Parents don’t turn off the TV just yet. Here’s why

How often do you hear that for their health’s sake, you need to switch off the TV or get your kids off their devices? Well, hold on – there may be some exceptions.

A new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, evaluated the impact on kids’ food choices following their watching a child – oriented cooking shows at school.

Those who watched episodes which featured healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to opt for healthy food choices after watching those featuring healthy food choices compared to those where the kids watched segments with less than healthy ones.

In the study, which took place in the Netherlands,  125 subjects, aged  10 to 12 years, viewed a public television cooking program designed for youngsters. Following this, they were offered a snack for participating. The kids who watched the healthy food segment chose options like an apple or pieces of cucumber while the others went for a handful of chips or salted pretzels.

The study brings up a number of opportunities four moving youngsters towards healthy eating.

Nutrition education programs at school vital

When kids are young, ( before they reach the age where they believe all adults know very little) teaching them about food and nutrition at school is opportune. Parents do need help in this area but the key is to do it right. Teachers, like the rest of the population, may have nutritional biases. I remember when my kids were young and a teacher commented on how I, as a dietitian, could let my kids eat cheese.

Nutrition being taught at school needs to have a positive focus. It also has to be fun. And having them involved in learning about food and cooking is a wonderful way to teach them about healthy eating.

The pleasure principle

Cooking shows, though, add another element to what kids learn: pleasure. The authors point out they can provide examples of peers experiencing pleasure from cooking or eating foods and these types of strategies, which emphasize pleasure from eating or the preparation of food, could be more effective and efficient than simply teaching kids about nutrition.

The authors state that the results showed that priming children with healthy foods are effective in inducing healthy snack intake. It’s what they call the cue reactivity theory: the mere sight or smell of foods are associated with craving for these foods. This reaction, a conditioned response to foods, is frequently accompanied by increased salivation, physiological arousal, and heightened neural activity in brain areas related to reward.

Activities at school, such as introducing new fruits or vegetables, can result in kids trying selections that they might not agree to at home. Watching the kids on the cooking program and then their classmates taste something they’ve never tried before or a food they’ve previously turned their noses up at, could be incentive for them to try it.

But getting them involved in food preparation at home is also key. Whether it be prepping vegetables for a side dish or a salad or baking cookies – getting in the kitchen and having them learn about food will serve them well later in life.

While as a parent, you might want to turn off the television or put away device, checking out kids’ cooking shows which involve healthy eating with your youngsters can yield benefits. You can search for them on YouTube or educational television channels.

What would also be ideal is for the government to re-introduce the ban on marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, something that the Senate blocked before our recent election.

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Categories: Children's Health, Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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