Not only do many children eat badly, some don't even know what vegetables look like. Is it any wonder we have health scares?

OF course you know what a potato looks like. Also carrot, rhubarb, celery, and even fennel, artichoke and butternut squash. But an amazing number of children haven't a clue. Not surprising really - we've met a lot of teenage check-out assistants who can't tell the difference between a Brussels sprout and a bag of lettuce.

Now we are about to discover, along with Jamie Oliver and his school dinner experiment, that a horrifying number of children not only live on a diet largely consisting of chicken nuggets and chips, washed down with cola and crisps, but they wouldn't know a fresh vegetable even if you put one on a plate in front of them.

And we wonder why they can't sit still...

Which is why Jamie tried to do something about school dinners.

He did brilliant work on a budget of 37p a meal - even though children at first refused to eat it because it wasn't deep fried in breadcrumbs. But he persevered and they grew to like it. It was also much better for them.

Healthy food - as well as vague promises for a longer future - also has immediate effects. Studies in schools and young offenders' institutes show that if you cut the rubbish from the diet, you also cut a lot of the appalling behaviour. You really are what you eat.

Which is why it's so depressing to read typical children's menus in pubs. Such joy recently that I saw one (I'm desperately trying to recall where but, sadly, can't) that consisted entirely of things like boiled egg with Marmite soldiers, macaroni cheese, mini shepherd's pie. It was a menu that oozed wholesomeness - and seemed wonderfully old fashioned.

And there are other reasons why we need to get children eating proper food.

In the past few days, more than 400 items have been cleared from supermarket shelves because they contain a possibly cancer-causing additive.

Cheering, isn't it?

Looking through that long list of products makes you realise how often we rely on other people to cook for us - and we often don't have a clue about what they used and what we're eating. It wasn't just your normal junk food on that list, there were some top of the table names.

The only way to be sure of what we're eating is to make more meals ourselves from scratch. It might take a bit more time, but it would certainly save us a small fortune, might well improve our health and would certainly help our wallets.

And if we encouraged our children to help us, they might even learn what a vegetable looks like.

Published: 23/02/2005