Seafood is a great way to get kid’s developing brains, bones, and hearts the nutrition they need – studies have shown that oily fish in particular are chock-full of nutrients that help with the development of all three. But it’s not just about getting kid’s to make healthier choices, it’s also about their impact on the meal choices of their families.
In cultures where fish is a part of life – Greece, France, Scotland, and Scandinavia, for example – kids would never dream of refusing to eat fish. However, cultures without that history of seafood consumption often don’t make a point of establishing fish as a normal part of their children’s diets.
According to research by the Heart Foundation of Australia, children’s influence on their parents’ meal choices is greatly underestimated, leading the organization to expand its school-focused healthy-eating initiatives. By making fish and vegetable consumption fun, exciting, and tasty to kids, trials showed a significant increase in overall seafood consumption in the community. After all, parents want happy kids who don’t complain about healthy meal choices.
But how do you make seafood more appealing to kids? There are numerous opinions on this topic, but one that remains constant and supported by most seafood advocates is to involve children in the whole process, from catching, to visiting markets, to shelling and shucking themselves, to selecting dishes, to cooking and plating the final results.
“A pit stop at your local market fish stall or fishmongers offers youngsters the perfect opportunity to get involved in learning about where their food comes from and how it gets onto their plates,” Ren Behan, who writes for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s online magazine, said.
Barton Seaver, chef, author, and Healthy and Sustainable Food Program Director at Harvard University, said getting involved as a kid helped form his views of food.
“My brother and I had a lot of influence over what was cooked because we helped with the shopping, cooking, and serving. We were able to explore what we really liked about food,” he wrote in Cooking Light magazine.
Following are five tips sure to lure in even the fussiest children in our lives to enjoying more fish and seafood, and recipes to help things along.
No 1. Keep it comfortable
There is no doubt that carbohydrates are comfort food and all kids have their favorites, whether it’s pasta, rice, potato, or noodles. That love of carbs is a good way to introduce kids to seafood. Start with adding something milder like prawns, halibut, or trout, and then ask children to make the next suggestions. Have them break cooked salmon into chunks and dot it through pasta, or have them watch how prawns change color before adding cooked rice for a tasty fried rice.
This dish was created by Charity Curley Mathews, author of the blog Foodlets. The blog is dedicated to crafting recipes for kids, inspired by several years of living in Italy where she observed children being much more accepting of all kinds of foods, and where food and meal-times are the backbone of society.
This recipe for roasted fish with potatoes was created after a lunch with an elderly lady in the seaside town of Nettuno, near Rome. It’s a great recipe for people who don’t call themselves “fish” people, according to Mathews. A crunchy layer of potatoes lays like pastry over a bed of white fish, with a light tang of lemon and a burst of rosemary. It’s easy to make, and kids will love layering the potatoes themselves.
Roasted fish with Potatoes (pesce e patate al forno) Serves 6-8
- 1 pound of potatoes peeled and very thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds firm white fish fillet such as sole, bass, red snapper or mahi mahi
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Rinse the fish and use a paper towel to gently dry. Lightly season both sides with salt and pepper.
- In the baking pan you’ll be using to roast the fish, pour a dash of oil but add the potatoes first. Mix them around with your hands until they’re covered in oil. Move to the side and place the fish in the center. Drizzle with oil. Rearrange the potatoes in a thin layer on top of the fish and over the sides. Pour the rest of the olive oil, rosemary, lemon and enough salt and pepper to lightly coat the potatoes.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are roasted and the fish is cooked through.
No 2. Give it some crunch
Fish fingers or fish sticks are often one way parents try to coax their kids to a fish meal. But sometimes these can be full of ingredients that counter the positive attributes of fish.
However, fish fingers are very easy to make at home, and home-cooking can even create a crispier crust by using cornflakes or oatflakes. And this is one all ages of young people love to do, dipping the fish into an egg wash before dousing with crumbs.
This recipe from Taming Twins Blog, was created for a holiday on the beach at Cornwall and had to be simple to make. The author recommends a firm white fish such as cod, but also says that salmon can work well in the recipe. As they are baked in the oven, you’ll also avoid unnecessary fats.
Home-made Fish Fingers (Serves 4)
- 500 g firm white fish fillet skinless and boneless, cut into strips
- 100 g plain flour
- salt and pepper
- medium free-range eggs, beaten
- 150 g breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
- Mix your flour with a little salt and pepper.
- Take your fish fillets and one at a time, dip into the flour, then the eggs and finally the breadcrumbs. Place on your lined baking tray.
- Bake for 20 minutes until golden and cooked through.
No 2. Feature their Favorite Cuisine
Most kids have one international cuisine they love. Is it Spanish? Then try a jambalaya with prawns and calamari. If it’s Southeast Asian, there’s nothing like some noodles or a Thai curry with a whole array of seafood. Mexican is simple – fish tacos – and Italian, well of course you can add seafood to pasta or pile it onto a pizza.
For this recipe BBC Good Food suggests a Chinese-style fried rice that incorporates salmon and egg – a double load of nutritional benefits. It’s very simple and made in less than 20 minutes, great for a pre-game fill up, or weekend comfort family meal.
Salmon and Egg Fried Rice (Serves 2-3)
- thumb-sized piece ginger, grated
- 1-2 garlic cloves, grated
- 2 tablespoon low-salt soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon rice wine or sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large carrot, chopped into chunks
- 175g pack baby corn & mangetout or sugar snap peas, chopped
- 2 skinless salmon fillets
- 250g pouch brown basmati rice
- 2 eggs
- hot sauce, to serve
- Mix the ginger, garlic, soy and vinegar, and set aside. Heat a large pan or wok and add 1 tablespoon oil, the vegetables and salmon. Fry the salmon for 2 mins each side until it begins to turn opaque. Tip in the rice and stir, flaking the fish into large pieces, then move everything to the side of the pan.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan, crack in the eggs and stir to roughly scramble them. Once cooked, stir through the rice and pour over the soy marinade. Season and leave to bubble away for a few mins more, so that all the rice is coated in the sauce. Serve in bowls with hot sauce for drizzling.
No 4. Put it Between Bread
One thing that the vast majority of both the young and old love is burgers, and it’s also one of the simplest ways to switch out using fish. You can grind up some tuna or salmon with egg and breadcrumbs and grill it up as you would beef. Or you could make use of some of the fish offcuts fishmongers sell to make your own inexpensive designer burgers by adding spices and herbs, breadcrumbs, or grated vegetables and running it all through a food processor to your desired “chunkiness.”
Another way is to take the steak sandwich concept by simply grilling a piece of fish and serving it between a nice crusty ciabatta. Or go the French way and use some tuna in olive oil and layer it on a fresh baguette with mustard, tomato, and lettuce.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is king when it comes to dishes that are pleasing to kids and getting them to eat healthier meals. He takes a burger concept up a notch with these baps (bread roll) with some silky pea mash and home-made tartare sauce.
The best fish baps (Serves 4)
- nice soft wholewheat baps
- 4 large (halved) or 8 small (roughly 480g in total) flat-fish fillets, such as plaice, lemon sole, megrim, dab , skin off, pin-boned, from sustainable sources
- 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
- ½ a a mug of plain flour
- olive oil
- 25 g Parmesan cheese
- 1 punnet of cress
- 1 lemon
- 1 medium potato
- 500 g frozen peas
- ½ a a bunch of fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon baby capers
- 1 little gem lettuce
- 250 g fat-free natural yoghurt
- ¼ of a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 lemon
- Put the baps into the oven.
- Slice the potato 0.5cm thick, put it into the small pan, cover with boiling water and the lid and bring to the boil.
- On a sheet of greaseproof paper, season the fish with sea salt, black pepper and the cayenne, then sprinkle over the flour to coat.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into the frying pan and add the fish. Cook until golden, finely grating the Parmesan over the top when you flip it over.
- Tip the frozen peas into the pan with the potato, then rip in the leafy top half of the mint and replace the lid.
- Put the cornichons, capers, lettuce and yoghurt into the processor. Tear in the top leafy half of the parsley, squeeze in the lemon juice, then whiz up, season to taste and pour into a bowl.
- Drain the peas and potatoes, purée in the processor and season to taste.
- When the fish is perfect, get the baps out of the oven and serve with the peas, tartare sauce, pinches of cress and lemon wedges.
No 5. Take it Outdoors
There’s something about eating outside that makes everything taste better and, for kids especially, more playful. For one, they’ll likely be more active and therefore hungrier after spending time outside, and they can also get involved by helping decide what to take on an outdoor trip and how to pack it all up.
When thinking about cooking outside, it’s natural to gravitate toward grilling. The best fish for a grill are the meatier cuts, such as swordfish, striped bass, Chilean seabass (a.k.a. Patagonian toothfish), tuna, or halibut. Another option is to make an enticing foil wrapped parcel using whole fish or fish fillets such as tilapia and sole, adding slices of lemon and a dusting of herbs. The fish steams and absorbs the flavors, and gets a hint of smokiness.
One barbecue dish children love to help prepare are kebabs or skewers. The iconic Eating Well magazine features this delicious recipe from Diabetic Living Magazine using a mixture of seafood.
Shrimp, scallop and pineapple kebabs with cilantro aioli (Serves 8)
- 1 pound fresh or frozen peeled and deveined large shrimp (tails left on)
- 1 pound fresh or frozen sea scallops
- 3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce (Sriracha sauce)
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ cup finely snipped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup light mayonnaise
- ¼ cup non-fat sour cream
- 1 fresh serrano chile pepper or jalapeño chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- ¾ of a fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1½-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
- Thaw shrimp and scallops, if frozen. Rinse shrimp and scallops; pat dry with paper towels.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons lime juice, vegetable (or canola) oil, garlic powder, coriander, paprika, chili sauce and black pepper. Add shrimp and scallops, tossing gently to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, for aoli, in a medium microwave-safe bowl, stir together garlic and olive oil. Microwave on High (100% power) for 20 seconds; stir. Microwave 20 seconds more, being careful not to burn garlic. Stir in cilantro, mayonnaise, sour cream, chile pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Cover and chill until serving time.
- Using sixteen 12-inch skewers (two skewers for each kebab), place skewers in each pair parallel to one another. Alternately thread shrimp, scallops and pineapple on the parallel skewers, dividing ingredients evenly among skewers and leaving ¼ inch between pieces. For a charcoal or gas grill, grill on a greased rack of a covered grill directly over medium heat 5 to 8 minutes or until shrimp and scallops are opaque, turning once halfway through grilling time. Serve with the aoli.