Waffles and Mochi: Why children's food shows need to focus on healthy eating

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"Advice for parents of picky eaters is to avoid being anxious and instead always be positive." Photo: Getty Images
"Advice for parents of picky eaters is to avoid being anxious and instead always be positive." Photo: Getty Images

Michelle Obama's new TV show, Waffles and Mochi, aimed at young children, is a fabulous idea. The idea is to show children where food comes from and some ways of cooking it from scratch – instead of just buying pre-made meals from the supermarket.

How a child eats can have a serious impact on their overall health and wellbeing throughout life. So, children should be encouraged to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and to eat a varied diet that is rich in nutrients. And their parents should be made aware of meeting dietary requirements in a way that supports a long and healthy life. Habits learned at a young age, such as healthy eating, have been proven to carry through to adulthood.

I am extremely passionate about educating children (and their parents) about good nutrition. A part of this is encouraging them to cook and try new foods, which are nutritious and beneficial to them. Children are like little sponges. They require stimulation and encouragement to soak up information and learn by experience. So a bright and entertaining TV show that also informs is a great idea.

Read: The 'double burden of malnutrition' within South African households

Where food is from

Waffles and Mochi are two puppets who are determined to learn to cook and prepare fresh meals after living on a pretty terrible diet of ice cream. They travel the world in their magical flying shopping cart and meet celebrity chefs, including Jose Andres from Spain and Massimo Bottura from Italy. The series has some inspirational ideas and is excellent in introducing children and adults to different cultures and foods.

I believe that television is an effective teaching tool, which is not always used to its best advantage. Young children will sit and watch and take on board what they see and hear, especially if the show includes fast-moving action, lively music and colourful animation. It can also teach important values and life lessons. And, if used appropriately and of good quality, TV shows can create powerful messages.

So it's good that Waffles and Mochi are never put off by the foods they come across on their travels. Instead, they are always up for giving them a try – a great example for some fussy eaters. They also say out loud what they are experiencing. So for example, one may like the taste but not the texture.

Advice for parents of picky eaters is to avoid being anxious and instead always be positive. Leading by example, like Mochi and Waffles, is a great way to do this.

Teaching children about where their food is from is also brilliant. It educates children that food is not just from a shelf in the supermarket or the nearest takeaway.

However, having watched a few episodes, I was concerned the show didn't do enough to encourage as healthy a diet as possible. For instance, in one episode sugar was added to tomatoes. Yet there are other ways of making tomatoes taste sweeter, such as roasting them, that don’t involve an ingredient most countries are trying to reduce consumption of.

In another episode, the focus is salt. Although it was suggested that salt should be added in moderation, the overarching message to children was that you needed salt to make the food taste better. While adding salt when cooking is very common, the reality is most people eat too much of it. So dedicating a whole episode to it doesn't really fit with a message of encouraging healthy eating when, again, there are global initiatives to reduce our salt intake.

Also read: Parents affect children’s food habits

TV shows as teaching tools

Programmes featuring healthy foods can be an important ingredient in supporting children to make healthier food choices throughout life. A study carried out in the Netherlands found that children who watched television programmes with healthy foods were more likely to choose healthy options for snacks.

Waffles and Mochi is an excellent platform, widely available across the world, which could educate children about what foods are good and what their health benefits are, alongside where they come from. For example, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and have many health benefits(while adding sugar can counteract this).

Our children's health should be of prime concern and good and healthy habits need to be instilled as early in life as possible. Children are still eating too many calories, including sugar, and often the wrong foods and so parents need to be provided with the correct knowledge and information to support their child’s health and wellbeing. With the continuing rise in childhood obesity it is a subject which needs serious consideration.

Waffles and Mochi certainly has inspired some thought and no doubt will hopefully encourage children (and adults) to cook and try new food as well as igniting their interest in foods from around the world. But the show could go further to encourage children to eat more healthily in the way Michelle Obama has become known for.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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