Fish and Tips

fish-eat-fishThe Mamas get a lot of questions about serving fish to young kiddos.  Is it safe?  When? How often? Which kinds? Is sushi OK?  So here’s the bottom line from our sources.

Fish is a great, nutritious source of protein for children ages 3 and up.  It’s generally lower in fat than poultry or meat, and the oil it contains is better for you. Omega-3 fatty acids — which make up the bulk of fish oil — are critical for the health and growth of body tissues.

Now for the downside.  There are two big ones you need to be aware of.

First, as a result of over-harvesting,  the fish populations in our oceans and rivers have been drastically altered.  Some species are coming close to disappearing entirely, while others are over-breeding to take their place.  Tuna is an example of a species that’s been decimated by overfishing.

When human enterprise alters the balance so dramatically, it has a devastating effect on the natural ecology with far-reaching results.  Not good for our kids, who will be the recipients of our mess.

We always thought that farmed fish must be a good solution to the overfishing problem.  Not so much.  It seems farmed fish are fed a ground up mixture that contains parts from many of the most contaminated species (see health issues below).

Next are the health issues.  Because of our messy habit of dumping toxic waste into bodies of water, our oceans and rivers are full of unhealthy stuff like mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls — don’t ask).  These substances get concentrated in some species of fish — particularly fish who dine on other fish — more than others.

The larger the fish, the more likely that they’re higher up the food chain and eat fish, who eat other fish, who eat other fish.  This concentrates the nasty chemicals that may be risky for young, growing brains and should be avoided, so as a general guide the smaller the fish, the safer it is.

Here’s a list of seafood, some small some larger, that are safest for your kiddos.

  • Wild salmon — still in abundant supply, mostly herbivores (don’t eat other fish), and taste great.
  • Tilapia —  good tasting, mild white fish that kids love.  Low levels of contamination.
  • Mussels — shellfish eat filtered plankton which is less affected by contaminants in the water.
  • Shrimp — shellfish, as above, and who doesn’t love shrimp?
  • Scallops — hint: buy ’em frozen in bags and pull them out for a quick, easy meal.
  • Crab — the real stuff, not that fake Krab.

Raw fish, like in sushi, isn’t such a good idea.  Much of the fish used in sushi is among the most contaminated, like tuna.  Also, raw fish carries significant risk of parasites and other creatures you don’t want your kids exposed to.

The safe fish mentioned above have no strict limits in terms of how often, but kidsafeseafood.org recommends a general guideline of no more than 1-3 seafood meals per week.  Check out their site for more great health information, as well as fun recipe tips.

Bon Appetit!

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “Fish and Tips”

  1. Chances Are, Your Child Isn’t Getting Enough Vitamin D

    […] Fish and seafood: High in vitamin D, but beware of mercury and toxin contamination.  For information on what’s safe for kids see our post, Fish and Tips. […]

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.