Do cooking shows influence the way kids eat?

Watching healthy  cooking shows can help kids to make better choices, a study has found.
Watching healthy cooking shows can help kids to make better choices, a study has found. Photo: iStock

When my children started watching The Great British Bake Off I noticed a big difference in the way they approached food. Every time I put a meal in front of them, they gave it a full critique. "I like what you've done here mum, but you've been a bit heavy-handed with the oregano."

And, when they particularly like something that I've cooked, they treat me to the "Paul Hollywood Handshake". Sadly for me, it doesn't happen very often.

Green falafels are a great dish to encourage kids to eat more vegies.
Green falafels are a great dish to encourage kids to eat more vegies. Photo: William Meppem

Given the way that my kids have been influenced by GBBO, I was intrigued to read about new research that links cooking shows with food choices.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, found that kids who watch cooking shows featuring healthy food are twice as likely to make healthy food choices than those who watch shows featuring unhealthy food.

Researchers in the Netherlands asked 125 kids aged between 10 and 12 to watch 10 minutes of one of two Dutch cooking shows designed for children (one health-focused, one not so much) and then offered them a snack as a reward for participating.

Samin Nosrat hosts the Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat, based on her book of the same name.
Samin Nosrat hosts the Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat, based on her book of the same name. Photo: Supplied

The children who watched the healthy food program typically chose an apple or sliced cucumber. In contrast, those who watched the unhealthy program more likely chose a handful of chips or salted mini pretzels.

Dr Frans Folkvord of Tilburg University led the study. "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 behaviours," he said. 

Sarah Appleford is the founder of Nutrition for Kids, an Australian holistic food blog. She tells Good Food that she isn't at all surprised by the results of the Dutch study. "Exposure, whether it's serving vegetables at each meal or watching others cook and eat, has proved time and time again to be the best way to encourage healthy eating amongst children," she says.

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On top of this, Appleford says that children model behaviours from those around them, including their eating preferences. "If they're watching their peers and adults make and consume healthy food, they themselves are more likely to eat it, too," she says.

Of course, in addition to watching cooking shows on TV, there are lots of other ways to encourage children to get involved in food prep. Appleford suggests family trips to the farmers market to explore in-season fresh produce or making a game out of finding ingredients in the supermarket.

"You could plant a herb or vegetable garden with them. Allow them to choose a meal to cook together from a recipe book or website. Encourage them to help pack their own school lunch or make their afternoon snack," she adds.

Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are the new judges on Network 10's MasterChef.
Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are the new judges on Network 10's MasterChef. Photo: NETWORK 10

Dietician and intuitive eating counsellor Nina Mills agrees that getting kids involved in the kitchen can help them to overcome food fears, increase the variety of food that they like and develop an enjoyment eating.

However, she suggests avoiding words like "healthy", "unhealthy", "good" and "bad" when talking to kids about food.

"Children are very black and white thinkers, so if our intentions behind getting kids involved in the kitchen is only for the purpose of 'healthy eating', we are creating environments in which disordered relationships with food, eating and body can take seed and flourish," Mills says.

So what are the best cooking shows for kids? Appleford and Mills suggest the following:

  • MasterChef – for those kids who like a bit of competition.
  • Gourmet Farmer – great to teach kids where food comes from.
  • Jamie Oliver – captivating and fun with plenty of quick recipes to offer.
  • Food Safari – for those kids who love travel.
  • Salt Fat Acid Heat – for kids who are curious about food origins and traditions.