In common with all good habits, healthy eating begins in the early years. But how do we instil an appetite for fish and seafood in children? Let’s take a look.
The first thing to consider is the fact there are many factors in why we are brought up eating certain foods and not others.
One is geography. Children reared on an island or at the coast will inevitably be exposed to fish and seafood from an early age – they may even have caught their own fish. Unless they have a family member who likes angling, youngsters raised inland are likely to only encounter a live fish when they’re on holiday by the seaside or on a school trip to an aquarium.
Economics are woven into the issue of geography too. Until the advent of online fishmongers like Fresh Fish Daily, the barrier of cost was traditionally highest for children raised further away from the source of fresh fish and seafood.
Parents in coastal towns are more likely to have access to affordable, locally-caught fish and seafood than those in cities or towns many miles from the sea, whose busy lives often make visiting the fishmonger impractical. Open from early in the morning until late in the evening, the local supermarket becomes the only source of fish and seafood, most of which has travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles and spent so long in deep freeze it doesn’t qualify as fresh.
If you buy from Fresh Fish Daily, on the other hand, you receive fish and seafood that’s as fresh as it was when it was landed. But how do you make sure your child develops an appetite for fresh fish and seafood, and consequently consumes a whole heap of nutrients that will help their mind and body reach their full potential?
1. START SIMPLY
Whatever you do, don’t foist strong flavours on your child at the beginning. Remember when you were little and someone tried to get you to eat something that tasted alien to your young palate? Chances are you still have an aversion to it, whether it’s asparagus, beetroot or sardines.
White fish such as cod, haddock and halibut are a great place to start. Not only does the flesh look unthreatening, but the texture is easy for a child to chew and the flavour is mild. Save the monkfish curry for a few years down the line!
Instead of starting completely afresh, try putting small pieces of fish into your child’s favourite food, whether that’s an omelette, a slice of pizza or a pasta dish.
2. THE NAME OF THE GAME
Language is a powerful tool in parenting, and this is no less true than when introducing foods to children, whether fish, vegetables or anything else.
Make eating fish fun for your child by giving the fish a funny name, especially if your child is a pre-school age. Salmon might be “Pinky”, cod “Mighty White” and haddock “Happy Haddie”.
3. LOOKS ARE EVERYTHING
Children are no different from adults when it comes to food. Chances are they’re at least 20 years away from eating a shucked oyster, so start by cutting fish fillets into shapes that look fun, familiar and safe to eat – a simple fish outline, for example, or round like a burger.
4. MAKE IT TASTY
Think about your child’s favourite savoury seasonings and sauces, and use these when you’re introducing your child to fish and seafood. These might include mayonnaise, tomato ketchup or pesto.
Also, pair small amounts of fish with your child’s favourite bread or wrap. Add a splash of their favourite sauce and you could be on to a winner!
5. MAKE IT FUN
Get your child to help you make meals with fish in them.
Making homemade fish cakes, fish burgers, fish fingers and fish tacos is great for creating a bit of a mess before filling your tummy with the delicious results. Tell your child what a good cook they are and show them how tasty their food is – but don’t eat it all!
Getting your child to help you make food will kindle positive associations with fish and food in general, helping foster a healthy approach to eating that will hopefully be lifelong.
6. COOK FOR YOUR CHILD, NOT FOR YOU
You might have a penchant for sole meunière or sashimi but you’ve been round the sun many more times than your child. Their palate is much less developed than yours, so always think about what food they like and how they like to eat it. Get it wrong at the beginning and you’ll only regret it! That said …
7. DON’T GIVE UP
Persistence usually pays off. As with all aspects of parenting, you’ll likely need vast reserves of patience before your child starts demanding three fish meals a week – but you might get lucky!
If your child doesn’t take instantly to fish then don’t berate them or quit the project altogether. Tell them it’s OK to leave the fish you’ve given them, scoff it yourself and resolve to try again – maybe when it’s warmer outside or the child is a few months older. Try a different approach, or a different fish. The benefits of instilling an appetite for fish and seafood are so great that it’s worth giving every trick in the book a go.
You might feel frustrated if your child refuses to try fish, but don’t show them your disappointment. Lead by example and play the long game – it could take 10 or more attempts to get your child eating fish. Continue to show them how much you enjoy eating fish and seafood, even when they’re reluctant to follow suit.
And when your child does come round to the delights of eating fish, don’t break out the bunting. Just as you shouldn’t show your frustration when they won’t eat fish, you shouldn’t throw a party when they change their mind. Stay neutral and keep your delight to yourself.
8. NO BONES ABOUT IT
Fish bones are an annoyance for adults, but they can be a choking hazard for children. Be mindful of the fish you try to tempt your child with, and stick to boneless fillets of fish like cod, haddock, halibut and salmon.