As a dietitian I talk to a lot of people about their eating habits. I tend to see and hear the same thing over and over again both in individual counseling sessions and in my group classes; I know what I should be doing, it’s hard to actually do it. The difference between the easy choice and the healthy one is often not in the knowledge of what to do but how to do it consistently and most importantly how to make it easy.
Seafood is a great example. We know we should be eating more fish; it is good for us and for our young children’s developing minds. We’ve heard the recommendation that we should be eating it at least once a week. Ideally twice. (I know, twice? That seems like so much). Stories about the health benefits of omega 3’s are always out there in parenting magazines and on our favorite blogs. But weeknight practices and music lessons combined with picky young kids form the meeting ground where knowledge crashes into the harsh reality of our busy lives.
To add to the difficulty there are so many fish choices at the grocery store, and so much conflicting advice on which are healthy and which you should avoid. Maybe you’ve heard that farmed fish is not good for you, or salmon is the healthiest, but you hate salmon. And isn’t tuna high in mercury? A general rule I see when helping someone adopt new behaviors is if you are not fully confident in your decision to try something new you are going to stick with the default. That does NOT make you a bad person, it makes you a busy parent like the rest of us.
That is where I come in. I’m going to share what I do, and how I got there. I fully admit; I am not perfect either. Sometimes we need a quick meal and I make beer battered halibut and a side for an easy dinner. Perfection is not the goal. The perfect person (or parent) is not out there. You do your best, set yourself up for success and try again next week.
Use this guide to get started; my goal here is to help make this seem attainable for busy parents, not overwhelm you with facts. Read the whole thing or just skip to the section that applies to you today, I won’t be offended.
Lastly, let’s make this easy, the best fish to buy is the one you will eat. You only get the health benefits of eating fish if you actually eat fish. Don’t worry about the finer details until you have added fish to your weekly routine. Then learn more, refine your choices, and continue to try new things!
Where to Shop for Seafood
We moved to Illinois in 2013 from coastal southern California. We were spoiled in California; being near the coast meant an abundance of fresh fish that was affordable and easily available just a short drive from home. When I moved to Naperville, I had to decide where to buy my seafood. The grocery store was the obvious choice, but Trader Joes does not have any fresh fish options and other local grocery stores did not have the selection I was looking for. So I went on to Yelp and searched for Seafood Markets near me. I found a great, locally owned seafood market conveniently located in the same shopping plaza as my Trader Joes! If you are not that lucky, there is nothing wrong with fish from Jewel. For me it boiled down to two things; I know specifically what types of fish I like, and I enjoy supporting local business when I can.
The first step then is to simply decide where you want to shop. Do you want to take 30 minutes and research seafood markets near you, or will you buy it during you weekly grocery shopping trip?
How to Learn About the Fish You Are Buying
Now that you’ve decided where to shop, it’s time to learn about the fish you are buying. You kind of have to be annoying when you are trying out a new place. Ask a lot of questions during that first visit to the store you have selected. Some suggestions:
Where does your fish come from?
How often does it get flown in?
How can I be sure you are selling me what I’m paying for, not a cheaper substitute (sadly this can be a thing, though beyond the scope of this guide. Read the link to learn more)?
GOOD ALTERNATIVES – Buy, but be aware there are concerns with how they’re caught or farmed.
AVOID – Don’t buy, they’re overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
One of my all-time favorite fish is Arctic Char, it is similar in color to salmon but sweeter and much less fishy tasting. It tastes amazing on the grill and is rated a best choice. It will not always be easy, but it’s a win if you take a few minutes, find a “Best Choice” fish you love that is affordable, tasty, and available near you. You spend the time once and never have to make that decision again.
What Are the Best Fish for Our Health
As I said above the healthiest fish is whatever type of fish you and your children will eat. Start there. Yes certain fatty fish will be higher in omega-3’s then something like tilapia or shrimp, but fish are more than just the omegas, and we should shoot for a variety, not just one type. That said, the fish with the most omega-3s per serving include Mackerel, Oysters (Pacific), Black Cod (my all time favorite if you can find it), Salmon (Atlantic, Chinook, Coho), Swordfish and Trout. Here is a more exhaustive list.
What Type of Fish Do I Personally Enjoy?
I get asked this all the time, so here you go. Some of my favorites, in no particular order are king salmon, any Alaskan wild salmon, sablefish (commonly called black cod), and arctic char. Another good option is Norwegian salmon that you can find Trader Joes. This demonstrates a good example of why you have to do a bit of research and not just default to farm raised fish being bad. Norwegian salmon is responsibly raised, very affordable, delicious, and available year round.
Properly Storing Fish
I find all varieties freeze really well. I do ask my fish market to freezer wrap my fish and then immediately when I get home it all goes in the deep freezer. Also, you CAN refreeze fish that says it was previously frozen provided you are careful with it and have not left it on the counter or cooked it a bit first. I generally take my fish out of the freezer about 24 hours before I want to cook it.
Properly Cooking Fish
If you can, grill it. Seriously. I love grilled fish. Once your grill is nice and hot, start your fish flesh side down and skin side up. Cook for four minutes, flip so the skin side is now down and cook another four minutes. After eight total minutes, check with a meat thermometer, and leave it in there for a minute as fish continues to cook when removed from heat. If it’s 145 degrees you are done. Try not to forget, overcooked fish is tough, chewy and gross. If the grill is not an option then baking is the next best. I’ll do 400 degrees, skin side down the whole time, maybe 10 minutes before I check the temp and remove as soon as done.
My Favorite Sauce Recipe for Fish
My favorite sauce that pairs well with any fish and is especially amazing with black cod:
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons white miso (can find this at Whole Foods)
½ cup white wine (or any other type) vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan or skillet over medium heat. Stir until combined, then watch until the color changes from light to dark after about 10 minutes (sauce should be bubbling while cooking) Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened. Then enjoy. This is so easy, try it and I promise you’ll thank me later!
The Bottom Line
Like anything in modern life, adding more fish to your diet can be complicated. Find a few choices you like that align with your beliefs, that your family will eat and that won’t break your budget, then continue trying new things until you get a few favorites.
- NPR wrote a nice article about the difficulties we face when trying to select the best seafood. Their conclusion is similar to mine; find what you like then try and make it the healthiest choice you both enjoy and can afford.
- Monterrey Bay Aquarium is a great site, and they also have an app to help you learn more.
- Norwegian Salmon is a great, sustainable farm raised fish option.
- USDA has a great resource on freezing and food safety.