A lot of parents struggle to find effective strategies for getting their kids to eat healthy foods. New research shows that TV cooking programs could be one piece of the puzzle. Finally, some screen time we can feel good about!
In this study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers observed 125 children aged 10 to 12 in the Netherlands after watching a kid-oriented cooking show. The kids who watched an episode featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to choose healthier snacks afterwards, such as apples and cucumbers, rather than the less healthy choices (chips and pretzels).
Lead author Frans Folkvord, Ph.D., of Tilburg University in Tilburg, Netherlands, concludes, “The findings from this study indicate cooking programs can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors.”
Participating in food prep helps
According to the study, the visual effect of seeing healthy food choices featured prominently in a show can lead kids to crave those types of foods. And demonstrating in detail how the foods are prepared is another important part of the appeal, since children are more likely to eat healthy foods that they’ve helped prepare. “Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood,” notes Dr. Folkvord.
Schools can play an important role
The study was conducted in the children’s school environment, which especially interested the researchers because modern-day parents are often too busy to model the preparation of fresh, healthy foods at home. “Schools represent the most effective and efficient way to reach a large section of an important target population, which includes children as well as school staff and the wider community,” says Dr. Folkvord.
The positive impact can be amplified in an educational environment, since “positive peer and teacher modeling” can help encourage kids to try new foods according to Folkvord, even if they think they won’t like them.
Some of the children in the study, who were less inclined to like trying new foods in general, weren’t quite as drawn to the healthy snacks after watching the healthy food program as the more food-adventurous kids were. However, the researchers believe that since children’s eating behaviors and sense of responsibility change with age, healthy food programming at a young age could still have a positive impact on later behaviors. So, like a lot of parenting strategies: just because something doesn’t seem to be working yet doesn’t mean it won’t have a helpful effect in the long term.