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.
|Janet Helm, MS RD
Question: I am thinking about introducing my toddler to sushi. What should I be concerned about?
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.
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