One of the experiences I anticipated most as a new parent was watching my kids learn to love some of my favorite things. After all, they were mine to mold, so how could they not come to embrace my enthusiasm for Santana, Star Trek and snorkeling? Right. If you’re a parent, you already know how that turned out. More like Harry Styles, Better Call Saul and Super Mario Brothers. But take heart, new parents, there’s still hope. For me perhaps the best example is seafood.
I’ve always loved fish, even when I was growing up in the 1970’s in landlocked Memphis, Tennessee. There, “seafood” mostly meant crispy fried catfish and the go-to sandwich of my youth: tuna salad made with albacore, yellow mustard, mayonnaise and pickle relish. On Friday nights, one grandmother treated me to shrimp cocktails and fried bay scallops, then it was off to the other grandmother’s house Saturdays for a dinner of stream-caught trout, followed by a breakfast of pickled herring or smoked salmon. I was hooked long before my young adult years, when I’d make the pilgrimage up the Gulf of Mexico from Houston to New Orleans to meet my parents and gorge on fresh red snapper, soft shelled crab and crawfish tails.
I moved to coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, in part because I imagined our family dinner table groaning under the weight of fresh locally-caught seafood, eager children seated quietly with their napkins in their laps making polite conversation before being allowed to dig in and then thanking me afterwards for treating them to such a priceless experience. It didn’t go down quite that way.
As a pediatrician, of course I needed no convincing about the importance of seafood in a healthy diet for my kids. Seafood provides the only naturally occurring source of dietary vitamin D (dairy products are fortified with it), and their high contents of omega-3 fatty acids give seafood a crucial role in promoting eye and brain development. Considering that seafood is also a vital source of healthy proteins, it’s no wonder that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines encourage all Americans to eat at least 2 servings (8 ounces) of seafood a week and advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to quadruple their current seafood intake.
So what happened at my dinner table? Any parent (or pediatrician) will tell you two truths. First, each child is different. Second, it takes time. Was there a point at which we told my youngest that battered flounder was fried chicken so he’d try it? Maybe. Was I secretly thrilled when my pickiest eater stole all his sister’s shrimp off her plate at a restaurant while she was away at the bathroom? I’m not saying, but we did order more shrimp. Can a camping trip turn a young teen who never eats fish into one who won’t stop talking about cooking fresh bass over a wood fire? It would appear so.
Thankfully, modern shipping and packaging technology has brought the bounty that we enjoy here on the coast to my hometown of Memphis and beyond. Whether it’s canned or pouched tuna on the shelf or delicate calamari on ice at your favorite grocery store, cowboys in Oklahoma can enjoy the same oceanic flavors as foodies from Miami to Maui.
So what about that son who carefully studied his “chicken,” before gingerly putting a bite in his mouth? Check out to see what happened and to pick up a few of my favorite recipes. You can listen to Santana while you make them, but that Harry Stiles kid isn’t half bad.
Dr. Hill has been engaged by the National Fisheries Institute to provide his honest professional perspective on the health benefits of eating seafood.