Photo: VisionBalm

When people think of kid-food, choices like mac and cheese and chicken fingers are often top-of-mind. Yes, those foods are delicious and often well-accepted by little foodies, and I feed them to my daughter on occasion as well.

Being a registered dietitian and mom, I try and find a balance between serving my five-year-old foods that she loves (brownies make the top of her list) and foods that I know she needs for health benefits (and she also loves). And while my list of “mom-approved” foods is long, there is one that is always prioritized: Seafood.

My daughter gets seafood on her dinner plate two times a week—the amount that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends children consume. But my rationale doesn’t end at simply wanting to follow the guidance of the USDA. Over the years, more and more data has come out that highlights just how impactful two servings of seafood per week can be to little ones—enough to convince me that it is a must-have in my home. 

Eating Seafood Helps Support Strong Growing Bones

When kids are chowing down on seafood options like salmon, they are getting a boost of vitamin D, a nutrient that supports bone health and is not found in many other foods. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which can in turn support healthy bones and teeth.

Additionally, the lean protein that seafood provides helps support bone health as well as your child’s overall growing body.  Think of the salmon, tuna, or shrimp on your kiddo’s plate as bone-booster during the time in their life that they need it most. 

Eating Seafood Can Help Boost Brain Development 

When they say you are what you eat, that rule certainly applies to brain health. And when specifically looking at kids, eating seafood has been shown to directly impact their brainpower.

When choosing seafood options that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like farm-raised salmon, your child may end up literally having a bigger brain—which is a good thing! Also, data suggests that kids who eat fish at least once per week may do better in school. Fish consumption has also been linked to higher IQs (about 4.8 points higher than non-fish eaters) and improved reading skills. So, along with making sure your kid gets quality sleep and does their homework, including fatty fish in their diet can be an important part of their weekly routine to help support their academic progress. 

Seafood Supports a Healthy Immune System

In these times, supporting a healthy immune system is at the forefront of everyone’s minds—especially since kids are back in school and around all of the potential “ick”. While there are tons of miracle immunity supplements on the market, one overlooked booster is seafood.

Eating seafood options that contain healthy fats and vitamin D like shrimp and salmon have been shown to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system in the body. 

Some varieties of seafood also provide protein, zinc, and vitamin A—all nutrients that play an important role in immune health. So, that salmon patty that you are feeding your family may be the ticket to keeping them healthy during cold and flu season! 

How to Get Kids to Eat Seafood

Although the benefits of eating seafood are robust, kids are unfortunately only about 5% of children eat the recommended 2 servings per week of seafood. Hopefully with a little knowledge and know-how, parents will start serving more seafood on their dinner table for a slew of reasons. 

Shopping the seafood counter (or frozen section) can feel a bit overwhelming, so here are some tricks to buying the safest, best-quality options. Choose seafood with integrity by looking for the BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) certified seal. I also recommend serving sustainably raised varieties that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fats, like farmed salmon from Chile. Opting for seafood that is low in mercury, such as salmon, pollock, flounder, cod, tilapia, and shrimp is particularly important for pregnant women and children. 

When feeding your kids seafood, it is important to think about the fact that people (especially children) eat with their eyes first. In other words, the food needs to look good. While plopping a raw oyster on your child’s plate may not be a hit, offering some grilled shrimp with a dipping sauce can be a fun and appealing meal for your little one to enjoy. And making a twist on some classic favorites, like a salmon burger instead of a beef option, can be a simple swap that loads your child up with important nutrients. Lastly, be sure to offer seafood starting at an early to help your child develop a life-long habit that can play a huge role in their overall health and brain development.