How many times in the past week did your kids eat fish? How about the last month? If your answer is “very little” or “I don’t remember the last time my kids ate a fish dinner,” you are not alone. It turns out the average American child is eating relatively little fish and shellfish compared to red meat and chicken. In fact, seafood consumption by U.S. children has been on the decline since 2007 – and that’s too bad. There is a lot to like about the nutritive value of fish.
The Good News About Fish
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), fish should be a welcome part of a child’s diet. In addition to being an excellent source of protein with no saturated fat or sugar, many types of fish are high in vitamin D and calcium and some are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids used by the body to build nerve cells in the brain and eyes. Some studies suggest that seafood consumption may improve infant neurodevelopment and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There is a growing body of research that shows introducing fish early in a child’s diet may also prevent asthma and eczema.
More You Should Know About Fish
Unfortunately, reports citing dangerous levels of mercury in fish have had a profound effect on fish consumption. It is perhaps the main reason many families avoid feeding their children fish and women avoid it during pregnancy or while nursing. However, the AAP says exposure to mercury in fish can be minimized or avoided, based on U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance. These agencies recommend children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely eat 1-2 weekly servings of a variety of fish that have been identified as the “best” and “good” choices. Families who fish and like to eat what they catch, should check advisories and limit servings to once a week if the body of water where they fish is not monitored.
Safe Fish Choices
According to the EPA and FDA there are many safe and healthy choices of fish for children. It ranks them by “best” and “good” selections for parents to consider.
“Light” tuna is best. The EPA and FDA rank canned light tuna (solid or chunk) to be among the “best choices” for children to eat, recommending 2-3 servings a week. “Light” tuna, which means it has a pinkish color, includes species such as skipjack. Other types of seafood considered “best choices” include shrimp, cod, catfish, crab, scallops, pollock, tilapia, whitefish, trout, perch, flounder, sole, sardines, anchovy, crawfish, clams, oysters, and lobster.
Good fish choices. Some “good choices” of fish include: salmon, trout and herring, white (albacore) tuna and yellow fin tuna (only one serving a week is recommended). They are considered low in mercury and high in brain-boosting DHA.
Fish to Avoid
The FDA and EPA recommend that fish which tend to be higher in mercury content not be served to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. These include: tilefish, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, and bigeye or blue fin tuna.
Recommended Serving Sizes
A child’s recommended serving of seafood is smaller than an adult’s based on their age.
Children age 2-3 ~ 1 once
Children 4-7 ~ 2 ounces
Children ages 8-10 ~ 3 ounces
Children age 11+ ~ 4 ounces
No matter the variety of safe fish you are serving, it’s important to watch for bones. Even if it is a little less appetizing looking, go through the fish you serve young children before you put it on the plate. Serving smaller portions is also helpful. The smaller the bite, the more easily a bone can be detected.
If your kids balk at the idea of fish, battered fish that can be dipped in sauce and those made into patties and fried or baked may be the answer. Fish with a meaty texture, like tuna steak that can be cooked on the grill, offers a less fishy-tasting, meaty texture that your kids may prefer. Then, there’s always the classic tuna sandwich, a bulwark of the lunchbox. Check out the following recipe for tasty, kid-friendly catfish tacos.
The secret to getting your kids to enjoy fish and shellfish is to start early. Introduce your kids to a variety of kid-friendly fish when they are old enough to eat what the rest of the family is having. Even babies as young as 6 months can be given a small taste of fish (after you carefully check for bones).
4 U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish Fillets
1 cup jicama (Mexican potato) or sweet potato, peeled and julienned (Optional)
2 cups watermelon, seeded and finely diced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
12 corn tortillas
1 ½ cups fresh arugula
Mint sprig for garnish
Source of recipe: U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish Institute. Find more great recipes at https://www.uscatfish.com/recipes/