While child development experts might throw shade at parents for allowing their kids to watch too much TV, a new study finds that TV shows that feature healthy foods may be the perfect recipe for encouraging healthier food choices as they grow older.
A recent study published by Elsevier in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, discovered that kids that watched a child-focused cooking show highlighting healthy food were over 2 ½ times more likely to choose healthy food compared to those who watched the same show with a different episode featuring unhealthy food (1).
Five schools in the Netherlands were included in the study. Scientists asked 125 children, aged 10 to 12 (with their parents’ consent), to watch a Dutch public TV cooking show designed for children, for 10 minutes, then gave them a snack as a reward for participating. Kids that observed the healthy program were much more likely to pick one of the healthy snack options- a few slices of cucumbers or an apple, instead of an unhealthy option (handful of chips or salted mini pretzels).
Lead author, Frans Folkyord, PhD of Tilburg University in the Netherlands believes the results of this study suggest that cooking programs may be a potential tool for encouraging positive behaviors in children’s food-related choices, behaviors and attitudes.
The research was done at the children’s schools, which could be a promising way for kids to learn healthy eating behaviors. Previous studies have found that children are more inclined to eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables if they were included in making the dish. Modern dependence on ready-made, processed foods and limited modeling of behaviors by parents making fresh foods have led to a decline in cooking skills among children.
Folkyord believes "Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors of children." The study suggests that children viewing healthier options in food choices and appropriate portions through cooking programs teaches kids to desire healthier options and act on those cravings.
Personality traits can impact children’s choices despite watching a TV show featuring healthy foods. Kids with “neo-phobia”, the fear of trying new foods, are less likely to want t try healthy foods while children that enjoy trying new foods will be more likely to desire healthy foods after watching the program. 2 However, as both groups get older, children with initial food fears may outgrow them and choose healthier foods as they age (2).
Schools may be the most effective and efficacious method to reach large sections of a target population, including children, school staff and the surrounding community. Peer and teacher modeling may lead students to try new foods that the previously disliked or would not eat.
During childhood and adolescence, poor food habits have several negative effects on health and wellness indicators such as reaching and maintaining health weights, growth and development patterns, and dental health. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is strongly linked to preparation and cooking skills of these foods in children through adulthood.
Children and teens can be influenced to eat more fruits and vegetables in the following ways:
- Bring kids to a garden, farmer’s market or grocery store at a young age to teach them where food comes from and which foods are healthy choices.
- Allow kids to help grow and harvest food in a home or school garden.
- Involve children and teens in preparing and cooking meals.
- Be a role model! Eat fruits and vegetables in front of your kids instead of highly processed snack foods.
- Use the “one bite” rule with kids that dislike new foods.
- Don’t use food as a reward for finishing their plates.
- Watch food programs that encourage healthy foods with kids to discuss it with them.
- Serve an unfamiliar healthy food with a familiar one.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Frans Folkvord, Doeschka Anschütz, Marieke Geurts. Watching TV Cooking Programs: Effects on Actual Food Intake Among Children. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2019.09.016
- Heikki V Sarin, Nele Taba, Krista Fischer, Tonu Esko, Noora Kanerva, Leena Moilanen, Juha Saltevo, Anni Joensuu, Katja Borodulin, Satu Männistö, Kati Kristiansson, Markus Perola. Food neophobia associates with poorer dietary quality, metabolic risk factors, and increased disease outcome risk in population-based cohorts in a metabolomics study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz100
Stephanie Ronco has been editing in a professional capacity for the past 10 years. In addition to her work as an editor, Ronco has also served as a ghostwriter and writing tutor. A voracious reader, Ronco loves watching language evolve and change. When she’s not delving into her latest project, Ronco can be found teaching acting classes, performing in community theater, or sailing with her husband.