Sunday, 19 January 2014

What reality cooking shows are really teaching us

It's nearly that time of year again: back to the TV ratings period. And you know what that means? Our screens will once again be bombarded with reality shows. As a Dietitian I welcomed the rise of food-based reality shows such as Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules- anything to get people more interested in learning the skill of cooking... But are these shows really teaching people the best way to eat wholesome food at home?
"Food-based reality shows such as Masterchef ... are these shows really teaching people?" 
Eating healthily becomes a lot more difficult (and expensive!) if you don't have that basic cooking knowledge. Many of us were lucky, we learnt our cooking know-how from our mothers (or fathers, or aunts and uncles, or grandparents) just by watching them in the kitchen and getting to do some stirring or chopping occasionally, then eventually testing out our own flavour creations. But many more were brought up in households where the closest thing to cooking was whacking some frozen chips in the oven. These days, far too many meals are eaten outside the home- some at fancy restaurants (thanks to the rise of self-proclaimed Masterchef connoisseurs) but most at takeaway chains.
"Eating healthily becomes a lot more difficult (and expensive!) if you don't have that basic cooking knowledge."
If these shows teach you a little of the skill you lack and give you inspiration to get in the kitchen then that's a great thing! The problem comes when people start adding Gary Mehigan amounts of butter, cream and salt to cooking, using fatty cuts of meat (because the fat apparently melts in your mouth) and topping their 'dish' with multiple sauces and lashings of oil. Social media hasn't helped in this regard, with Instagram meaning people now feel the need to whip out their smart phones and get a filtered shot of their amazing looking meal. Our news feeds are flooded with pictures of stuffed chicken roulades with potato tuiles, micro herbs and tomato foam. Is it really necessary?

Healthy food doesn't have to be fancy. It's about eating a variety of WHOLE FOODS: Steak with a jacket potato, roast tomato and steamed veggies; chicken breast, rice and greens stir-fried with a little garlic, ginger and chilli; good ol' spag bol with hidden veg and a fresh garden salad on the side.
"Australians need to learn how to cook before they learn to become chefs!"
I'd love to see a new format of Masterchef hit our screens- healthy Masterchef- where a Dietitian joins the panel and you get judged on the health of dish as well as its taste. You're with me right? I'm sure it will catch on. Come on reality TV, do some good with that huge audience of yours and influence our nation for the better- Australians need to learn how to cook before they learn to become chefs!

The bottom line: By all means experiment with herbs and spices to flavour your foods, and adopt a top restaurant approach to portion sizes (smaller, not larger), but do away with the extravagant extras and get back to basics.

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