Something fishy is going on with children’s food

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Kids who regularly eat fish may enjoy better quality sleep and higher IQs, according to a recent study. Researchers in China followed 541 schoolchildren ages nine to 11, and noted their fish consumption and sleep quality. At age 12, they measured their IQ and found that those who ate fish at least once per week scored close to five points higher in IQ tests and reported fewer sleep problems than those who ate fish no more than twice a month.

Kids who regularly eat fish may enjoy better quality sleep and higher IQs, according to a recent study. Researchers in China followed 541 schoolchildren ages nine to 11, and noted their fish consumption and sleep quality. At age 12, they measured their IQ and found that those who ate fish at least once per week scored close to five points higher in IQ tests and reported fewer sleep problems than those who ate fish no more than twice a month.

However, regardless of the known benefits of fish consumption, some children may turn their nose up at fish fare. Whether they complain about the odor or the taste, getting kids to eat fish can be like swimming against a rough current. 

We talked to Kendra Grinde-Busalacchi, RDN, CDE, a clinical registered dietitian nutritionist with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, about why children should eat fish and how parents might be more successful at getting them to dive into a fishy dish.

What are some benefits of including fish in a child’s diet?

Fish, especially oily fish, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help in brain and nerve development and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice per week. Starting to eat fish at a young age will increase the likelihood of eating fish regularly as an adult. 

How do you suggest parents of picky eaters get their kids to eat fish?

First, be a role model for your child. When parents eat fish weekly, children are more likely to follow suit. Also, do not make a huge deal of eating fish. Do not be tempted to cheer if your child eats fish, nor show disappointment if your child does not. 

Keep offering fish in a relaxed and nonjudgmental environment. Just because your child does not like fish one week, does not mean they will not like it the next. It may also help to get your child involved in choosing the fish and the recipe and being involved in preparing the meal. 

What types of fish might kids prefer?

Kids may prefer milder fish, such as cod or tilapia, at first. But don’t shy away from preparing and offering oily fish as well, such as salmon and tuna, which are the fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids.

Are there creative ways to include fish in meals?

Absolutely! There are many ideas to make fish more appealing to children. Kids are drawn to food by appearance. Children tend to like food on sticks, so fish skewers are a great idea. In addition, kids like to put together their own foods. A fish taco bar or fish sandwich or burger bar are excellent ideas. 

Kids also love to dip food, so serve fish with dips and sauces of their choice on the side. Finally, including fish in basic meals like pasta is also another great idea. 

Are there methods to prepare fish so that it might not taste too “fishy” to a young palate?

Using marinades, making homemade fish sticks and adding sauces or dips on the side, or including many “toppings,” such as guacamole, salsa, homemade tarter sauces, Greek yogurt and cheese, may appeal to the young palate. 

Adding lemon to fish while cooking may reduce the “fishy” smell. Poaching fish or grilling fish outdoors can also help.

This article features experts from Sharp Grossmont Hospital. For more health stories visit www.sharp.com/news.

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