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Modeling healthy eating for kids


Watching cooking shows on TV is more than just mouthwatering entertainment. A recent study found that they can encourage healthier eating habits in children.

The study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that children who watched a 10-minute clip of a cooking show that featured healthy foods and was designed for children were twice as likely to choose a healthy snack afterward than children who watched a show featuring less healthy foods. The small study focused on 125 Dutch children ages 10 to 12.

Viewing cooking shows featuring fruits and vegetables may help “prime” children to choose them “because it’s an easier choice,” said Frans Folkvord, an assistant professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The child actors in the shows may have served as role models, he said. Plus, the show was entertaining and educational.

“Parents, friends, peers or other
role models should try to influence children in a positive and entertaining way. For example, taking them to kids shops where they sell healthy foods, or cooking together,” said Folkvord, who said he uses the technique successfully with his two young daughters.

“Involving kids in the planning, shopping and cooking processes may get kids excited and more likely to try healthy foods,” said registered dietitian Jennifer Glockner, founder of Smartee Plate, a food education series for children. “Let kids help you select a healthy recipe to try, take them to the fruit/veggie aisle at the market or farmers market, let them choose a fruit/veggie to try and get them involved in the cooking with age appropriate, supervised tasks.”

More of Glockner’s tips to promote healthy eating:

  • Shop smart: Teach kids which foods are healthy by showing them what foods you choose and why.
  • Cook more at home: You can teach kids to use more fresh ingredients and fewer processed ones. Include a variety of ingredients throughout the week.
  • Involve kids: Cooking teaches kids important lifelong skills. Be sure to encourage age-appropriate cooking tasks.
  • Don’t hide fruits and veggies: Display them in visible, reachable spots in your kitchen.
  • Incorporate family meals: Eliminate distractions and be mindful at the dinner table. Studies show that family meals may decrease obesity in kids.
  • Take a field trip: Garden together, visit a community garden or farm. Kids who see how fruits, veggies and herbs grow and where they come from maybe more excited to try them.
  • Share a book: Research has found that kids who read stories about veggies are more likely to try them than kids who were just lectured about them. “Studies have determined that food preferences start at a young age, maybe even during utero,” Glockner said. “My philosophy is ‘Start Right, Eat Bright.’ Introduce fruits, veggies and lean proteins early on when first introducing solid foods. It’s easier to establish healthy eating habits at a young age than break bad habits later in life.

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