for $16 (and that's including $10 for the mince).

Anyway, I have to question whether it really is cost that has Kiwis picking takeaways over home meals? Or is it not knowing how to cook basic meals?

Or is it pure laziness?

With an epidemic of health issues ballooning out of control maybe it is time to add compulsory cooking courses to the school curriculum and for those on benefits. Teach people how to cook proper meals - even if they are just tasty vegetarian dishes - that will suit all budgets. The lazy aspect is harder to solve as one suspects it is much easier for lounge lizards to just send the kids off to the chippie at night rather than get off their backsides and prepare good food for them.

For those who say they are really busy at work and get home too tired to make a proper meal, I say harden up. It isn't that hard if you are organised. (Or haven't demolished a building).

And I'll add that cooking is fun - I usually cook from scratch 99 per cent of the time - and it is a great way to relax with cleaver and glass of wine in hand.

At different times, obviously.

IF YOU thought the England rugby team lost the plot during the Rugby World Cup, then how about this university madness from the United Kingdom?

Student union officials at the University of East Anglia have banned students from wearing sombreros handed out by a local Mexican restaurant.

The officials confiscated the large circular hats because they were "racist".

I'm with you on this, dear readers, and am still trying to work out their logic.

They justified their attack on freedom of headwear by saying it was "offensive for non-Mexicans to wear them".

The union also branded the sombreros "racist and a form of cultural appropriation".

Students hit back saying the ruling was "ridiculous".

Not quite what I would say. What will these politically-correct nongs try next? Banning large Zapata-esque moustaches because they, too, could be racist?

Sombreros and margaritas for all, I say.

-richard@richardmoore.com

-Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer