Benefits of Seafood for Babies and Children
Parenting, in a nutshell, is giving your children tools to succeed in life. One of the smartest tools you can give them is to shape their young tastes to crave one of the smartest foods – seafood!
During a fishing trip with my fisherman friend, Randy Hartnell, owner of Vital Choice seafood, I witnessed Alaskan mothers feeding their 7 and 8-month-old babies salmon roe (salmon eggs). Wow! What a beautiful sight!
Those tiny thumb-and-forefinger grabs, like baby chopsticks, picking up those soft, slimy little eggs, and their smiling faces reflecting, “Like!” (Read Margaux’s story below from a friend of ours).
Start Smart with Salmon at 7 months
Here’s why “salmon at seven months” became my first-foods teaching in our medical office.
- Baby’s rapidly growing brain is 60% fat. And the smartest fat in the brain, omega-3s, is also the smartest fat in salmon and salmon roe. So, salmon at seven months makes sense, right!
- One of the top nutritional deficiencies in America is an omega-3 insufficiency because many children grow up not liking or eating seafood. But, if you shape their tastes with seafood as one of the starter foods (along with another smart fat, avocados) the baby gets used to the taste and mouthfeel of seafood.
Mothers in our medical practice who introduced salmon to their infants (make it mushy to start) would report, “My toddler now craves salmon!”
Shape young tastes at a time when their crave centers are most adaptable, 6-12 months of age.
While exactly what goes on in a baby’s and child’s brain is not completely understood, I believe it goes something like this:
The tongue is richly supplied with nerves and taste buds that register the taste of salmon. These nerves then send biochemical “text messages” (called neuropeptides) to the crave center in the brain, which registers, “Like.” Over repeated doses, this network gets wired in the baby’s brain for a lifelong “like” of seafood.
Start low, go slow. Around 7 months, begin with your fingertip-full of mushy, steamed wild salmon, and gradually advance to a fingerful. Aim for 2-3 baby fistfuls of wild Alaskan salmon per week, the ideal amount to supply baby’s growing brain with sufficient omega-3s. for more detail about why safe seafood is so smart for growing brains, read The Omega-3 Effect by Drs. William Sears and James Sears.
Margaux’s Story About Starting Solid Foods
We started feeding Margaux solids at 8 months, later than most people given that she was born two months premature. After some research and advice from close friends, we decided to use the baby led weaning method to feed her. She never ate baby food, anything pureed, basically, Margaux ate what we ate although we did start her off with softer foods such as bananas, avocado, steamed sweet potato, etc. One of the first foods she had was salmon eggs (Vital Choice of course). Her initial reaction was entertaining, given that she had never had anything other than breast milk up until that point. There was some uncertainty with her first bite, but her reaction was the same for almost all the food that she tried for the first time. Once she got the hang of “gumming” up food and the taste of the variety of foods we fed her, she really started to enjoy them. The salmon eggs became a staple in her diet and by the age of two, she began denying chicken eggs for breakfast and demanding salmon eggs. Still, at the age of 4, Margaux LOVES salmon eggs, eating them almost daily. We keep food easily accessible for Margaux, so she will even get herself up in the morning, get the salmon eggs out of the fridge, and eat them by herself before anyone else has woken up. After Margaux’s first week of being introduced to solids, she was eating everything we ate: salmon, curry, steak, etc.; whatever we had for dinner, she had.
Margaux grew up eating almost everything we put in front of her, from vegetables to a variety of proteins, she developed a love for flavorful and healthy foods. She drank only water until about the age of three, then had her first experience with juice at a kid’s birthday party, where she quickly decided she preferred water (and still does). During Margaux’s first year, we avoided all added sugar. Instead of giving her cookies, candy, ice-cream, etc., her treats were fruits, smoothies, homemade popsicles, or “treats” sweetened with maple syrup or honey. We are not saying that she has never had the typical treats most American children eat, but we made a distinct effort to make sure she didn’t develop a craving for sugar at a young age.
At 2 ½ to 3 years old, her staple meal became salmon, sweet potatoes and broccoli. She requested that meal almost daily and tells everyone they are her favorite foods. We have salmon 4-6 times a week at her request, and now at the age of 4, her preferred proteins are salmon and yellowfin tuna and requests her fish raw. We also gave her canned tuna, salmon, and sardines (her favorite). We also put canned sardines in her stocking at Christmas time and now calls them “Santa’s Sardines”. We explained to Margaux these foods were good for her brain, heart, eyes, and skin and now she asks us if other foods are good for her body as well.
Margaux still enjoys cake, ice cream, pizza, and other typical kid favorites, but they are not a common part of her diet and she is okay with that; those foods are for special occasions. We believed that introducing her to real foods, and having her eat what we ate, is what developed her pallet to truly enjoy real, nutritious foods. It amazes us that we can be preparing salmon for dinner and Margaux will come to the cutting board and beg for freshly cut, raw pieces.
Dr. Bill Sears
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.