Junior Masterchef: what does it teach kids?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 28 September 2010.

Junior Masterchef: what does it teach kids?

What, if any, lessons does this popular TV show teach budding young chefs?  Riding on the wave of celebrity chefs and the sensationally-popular Masterchef comes this kiddie version where children as young as 9 cook complicated and gourmet recipes for the chef judges. But does it make for a generation of better home cooks?

 

Thousands of children aged from 9 to 12 begged to be auditioned for a chance to cook under the pressure of the cameras to see if they could evolve into Jamie Olivers and Julie Goodwins. Only the top 50 got on the box and within two weeks they were culled to 20. Now the final 12 battle it out.

Pros

  • There's no doubt that Junior Masterchef makes cooking look fun and watchable for both adults and children alike. It demonstrates attractive role models of both boys and girls cooking up a storm and enjoying it. Add to this the "niceness" of the judges - there's no humiliation of contestants for its entertainment value nor any infighting - and you get the huge appeal of the show.
  • It teaches kids about the ingredients in dishes, how to use their taste buds and how to get organised in the kitchen -key life skills.
  • It capitalises on the growing foodie kid fad that has children demanding gourmet treats and fine dining, in stark contrast to many adult home cooks who have meagre cooking skills as a result of a generation of busy mothers and convenient fast food.

Cons

  • Nutritionally the recipes cooked up are not all that healthy - it's restaurant fare laden with butter, cream, salt, sugar, fois gras, duck fat and excess extra-virgin olive oil. With childhood obesity on the rise this is a worrying trend.
  • No consideration is given to kilojoules, vegetables, fat, sugar or salt. Many of the dishes look defiantly like "cholesterol on a plate". The focus is on flavour, pleasure and enjoyment for the senses of taste and smell. No thought at all has been given to health. This is an opportunity lost.
  • For a nutritionist like myself, it is heartbreaking to watch the judges criticise a kid for not adding enough salt, for example. I have the same criticisms of restaurant fare. There's always too much food, too much fat and salt with not enough vegetables or salads or simple, fresh fare.
  • Masterchef skips the basics like grilled steak, mashed potato, side salad, scrambled eggs and stir-fry and goes straight for the foodie spectacular, special occasion dishes which the audience dreams of cooking but probably never will. Entertainment wins over good nutrition and good health.
  • Finally it's a marketer's dream. Sales of Masterchef-branded products to a new young audience are soaring, with Masterchef kits ranging from the adorable basic apron and chef's hat to fancy cupcake or pizza kits. They're this year's Christmas stocking filler, mark my words.


The bottom line:

Despite the negatives, it's great that kids are interested in cooking and creating new and varied dishes.

For parents of fussy eaters, it offers a ray of hope and a new example to point to ("See how the Junior Masterchefs love to cook meat/chicken/tomatoes/carrots/insert the refused food here.").

For Mums and Dads who like to cook with their kids, it offers that special bonding experience, the joy of shared cookups and creating something just with the two of you.

Photo courtesy of Junior Masterchef at www.masterchef.com.au

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