Whenever I work with families, I find myself focusing in on whether or not the kids eat fish. More often than not, the answer is no.
Followed by some sort of rationale, reasoning or story about why their children don’t eat fish.
I hear about struggles to find a fish dish their child will eat. I hear about the past rejections they have experienced when fish was offered. Things like “Yuck!” or “It’s smells bad, Mommy.”
I know parents who don’t have fish as part of their own diet, so they’d never think to offer it to their child.
Even I have a fish story, flush with my own struggles to keep fish a central part of my family’s diet. My husband is allergic to shellfish. I myself was not exposed to fish as a child, partly because I was raised in the “meat and potato” land of the Mid-West.
But that hasn’t stopped me from plugging ahead with a strategy to make fish a family favorite. With persistence and consistency, my kids like and eat fish. And, I know with a little extra attention in this area, your kids will too.
What are the Benefits of Fish?
There are many benefits to eating fish, especially for children. First, fish is packed with nutrients for the brain and bones, such as omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, and calcium and vitamin D, respectively.
Fish is also a good source of protein. For the biggest nutrient kick, you’ll want to choose fatty fish like salmon or trout, as these are highest in omega-3’s.
From regular eating patterns that include fish and these nutrients, your child may armor himself against heart disease, stroke, depression and more. In very young children, some of the nutrients in fish (DHA) are tied to the neurodevelopment of the brain.
Which Fish is Best to Eat?
I like to say all fish is good fish to eat, however, some fish carry more beneficial nutrients. As mentioned, fatty fish contains the health-promoting and disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
According the The Super Green List produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and which considers both the health of humans and the ocean. This list also contains low mercury and high omega-3 levels (at least 250 mg/serving).
The healthiest fish to eat are:
Atlantic mackerel (from Canada and the US)
Freshwater Coho salmon (farmed in the US)
Pacific sardines (wild-caught)
Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Salmon, canned (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Other “best choices” which contain moderate amounts of mercury and about 100-250 mg omega-3’s are:
Albacore tuna (from US or British Columbia; caught by trolling or pole-caught)
Sable fish/Black Cod (from Alaska and Canadian Pacific)
What is the Safest Fish to Eat?
There is confusion about the safest fish to eat, as some fish are contaminated with metals like mercury.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, these are the safest fish to eat are:
- Wild salmon (fresh, frozen or canned)
- Arctic char
- Atlantic mackerel (limit consumption of Spanish and king versions as they may be higher in mercury)
- Sable fish/Black cod (limit to 2 servings per month for children due to moderate mercury content)
- Anchovies (high in omega-3’s and low in mercury)
- Rainbow trout
- Albacore tuna (caught from the North Atlantic ocean or the Pacific ocean; limit to two servings per month in children under 5 years due to moderate mercury content)
- Pacific halibut (limit to two servings per month in children under 5 years due to moderate mercury content)
- Catfish (raised in the U.S. only; other countries of origin may be contaminated)
For more guidance on mercury in fish, read the new guidelines from the Food & Drug Administration.
How Much Fish Should Kids Eat?
According to the FDA, children should eat one to two servings per week, beginning at age 2.
One serving is about 2 ounces for a child, but this will increase as your child gets older. For reference, a serving size of fish for an adult is 4 ounces.
If you want more guidance on starter portions for children, see my guide.
5 Tips to Help Kids Eat Fish
So how do you get kids to eat fish? For my kids, the secret to getting them to eat and like fish was anchored in early introduction and including fish on the menu regularly. Patience and consistency are virtues in this endeavor!
If you missed out on the early introduction part, I believe it’s never too late to introduce fish to your kids. Even if you have your own seemingly insurmountable obstacles, go ahead and give it another try—you may reel in some willing eaters!
Play the Name Game
Providing fun and familiar names for fish can ease your child’s natural skepticism. Use fun and familiar terms for fish, such as pink fish (salmon), shrimpy shrimp (shrimp), looney-tuny (tuna), and white fish (cod). Be open and honest with the real names if asked—you don’t want your child to feel that something fishy is afoot.
Serve It with Style
Kids are swayed by the appearance of food, and this alone can determine whether a child will try fish or not. Boost the eye-appeal and get creative with your presentation: fish skewered on sticks, sautéed on a bed of pasta, grilled, baked in a boat or crisped in the oven. Kids also like the “make your own approach”. Try these Fish Tacos, Dinner Bar-style for a create your own, child-centric take on fish tacos.
‘Tis the Season!
Most kids I know like flavor, but many parents go for bland fare out of fear of food rejection rather than boldly offering new foods to their kids. From basic sea salt to more complex spices or sauces, kids like food that tastes good. If your child shies away from combined or “dressed” foods, provide sauces or seasonings on the side for dipping.
Tailor the Flavor
Whether crunchy, cheesy, lightly browned or mildly spiced, children have their taste-bud preferences. By making your own fish entrees, you can tailor the flavor to your family’s preferences and keep the odds in favor of fish favorites. Try this popular fish finger recipe.
Keep Your Poker Face, and Smile on the Inside
When introducing fish to children, it’s best to keep a neutral attitude and feeding style. Leave your emotions in the kitchen and remember introducing fish is an adventure!
If you’re tempted to cheer or clap when your child takes a bite, or show disappointment when it doesn’t work out, know that this may ultimately influence how your child feels about fish.
How are you doing with helping your child eat fish?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: March 21, 2018
Updated on: May 14, 2019