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Children more likely to eat better after watching healthy cooking shows

TORONTO — Children were nearly three times more likely to make healthier food choices after watching a cooking show featuring healthy meals, according to new research.

The Dutch study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, also found these habits could potentially stay with them until adulthood.

In a press release, lead author Frans Folkvord from Tilburg University in the Netherlands described cooking shows as a “promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors.”

The findings suggested cooking shows that featured healthy foods helped children learn by example.

“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.

After obtaining parental consent, he and his team asked 125 10-to-12 year olds at five elementary schools in the Netherlands to watch a child-oriented cooking program on public TV.

They were all offered healthy or unhealthy snacks afterwards: an apple and cucumber slices; or a handful of chips and salted mini-pretzels.

Those who watched an episode with healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to choose the healthy snacks compared to those who watched an episode featuring unhealthy food.

Folkvord’s team stressed that the visual representation of the food choices and portion sizes on TV helped children crave these foods and provide the methods to act on these cravings.


But the study acknowledges that children’s personality traits – i.e. whether they like to try new foods — greatly influenced whether they chose the healthier options.

The study found children who don’t like new meals were less likely to choose healthier foods than children who enjoyed trying out new foods.

But there was a silver lining even when this was the case: the knowledge to make healthy food could perk up as they became adults.

The researchers suggested that as these children grew up, they became more responsible for their eating habits and fell back on the habits they were taught when they were younger.

“Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood,” Folkvord said.

His team’s findings also reiterated that schools were good places to teach children healthy eating behaviors.

Prior research has found that children were more inclined to eat healthier foods if they were shown how.

“Positive peer and teacher modeling can encourage students to try new foods for which they exhibited distaste previously,” Folkvord said.

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