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Published January 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

Don’t emulate all cooking-show behaviors

“Mom, I’m so tired. I’ve been cooking! I made fudge and cookies,” my 6-year-old pink-cheeked daughter announced as she entered the family room, rubbing her arms.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, I’m so tired. I’ve been cooking! I made fudge and cookies,” my 6-year-old pink-cheeked daughter announced as she entered the family room, rubbing her arms.

I looked up from my newspaper hoping the cooking had occurred in her play kitchen and not in our real kitchen.

“You have to stir really, really fast. My arms are sore! Mama kept telling me to stir faster!” she continued.

By this time I figured out that she was talking about her new cooking video game. The game includes a helpful but strict “virtual mama.”

My 11-year-old daughter entered the room and flipped on the TV. She surfed to a cooking contest on the Food Network.

Since my days are spent teaching and writing about food and nutrition, I generally skip cooking games and cooking shows. My daughter was in possession of the remote control, and I sat cozily in my chair. Therefore, I watched cooking shows all evening.

OK, I was learning to knit, so I wasn’t exactly spellbound by the screen.

I listened to the high drama of some of the cooking shows. On one show, the contestants received unusual assortments of ingredients to blend into menu items. Eel and mango, anyone?

On another show, in a victory for safe food handling, one contestant was eliminated for cross-contaminating with raw chicken juice. The contestant was angry and tearful as she left the stage.

I found myself wondering about some things. Are TV chefs modeling the right food safety behavior? Are cooking games and cooking shows really teaching people about food, or are they just entertainment?

I found a couple of recent studies. One examined a chef’s food handling behavior, and the other studied the influence of cooking shows on the viewers’ behavior.

Texas Tech researchers assessed the food handling behavior of TV chefs. They viewed 49 TV shows, using a code sheet to record positive and negative behaviors.

On the positive side, they noted 118 positive incidents, such as using a food thermometer and proper hand washing. However, the researchers noted 460 negative incidents, such as licking fingers, not washing fruits and vegetables and skipping hand washing.

Granted, preparing food in front of a TV camera with a limited amount of time does not give you much of an opportunity to lather your hands for 20 seconds.

That wouldn’t be very exciting to watch unless the host told a couple jokes or sang a song. Maybe that wouldn’t work, either.

A Colorado State University study examined the impact of a TV cooking show on 100 college students. Most of the students lived off campus. Overall, the researchers were trying to learn if the shows improved the students’ knowledge and increased the amount of fruits and vegetables they ate.

Half the students watched four episodes of a cooking show developed for the study, while the others watched four episodes about sleep disorders. The students who watched the cooking shows improved their knowledge of fruits and vegetables. However, they did not change the amount of fruits and vegetables they ate.

We certainly can learn from food-related shows and potentially become more adventurous with our cooking. However, next time you watch a cooking show on TV, watch for unsafe behavior and be sure not to copy it.

Here’s a recipe to try in your own kitchen. It features several colorful vegetables and helps you on your way to eating more veggies.


Potatoes O’Brien

4 medium red potatoes

6 scallions cut into ½-inch slices

½ small green pepper, ½-inch dice

½ small orange or red bell pepper, diced

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper (as desired)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Boil potatoes until just done; chill in cold water and drain. Cut into ¾-inch dice. In a medium bowl, toss potatoes, onions, peppers, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add potato mixture. Press flat with a spatula. Cook uncovered for one minute. Cover and cook two minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking for three to four minutes, but don’t stir, until a brown crust forms on the bottom. Check for brownness by gently lifting an edge with the spatula. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 32 grams (g) of carbohydrate and 4.5 g of fat.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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