There is no doubt that, in many countries, food has become much easier to prepare. This is due, to a large extent, to the vast array of convenience foods that are to be found in supermarkets. New techniques of food preparation, preservation and packaging have meant that they can present us with range of foods which require the purchaser to do very little but eat them. All we need to do is reach into the freezer or cook-chill cabinet and there is our meal for the evening.

Some of these ready-made meals, such as curries, would take a long time to prepare if we were doing the preparation ourselves, even if we had the necessary skill and motivation to undertake the task. We would also have to face the task of washing up all the utensils used. Instead, we are presented with a compact package that we only have to heat up.

That brings us to a revolutionary culinary gadget that has speeded up the cooking and heating process to quite an extraordinary degree. This gadget is the microwave oven. Something which might take about 45 minutes in conventional oven will take little more than 5 minutes in a microwave oven.

The advent of the microwave oven has encouraged supermarkets to make food preparation even more labour-saving. They now prepare a wide range of fresh vegetables which have been cleaned, prepared for cooking and put in packaging that can be popped straight into the microwave oven.

Modern methods of selling foods and cooking  foods have thus provided us with a great deal of extra time. Are we using this time wisely? Sadly, a great many of us are not.

It would be good to be able to say that families use the time saved on food preparation to have family conversations round the dinner table. With meal times more hassle-free, this should be possible and it has been proved that families who talk together on a regular basis get on better with each other. Sadly, statistics show that, in many countries, families are now less likely to have regular meal-time conversations. If we are not spending our extra time talking   to the rest of the family members, what are we doing with it?

With the time saved, we could read more to improve our minds or just for enjoyment, we could spend more time on a leisure pursuit or take up a new hobby; we could embark on an exercise programme to get fitter. Unfortunately, very few of us seem to be spending the saved time in an improving way. Instead, we are watching even more television, especially in the winter months.

Television can be an excellent educational tool and there are some very important programmes available. Also, it appears that, after our quickly prepared dinners, a great many of us are not watching such mentally-challenging programmes. We are opting for soaps  or the increasing number of reality TV shows. We zap from channel t channel when we grow bored. Worse, some of us come home from work, take our convenience food package from the fridge or freezer, pop it in the microwave oven, slide the cooked food onto a plate and go straight though to watch television while consuming the food.

Convenience foods and microwaves have meant that we are losing the cooking skills that were traditionally handed down from generation to generation. Yet, we are not using the time saved wisely or productively. It has simply increased in us a tendency to be a couch potato.

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