The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior recently published a study which found that when kids watch child-targeted cooking shows that feature healthy foods/cooking, they’re 2.7 times more likely to make healthier food choices on their own when compared to a group of kids who watched the same program that instead featured unhealthy food.
The study itself surveyed 125 children who were 10 to 12-years-old. Every child was asked to watch 10 minutes of a Dutch (the study took place in the Netherlands) public television program that was cooking-oriented and geared towards a child audience. As a reward for watching the program, researchers offered each child a snack after they were done. Each child was presented with a snack table that had multiple options of things to eat on it, but they were only allowed to choose one.
This is where the results came into play, as the kids who watched the program featuring healthy food were more likely to go for a healthier snack option (such as an apple) and the kids who watched the program featuring unhealthy food were more likely to reach for a less nutritional snack choice (like chips).
“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. Providing nutritional education in school environments may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors of children,” said lead author Frans Folkvord, PhD, of Tilburg University, Netherlands.
The study itself was conducted at each child’s school; the researchers went to five schools in the Netherlands to receive parental consent. They did this to show how implementing an alternative means of teaching children healthy lifestyle/eating habits, in an educational environment, could positively change their behaviors without being forced. A majority of the battle to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables is actually convincing them to do so.
Folkvord stated that he was inspired to do this study based on some prior research he did in which he found that children are more likely to eat the healthy parts of their meals when they’re actually involved in the cooking process. However, he also found that there’s too much reliance on pre-prepared foods today, and not enough emphasis on preparing fresh meals with fresh ingredients, which is hindering kids desires for healthier options.
What both studies have concluded here is that when kids are visually shown the ways in which ingredients are combined and prepared to make meals, they’re more likely to not only want to be involved in that process, but also eat the food itself, regardless of how healthy it is.
“The likelihood of consuming fruits and vegetables among youth and adults is strongly related to knowing how to prepare most fruits and vegetables. Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood,” Dr. Folkvord stated.
Poor lifestyle and dietary practices starting at a young age can have multiple negative effects on a child’s ability to maintain a healthy weight, diet, growth and developmental pattern regarding their physical, dental, and mental health. It’s important to start these visual practices young, not only will it give kids the skills to prepare healthy meals for themselves as they grow older, but it will also make them more independent and willing to try new things (like maybe some carrots and hummus as a snack instead of a box of Skittles).
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.