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Fish is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids. It’s packed with protein, low in saturated fat, rich in micronutrients, and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support their brain health and memory.
Yet many types of fish and shellfish contain a form of mercury known as methylmercury, a toxic metal that has been linked to a host of health problems and can have adverse effects on a child’s nervous, digestive, and immune systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies mercury as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals that are a public health concern.
Although persuading your kids to eat fish in the first place can be tough, mercury may not be a reason to avoid it. Many types of fish have low levels of mercury and if you serve the right portions, they’re considered safe for kids to eat.
What’s a healthy portion size for fish?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend children eat fish 1 to 2 times every week, starting at age 2.
One portion for fish varies according to age:
- Children ages 2-3: one ounce
- Children ages 4-7: two ounces
- Children ages 8-10: three ounces
- Children ages 11 and older: four ounces
Avoid These High-Mercury Fish
The FDA and EPA recommend kids avoid certain types of fish that are highest in mercury. These include:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Tuna (bigeye)
Limit These Types of Fish
According to the FDA and EPA, the following types of fish are OK to feed your kids, but if you do, they recommend they eat only one portion a week:
- Chilean sea bass
- Mahi mahi
- Striped bass
- Tuna: albacore/white tuna, canned and fresh/frozen
- Tuna: yellowfin
- White croaker/Pacific croaker
Safe Types of Fish For Kids
These types of fish have the lowest levels of mercury and are considered safe for kids to eat.
- Atlantic croaker
- Atlantic mackerel
- Black sea bass
- Lobster (American and spiny)
- Pacific chub mackerel
- Perch, freshwater and ocean
- Trout, freshwater
- Tuna, canned light (including skipjack)
Is Tuna Fish Safe for Kids?
Canned tuna fish is easy and convenient especially for lunch, not to mention it has a mild taste so kids are more likely to eat it.
If you’re going to feed your kids tuna fish however, canned light or skipjack are your best choices. Albacore tuna (white tuna) contains three times the amount of mercury than canned light so it’s best to avoid it alltogether.
If you or a family member goes fishing and wants to serve your kids your catch, be sure to check local fish advisories. If an advisory is not available, the EPA says it’s OK to feed your kids the fish but don’t let them eat any other type of fish that week.
The bottom line: In my opinion, fish is a super food for kids and shouldn’t be off the menu, but stick with the types of fish that have the lowest levels of mercury and watch your portion sizes.