Here's how to get your child to love fish (yes, really!)
There’s no denying it—kids can be pretty picky eaters. Fish definitely doesn’t scream “kid food” the way chicken nuggets or spaghetti and meatballs do. Why? It’s stinky, it might have some bones, and it can taste, well, fishy, depending on the type and preparation.
The good news is you can mask that fishy taste and make it more appealing to the younger crowd with a few simple tricks in the kitchen. Try these hacks for an easier time at the dinner table.
Use It as Patty Meat
Swap beef or turkey meat for fish, like white fish or salmon, and whip up a tasty burger, says Dana Murrell, Executive Chef at Green Chef. “Flaky white fish can be fully cooked, flaked and mixed into mashed potatoes with a binder (like egg, or breadcrumbs) and pan fried crisp. White fish is a bit more mild and the flavor can be easily masked, and the texture is so light that it easily blends in with the mashed potatoes,” she says.
Try: Classic Salmon Cakes
Make Breaded Fish Sticks
Kids love breaded chicken tenders, so why not try fish? “My favorite way to get kids to eat fish is to bread it and pan fry it. Cutting fish into strips, then coating in an egg wash and breadcrumbs, gives the fish a crunchy exterior,” says Murrell.
“Plus it allows for utensil-free eating which is always a win in my family,” she adds. Get creative with the breading by trying crushed crackers, pretzels, or chips. And swap out traditional ranch with a Greek yogurt version or make your own ketchup to provide healthy alternatives for dipping sauce, she says.
Go for Taco Tuesday
You can’t go wrong with tacos—the ultimate finger food. “Marinate fish with some fresh lime juice and season with your favorite taco spice blend. Fry or bake it off, and stuff it into a tortilla,” says Murrell.
Want to get fancy and creative? “Set out a topping bar full of fresh cut veggies to accompany the fish, plus some saucy toppings like sour cream and salsa,” she says. Kids will love the DIY aspect and variety. “You can also deconstruct the taco and serve it as a big salad instead, or change tortillas from soft to crunch to mix up the experience,” she adds.
Try: 13 Fish Taco Recipes
Try a Mild Fish
For a first-timer, try a milder fish. “Wild-caught cod and halibut are good choices. Nutritionally, I like to see these foods baked, poached, or grilled, but I am not opposed to making initial offerings more kiddo-acceptable. Remember, the goal is to nourish the child now, as well as develop a palate for healthy foods in the future,” says Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD.
Cod and halibut are go-to choices for fish-and-chips, which if done well, is a delicious meal and fun to eat. “If your child has had a bad experience with fish, offering a fun and tasty experience may help dissolve future resistance,” she adds.
Make it Sweeter
Kids love sweet foods, so make a sweeter fish dish, rather than giving them a spicy tuna roll. Your kids probably won’t like sushi, FYI, says Koskinen. “Another good intro to fish is taking it Hawaiian style. Mahi mahi and other dense-fleshed fish are ono-licious, especially when served with grilled pineapple,” she says.
The meat-like texture can make it more acceptable for some children, especially those with texture sensitivities. You can also try a teriyaki sauce, which can be sweet and potent.
Go Crazy With Dipping Sauces
Give your kids some tasty flavors to go with the fish dish. “Serve a small portion of fish with lots of dipping options. Chutney, salsas, pesto, honey, drawn butter, ketchup, mustard, nacho cheese...whatever! The goal is to facilitate your child eating fish, not to be a food purist,” says Koskinen.
“When my kids were younger and not so keen on eating leafy green salads, I would let them use chocolate sauce as a dressing. Frankly, a good chocolate sauce is probably a healthier option than most commercially available salad dressings,” she says.
Make It Consistently
“Offering fish consistently, once or twice a week, allows your child the opportunity to establish familiarity with its taste, texture and smell. The more familiar your child is with a food the more likely they are to eat it or try it prepared in a different manner,” says Lauren Kronenfeld Olofsson, MS RD CSP IBCLC.
Keep in mind—It’ll take about 10-15 attempts to get your kids to like fish. So, be patient.
Get Your Kids in the Kitchen
Kids are more likely to eat something they create, so encourage them to play chef for the day. “Have your child help prepare the fish. Depending on their age they can do anything from reading the recipe to adding the herbs or spices to safely placing the fish in the oven,” says Olofsson. Cute aprons and chef hats are encouraged!