Robert Pickard, of the British Nutrition Foundation, told delegates: "The teaching of home economics is beneficial to the entire community and of real economic value to the nation."
Professor Pickard's comments follow a survey by the Institute of Consumer Sciences which found an alarming staff shortage across Scotland, leading in some cases to cuts in the curriculum.
Home economics staff were in the front line of instilling values of citizenship and vital to the future health of the nation, Professor Pickard said. Referring to developments south of the border, and to Scotland, he said the foundation was looking for "a total cultural change over the next 20 years".
"We are raising appreciation of what society needs from teachers and the curriculum. There will be more local attempts to improve and recreate cooking skills and good cooking programmes," he said.
Margaret McGhie, director of the Scottish Executive's health promoting schools unit, underlined the role of schools in improving health and well-being. "The concept is not just about staying alive but about getting a life," she said.
"Yes, healthy eating is covered in home economics. But isn't it also about being together? Sharing and learning how to respect other people's views and opinions and getting joy out of eating together? All the things you are doing in your departments are about teaching young people self-esteem, how to get on with others and how to make decisions."
Alastair MacGregor, a Scottish Qualifications Authority manager, announced new Intermediate 1 courses for next session in health and food technology and hospitalitypractical cookery. At Intermediate II, there will be courses in practical cookery and creative cake production.