A balanced diet to most Scots means "I'll eat that and run up the stairs" or "if I starve myself now, I'll be able to eat that on Friday", Gillian Kynoch, the national food and health co-ordinator, told the conference.
Balance was a widely accepted nutritional concept but Scots simply could not grasp what it meant. They needed far more education from the early years, with food skills taught in schools.
"If children are introduced to a lot of colour, texture and crunch, their diet will be so much better later," Ms Kynoch said.
* Two-thirds of today's young people could end up overweight without action now to combat high fat diets and lack of physical activity, Mike Lean, professor of human nutrition at Glasgow University, warned.
Scotland is still bottom of the western European health league table and the indicators are not encouraging. Signs of the major killers - cancer, heart attack and stroke, and diabetes - are already evident in teenagers.
Studies among 11-year-olds showed low self-esteem to be a major concern and predictor of future patterns in adulthood, Professor Lean said. Children were particularly vulnerable if they smoked, had poor diets and were overweight. Such factors could lead to depression in later life.
"We can identify with 80 per cent certainty young people at 18 who will become obese. Diseases we used to think of as diseases of old age are now being seen in young people as they get fatter and this is scary," Professor Lean said.
* A country can have an excellent free school meals service but still face some of the same problems as Scotland, a Finnish headteacher said. Young Finns are more overweight, buy too many snacks out of school and do not eat proper meals with their parents at home, Kaiso Isotalo said.