Turning kids on to seafood
By Nicki Holmyard, SeafoodSource contributing editor
18 September, 2012
The latest issue of “Hooked,” the newsletter for professional chefs produced by the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), focuses on finding ways to encourage children to eat more seafood in restaurants. It is estimated that only 10 percent of children in the United States meet the recommendation of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to eat a variety of seafood twice a week, so there is a lot of room for improvement.
UK guidelines are similar, with the added stipulation that at least one portion of the “two a week” should be an oily fish. Consumers are also urged to buy fish from sustainable sources, although no definition of "sustainable" is given.
So how do we encourage children to eat more seafood? NFI believes that eating out at a restaurant should offer everyone an opportunity to try new foods and flavors and that kids’ menus should not be dumbed down. It suggests that seafood is substituted for the usual protein in classic options such as quesadillas, spaghetti and burgers, and that the stage is set for adventurous eating by telling kids they are going to love their food. After all, many children don’t try new foods because their parents assume they won’t like it, but the same goes for the adults too. However, the cost factor comes in here, because few people will risk ordering something they think is unlikely to be eaten.
One way around this is to offer free small tasters of creative seafood dishes. For example, Fritto Misto, the traditional Italian mixed fried fish dish, can include a huge variety of seafood and could be served as an appetizer-sized portion to encourage diners to experiment with new tastes and textures. “Hooked” points out that “clams do not taste like salmon, do not taste like oysters, do not taste like halibut, do not taste like crab, do not taste like shrimp!” How do chef readers of SeafoodSource tackle this issue?
Given that the biggest hurdle is in getting kids to try seafood, great emphasis is placed on this in a new three-year Seafood in Schools program supported by Scottish Government and industry partners, which kicked off last week following a successful pilot run. The initiative, run by Seafood Scotland, has teamed up with the Fish for Health project, which focuses on omega-3 fatty acid-rich seafood and is introducing oily fish to children and families.
“Everyone knows that oil-rich seafood is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids and that we ought to eat more of them to promote healthy hearts, minds and bodies, but these fish are the strongest tasting, so people tend to shy away from them,” explained Catriona Frankitti, who set up Fish for Health.
Seafood in Schools helps children to understand where seafood comes from and how it gets to their plates, while Fish for Health covers the third vital aspect of the program — why it is good for us to eat. Using a “come dine with me” format borrowed from the highly popular TV show, Catriona invites pupils to her dinner party of hot and cold samples of salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and mussels, and the results have been encouraging.
“Everyone has to try at least one piece of seafood and most kids end up trying them all. Hot smoked trout is always a firm favorite, closely followed by mackerel and mussels, and last week more than 100 kids also tried oysters, with at least half declaring them to be O.K.,” she said.
Industry involvement is encouraged and at the inaugural event, celebrity chef Nick Nairn spent the day cooking seafood with pupils. The local fishmonger demonstrated how to fillet a fish, while in the playground, Ian Spink produced several batches of his world-famous Arbroath Smokies (whole haddock smoked over a traditional fire). “The kids were fascinated by the smoking process and amazed at how sweet the flesh was to eat, and it was great to introduce a new taste to them,” explained Spink.
After school the local community was invited in to see what the project is all about, and pupils eagerly demonstrated to their parents and friends what they had learned and tasted during the day. A good number of seafood converts were signed up during the process.
Seafood in Schools will be working with around 160 schools over the coming year, encouraging them to use seafood as a context for learning across the curriculum, and to encourage greater consumption of fish and shellfish both in and out of school. It is a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done, but it is a good start.
18 September, 2012