Watching TV isn’t normally seen as a recommended health practice, but here's an exception. Children who watch cooking programs featuring healthy foods tend to make better food choices than kids who don't, a study finds. Tuning in to cooking shows with your kids could be a win-win for parent and child — a way to enjoy some TV time together while increasing kids' awareness of the desirability of healthy foods they might not otherwise know much about.

Unhealthy diets during childhood have many negative consequences — unhealthy weight, poor dental health and interference with proper growth and development. Children who eat poor diets in childhood often continue to eat the same way in adulthood, leading to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, that can be life-threatening.

Children at five schools in the Netherlands were asked to watch 10 minutes of a television program on cooking designed for children. The 125 children, ages 10-12 years, either watched a program about cooking and eating a hamburger and fries with mayonnaise or a program about preparing and eating healthy foods such as tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, melon, beans, cabbage and apples.

Watching cooking programs may be a good, at-home alternative when it comes to teaching children about healthy eating behaviors.

After the students had watched their assigned program, they had a choice of a snack as a reward for participating. The children who watched the program about healthy foods were nearly three times more likely to choose from the healthy snacks offered, such as apple or cucumber, than from the unhealthy choices, like chips or salted mini-pretzels.

Past research has indicated that children were more likely to eat healthy foods if they were involved in the preparation of the food, but parents have become more reliant on convenience foods which has led to a decrease in cooking skills among children. This study was conducted in the children’s schools and suggests that watching cooking programs may be a good, at-home alternative to teach children about healthy eating behaviors.

You may not see improvements in kids' eating habits right away. Healthier choices in both foods and portion sizes on television programs may lead children to crave healthier foods and act on those cravings, but children’s personality traits and overall development play a role, too, the researchers caution.

Kids who are picky, who don’t warm up to new foods easily are less likely to show interest in healthier foods after watching a TV program than kids who enjoy trying new foods. But this isn't the end of the story.

As children grow older, become more independent and start to feel more responsibility for their food choices, they may fall back on information they learned as a child. Watching the cooking of healthy food as a child can impact children’s health years later, according to the researchers. That's because, “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,” explained researcher, Frans Folkvord, of Tilburg University, in a statement.

Ultimately, though, parents have the biggest role to play when it comes to interesting children in healthy eating.

Schools are another place where children can learn about preparing and eating healthy foods. Healthy eating programs in schools that teach kids about everything from growing food to preparing and serving can be part of science, math, reading and art classes.

Ultimately, though, parents have the biggest role to play when it comes to interesting children in healthy eating. Their involvement is the key to successfully transferring the information presented on cooking shows and in school to meals at home. School activities may be helpful, but they don't take away a parent's responsibility to teach their children healthy eating behaviors and expose kids to nutritious foods.

The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.