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Introducing Fish to Children: How to Avoid Mercury and Still Get Their Omega-3s

Posted by Mandy Sacher on February 12, 2018

Posted by Mandy Sacher on February 12, 2018

Fish is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. Aside from being an excellent source of protein, it’s the best source of omega-3s in the diet – real brain food – and essential for heart health and eyesight too.

Fish is also rich in important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and iodine so everyone, especially pregnant women and young children, should regularly include fish in their diet.

How to get your kids to eat fish?

I recommended wasting no time offering a wide variety of wild-caught, low-mercury fish to babies as soon as they are eating solids. Not only for the nutritional value, but so they also learn to tolerate the taste and texture of fish. If you child is refusing fish it makes sense to try experimenting with different textures and presentations, for instance, bite-sized grilled or baked pieces, fish patties, or fish in sauces and stews.

Here are six kid-friendly recipes to get your child hooked on fish:

  1. This mini salmon quiche recipe is a perfect way to slowly introduce the taste of salmon to sensitive taste-buds in a kid-friendly, delicious, flavour-sensation using cheese, pumpkin, egg and herbs.
  2. Mix tinned red salmon, sweet potatoes and rice breadcrumbs to make salmon cakes, or try our tasty salmon and millet rissoles.
  3. Sushi is a popular ‘fast food’ with children, however don’t be put off making sushi at home. The tuna ‘mayo’ filling in these coconut quinoa and tuna nori wraps is made with Greek yoghurt instead of mayo so you will be giving your kids an extra protein punch.
  4. This delicious coconut fish and vegetable stew is a great way to introduce your baby to fish. For a family meal serve with brown rice, side salad and yoghurt dip. For fussy eaters remove a few fish pieces and 1-2 vegetables from the curry with the sauce wiped off for ‘tasting’.
  5. Give our homemade tomato sauce an omega-3 and protein hit by adding fish. If you child is a fussy eater gradually increase the amount of fish over time. For adventurous eaters try different flavour combinations like switching the oregano for capers and basil.
  6. Our favourite fish nuggets recipe can be found in Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook. It’s an excellent recipe for transitioning children off processed fish fingers, which contain vegetable oils and are generally high in sodium and preservatives, onto a healthier home-made alternative.

How much fish should my child eat per week?

Adults and children can safely eat 2–3 serves a week of most types of fish. However, the higher levels of mercury in some fish means there are some types that should be limited in your diet – or avoided completely – especially for children and during pregnancy.

The following can be used as a guide:

  • For children 1-6: 2-3 serves per week (75g per serve or the size of your child’s palm and fingers)
  • For children over 6: 2-3 serves per week (150g per serve or the size of your child’s palm and fingers)

Guidelines for buying fish

Often I see parents offering canned tuna as a first food. While canned tuna is a good source of protein, it does not contain the high amount of omega-3s found in canned salmon or sardines, and canned tuna also has higher a concentration of mercury. As an added bonus, canned salmon and sardines, with the bones,  are excellent sources of calcium for children. If you are a tuna fan, and want to continue enjoying it, look for ‘Skipjack’ on the nutrition panel as this species of tuna is the lowest in mercury.

Choose fish wisely for children and in pregnancy, focusing on low mercury fish that are either wild-caught or organically farmed. Use the following as a guide when buying fish, or visit Food Standards Australia for more information:

Top 5 fish for children

  1. Wild-caught or organic salmon
  2. Sardines
  3. Flathead
  4. Wild caught snapper
  5. Cod

Other low mercury fish

  • Anchovy
  • Canned salmon
  • Haddock
  • Tuna, skipjack, canned only
  • Blue Cod
  • Sole (except lemon sole)
  • John Dory
  • Hoki
  • Monk fish
  • Whiting
  • Whitebait
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Bream

Fish to avoid

  • Flake
  • Basa
  • Bluefin tuna
  • Atlantic cod
  • Atlantic flatfish (Atlantic halibut, flounder and sole)
  • Swordfish
  • Orange roughy (perch) and other warm water fish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • White (albacore) tuna
  • Imported farmed prawns
  • Farmed fish (unless from a responsible aqua-culturists)

You can find more information on fish, including buying tips and kid-friendly fish recipes suitable for the whole family, in The Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook available online, on iTunes and in all good book stores now.

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