Ask The Expert – Sushi and Toddlers

by Naveen Agarwal

in Ask The Expert

Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.

This week, Registered Dietitian Janet Helm offers a few suggestions on how to introduce your toddler to sushi. She is also a Mom of twins and writes a very informative blog called  Nutrition Unplugged.

janethelmssmall Janet Helm, MS RD

  • B.S. in Mass Communications and Nutrition
  • M.S. in Dietetics, Registered Dietitian
  • 15 years in Nutrition Communications
  • Freelance writer, nutrition consultant, blogger
  • Website:Nutrition Unplugged
  • Twitter:@JanetHelm
  • Contact: via website

Question: I am thinking about introducing my toddler to sushi. What should I be concerned about?

Answer:

If sushi is something you enjoy, then no doubt you’d like to share it with your child.  I think it’s great to introduce children to a wide variety of foods early in life.  I’m a big proponent of developing the preschool palate and getting out of the chicken-nuggets rut. However, you’re right that there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, the official food safety stuff.  Raw fish can harbor bacteria and children under age 5 are considered to be especially susceptible to foodborne illness.  Young children — along with pregnant women, older adults and people with compromised immune systems – are advised by FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to avoid raw fish or shellfish. So I would wait until at least age 5 before introducing raw-fish sushi.

You also need to think about mercury, especially in tuna sushi.  It’s best to limit tuna and other higher mercury fish like swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel to no more than 12 ounces a week.  A group called KidSafe Seafood, a coalition of chefs, pediatricians and sustainable seafood experts, is a great resource for parents.  They’ve identified the best seafood choices for children ages 3 and up that contain acceptable levels of mercury and other contaminants:  Wild Alaskan Salmon, Tilapia, Farmed Blue Mussels, Northern U.S. and Canadian Shrimp, U.S. Farmed Crayfish and Farmed Bay Scallops. You’ll even find recipes for kid-friendly “safe” sushi, such as California rolls with imitation crab meat and salmon rolls made with smoked salmon.

One last concern is the potential of parasites in raw fish, which can be particularly troublesome to small bodies.  One precaution is to eat only fish that has been previously frozen, which can help kill any parasites that might be hiding inside.

Yet with all of these caveats, it comes down to doing what you’re comfortable with and only going to sushi restaurants you trust.  I know a lot of parents who have been giving their children sushi at a fairly young age (almost always over age 2) and there’s never been any problem.  Afterall, children in Japan begin eating raw-fish sushi at a young age — although the Japanese do not eat as much raw fish as we think they do.

My twins are 5 and we haven’t been out for sushi yet, but that won’t stop us from going to a Japanese restaurant.  For now, I think I’ll start with vegetable rolls, tempura and rolls made with cooked fish.

Fortunately, they love fish that I make at home and I’m beginning to introduce new varieties.  Just be sure you talk with your pediatrician if your child has never eaten shellfish to discuss potential allergies.

Even if you decide to hold off giving your toddler sushi, perhaps you can have fun with this Sushi for Kids book or sushi toys.

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Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on Littlestomaks.com is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by Littlestomaks.com.

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  • Tommy’s Mommy

    Good advice! Tommy has been eating tamago (fried egg), unagi (cooked eel) and crab stick. He also likes the edamame and miso soup when we go to our favorite Japanese place. Thanks for answering my question.

  • Tommy’s Mommy

    Good advice! Tommy has been eating tamago (fried egg), unagi (cooked eel) and crab stick. He also likes the edamame and miso soup when we go to our favorite Japanese place. Thanks for answering my question.

  • Pingback: Ask The Expert - Sushi and Toddlers | LittleStomaks | Sushi Restaurants

  • http://offthespaceship.blogspot.com Reiza

    My kids have all eaten sushi since infancy. You raised some issues I never even considered. I don’t think we’ll stop (my twins are over 5, but not my son), but we’ll definitely be asking more questions.

    One thing I want to know, though, is how much sushi with tuna would a child need to consume to be worried about mercury? I’ve always limited canned tuna, but I never thought mercury would be an issue with such small pieces like you find in sushi.

  • http://offthespaceship.blogspot.com Reiza

    My kids have all eaten sushi since infancy. You raised some issues I never even considered. I don’t think we’ll stop (my twins are over 5, but not my son), but we’ll definitely be asking more questions.

    One thing I want to know, though, is how much sushi with tuna would a child need to consume to be worried about mercury? I’ve always limited canned tuna, but I never thought mercury would be an issue with such small pieces like you find in sushi.

  • http://www.nutritionunplugged.com Janet Helm

    Thanks for your message. You’re right. The small amount of tuna in sushi should not be such a problem, since the recommended limit is 12 ounces per week. A 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards, so you can estimate the number of ounces your kids may be consuming.
    So if you’re not eating tuna more than once a week, you’re probably well within the “safe” range for mercury.

  • http://www.nutritionunplugged.com Janet Helm

    Thanks for your message. You’re right. The small amount of tuna in sushi should not be such a problem, since the recommended limit is 12 ounces per week. A 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards, so you can estimate the number of ounces your kids may be consuming.
    So if you’re not eating tuna more than once a week, you’re probably well within the “safe” range for mercury.

  • http://www.myjunior.in/ Kids Nutrition

    True Feeding kids with raw / partly cooked sea foods or high mercurial diet shows off in the next years. One piece of advice would be try a health drink which would supplement all nutrition requirements with milk. You can try more stuff here..

  • http://www.myjunior.in/ Kids Nutrition

    True Feeding kids with raw / partly cooked sea foods or high mercurial diet shows off in the next years. One piece of advice would be try a health drink which would supplement all nutrition requirements with milk. You can try more stuff here..

  • Sushi_is_good

    I ate sushi while pregnant and have offered it to my baby since he was 6 months old.

  • http://www.injust10pages.com/blog/gluten_intolerance_blog Gluten Intolerance

    My family also eats sushi before. Maybe at the early age of our children needs to provide them good foods to eat. We also love eating tilapia especially if it’s roasted.

  • BobH

    I know that the sushi issue for toddlers is controversial, but there are a few things to keep in mind:  1. most of the recommendations against it in the U.S. are partly influenced by Americans’ aversion to raw fish in general.
    2.  Unless you are at an extremely expensive, first-class sushi restaurant, your sashimi or sushi has definitely been frozen, so the parasite issue is a non-issue.  Even in Japan, I have virtually never eaten sashimi that had not been frozen.
    3. The FDA recommendations that lump together raw shellfish and fin fish have always seemed bizarre.  Shellfish, especially “sewage treatment plants” like oysters, are risky for anyone, not just those with compromised immune systems.  Frozen sashimi-grade fish is extremely safe, other than the issue of mercury or antibiotics, etc., from farm-raised fish (which is not a sushi issue).
    4.  There is some evidence that smoked salmon (lox) is more risky than sashimi, because the smoked salmon is kept refrigerated for an extended period of time, whereas sashimi is thawed and eaten immediately.

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