Why TV food shows can be good screen time for families

For the family that can never agree on what to watch, cooking shows can serve up some quality bonding time.

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By Amy DiLuna

Amy Shearn’s kids are “very different from each other,” but the Brooklyn, New York mom of a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son said there’s one thing they can agree on: The Netflix show “Nailed It.”

“They can never agree on shows or movies,” said Shearn, an editor and novelist. “Everything is pretty much too boring for my son or too stressful or scary for my daughter. And yet all three of us love watching ‘Nailed It.’ I think it’s because it’s funny and the stakes are low.”

Shearn also loves the basic thesis of the show: That it’s fine, and even great, to fail. “It’s a really good one for all of us to absorb,” she said.

Christina Garza, who lives in Manhattan, says her 6-year-old loves the show, too. “He begs me on the regular to apply to be on the show because I’m a disaster in the kitchen,” said the physician and mom of two. “He is a huge perfectionist so I love that the show models that adults can royally screw up and still be able to laugh at themselves.”

Anne Schultz Lee’s fourth-grade daughter got so into Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship” that the show inspired her science fair project, “The Science of Cupcakes.”

“She made four batches of the same vanilla cupcake recipe,” said Schultz Lee, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. “One with everything, then a batch without flour, no baking soda in one batch and no sour cream in one batch to see how it affected the result.”

Schultz Lee loved how entertainment turned into real-life learning.

That's a big reason shows that center around food and travel — from “Great British Bake Off” to "Top Chef Junior" — are family favorites. And what's better, they’re perfect kid-to-adult crossovers.

“Watching shows featuring cooking competitions, home makeovers or athletic obstacles is an easy, budget-friendly way to have a little fun while fostering mutual interests — something that mom, dad and child can do together long after the show ends,” said Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic.”

And whether it’s a cupcake competition on “Kids Baking Championship,” a heated “Master Chef” finale or the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” streaming on Hulu, there are big lessons to be learned about resilience, perseverance and good sportsmanship and opportunities to experience other cultures and traditions.

For Los Angeles producer mom Courtney Hazlett, combining work and parenting was a dream come true. Hazlett is creator and executive producer of the new Netflix show “Restaurants on the Edge," a makeover show set in seaside locations that focuses on local culture and regional specialties. A team of experts helps get struggling restaurants back on their feet.

“Restaurants on the Edge” is streaming now on Netflix. Netflix

“Lots of families have strict rules around watching TV, but as a mom who works in television, I've found it a little harder to create and enforce them when I'm watching or thinking about it more than your average person,” said Hazlett, mom to a son, 5, and a daughter, 8. “But one thing I did notice while I was letting my kids be in front of a screen for too long, is the difference between content that merely captured their attention and content that actually engaged them and influenced their thinking.... Shows that put imagination, challenges and process on the screen are so accessible to kids without having to be ‘kids programming’ specifically.”

The key, said experts, is choosing something you actually like to watch. Like, really, really like.

“So often parents and children don’t like the same activities or shows,” said Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, co-founder of Little House Calls and author of “The Tantrum Survival Guide.” “Parents do their best to engage with their kids, but kids smell inauthenticity a mile away.”

When kids and parents can sincerely enjoy the same thing, “the capacity for deep connection increases exponentially,” she said.

And finding shows everyone can enjoy and discuss helps negate that pesky “too much screen time” problem.

“If parents and children can talk about a program while it’s on — and these kinds of shows offer so much potential for this — then the possible negative impact of screen time is decreased.”

So go ahead. Tune in to “Chopped” or whatever gets your knives sharpened.