Healthy cooking programs can be a "promising tool for promoting positive changes in children's food-related preferences," the lead author of the study says

By Ashley Boucher
January 08, 2020 12:54 AM
Credit: Getty Images

It turns out that putting kids in front of a TV might help them to make healthier food choices — it just depends on what they’re watching.

A new study has found that children are twice as likely to choose to eat healthy snacks on their own after watching cooking shows that highlight nutritious food.

“Kids who watched a child-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make a healthy food choice than those who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food,” the study, published by Elsevier and appearing in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, said.

The study took place in the Netherlands and included 125 children from five different schools between the ages of 10 and 12.

The kids were offered a snack as a reward for watching 10 minutes of a public Dutch TV cooking show designed for children, and those who “watched the healthy program were far more likely to choose one of the healthy snack options.”

“Healthy” options, in this case, were an apple or cucumber slices, while the “unhealthy” choices included a handful of chips or a handful of mini salted pretzels.

The findings of the study suggest that when healthier food choices and portion sizes are prominently highlighted on TV cooking shows, young viewers are led to “crave those healthier choices then act on those cravings.”

Healthy cooking programs can be a “promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors,” the lead author of the study, Frans Folkvord, PhD, of Tilburg University, Tilburg, Netherlands, said.

It’s important for nutritional education to be provided in school environments, Folkvord said, adding that students may even change their minds about foods they don’t like with “positive peer and teacher modeling.”

While seeing healthy food on TV encouraged the participants to make healthier choices, the study pointed out that children are more likely to eat nutritious food if they are involved in its preparation.

“But modern reliance on ready-prepared foods and a lack of modeling by parents in preparing fresh foods have led to a drop in cooking skills among kids,” the study said.

So while watching cooking shows that highlight healthy foods definitely helps, it can be even more helpful to teach children how to cook healthy meals — a skill they can use to continue healthy habits as they grow up.

“The likelihood of consuming fruits and vegetables among youth and adults is strongly related to knowing how to prepare most fruits and vegetables,” Folkvord said. “Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood.”