Easy-to-Make Fish Sticks? Yes, Please!

Packed with protein and other essential nutrients, fish is a true super food. But, most kids (and adults) don’t eat as much fish as nutritionists or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage adults to consume between 8 to 12 ounces a week, and children as young as three to eat 3 to 6 ounces weekly. But fish can be a tough sell, often because grown-ups aren’t sure how to cook it. In this guest post, Parents contributing editor Catherine McCord shares one of her favorite easy fish recipes. This post originally appeared on weelicious.com.

 

Weelicious Homemade Fish Sticks

 

When I was little there was nothing I hated more then the nights that my parents went out (this was before I was a teenager, mind you). But I dreaded these nights not because they were leaving or that I would have to stuck with a babysitter, but because by 5:30pm, my brother and I would be sitting at the dinner table with our frozen fish sticks dinners in front of us. They were always soggy, drenched in salty breadcrumbs and tasted more like chicken and fillers then fish. In fact, after speaking with many people, it became very apparent to me that fish sticks are a lot of people’s introduction to fish, thus triggering a childhood disdain for fish in general. I knew I couldn’t inflict the same torture on my son.

I had so much fun coming up with this recipe and it was much less expensive buying fresh fish and a big bag of panko then buying a frozen tv dinner with a measly 8 sticks inside.

I’ve also been using a salt free seasoning lately called Vegit (also known as Spike). It’s a really great option when you want to add extra flavor to your little ones dish without a lot of salt. There’s only 15 milligrams of sodium per 1/8 teaspoon and it’s packed with nutritional yeast and dried herbs.

I think these would be great to serve at a little ones birthday party or even better, when you go out and the kids want a special treat.

Fish Sticks  (Make 8-10 Sticks)

Prep Time: 3 mins

Cook Time: 12 mins

Ingredients

1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs*

1 teaspoon vegit*

1 egg

1/2 pounds fish (tilapia, opah or any firm white fish will do), cut into 2-inch-long sticks

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation

1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, breadcrumbs and Vegit.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg.

3. Dip the fish sticks in the egg, then coat with the flour mixture. If you keep one hand dry it will prevent your hands and the fish sticks from becoming clumpy with breadcrumbs.

4. Place on a plate until all of the fish sticks are lightly coated.

5. Heat 1-2 Tbsp of the oil in a saute pan over medium heat.

6. Cook half of the fish sticks for 2-3 minutes until golden.

7. Turn them and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes or until fully

cooked through.

8. Repeat with remaining oil and fish sticks.

9. Cool and serve.

*You can find both of these items at Whole Foods and many health food stores

Want more fish? Try one (or all!) of these other delicious fish recipes from Weelicious:

Miso Marinated Fish

Fish Tacos

Halibut Pesto Kabobs
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Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree

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New Study Finds Perks for Organic Crops

A new review published in the British Journal of Nutrition and covered in a recent New York Times article suggests that organically grown crops may have an edge over their conventionally produced counterparts.

In their analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies published all over the world—70% in Europe—researchers found that, on average, organic crops/crop-based foods had higher levels of antioxidants, lower concentrations of cadmium, and a lower incidence of pesticide residues.

The review found that organically grown crops had an average of 17% more antioxidants (including polyphenolics) than those produced conventionally. In their review, the researchers cited several dietary studies that suggested consuming more foods rich in antioxidants—especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains—may protect against a variety of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants are believed to protect the body against cell damage caused by free radicals—substances in the body and in the environment (especially in smoke or pollution). When produced in the body in excessive amounts, free radicals can increase inflammation in the body and contribute to the development of disease.

Cadmium is a highly toxic metal that accumulates in the body (especially in the liver and kidneys). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cadmium is found in foods naturally and due to air pollution. Although the exact health benefits of lowering dietary intake of cadmium are unknown, the British Journal of Nutrition review found that, on average, organic crops had 48% less cadmium than non-organic crops. The researchers urge keeping cadmium levels in the diet as low as possible. They also note that the European Commission has set maximum residue levels in foods for cadmium as well as lead and mercury, also toxic metals.

Although the FDA acknowledges there are no regulatory limits for toxic elements like cadmium or lead in food, foods that are found to have higher than normal levels of such metals are brought to the attention of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), who then assesses the potential hazards associated with cadmium intake at such levels.

The British Journal of Nutrition review also revealed that the frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was four times higher in conventional crops than in organic crops. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pesticides are chemicals intended to kill unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents. The AAP believes that even low-level exposure to pesticides among children is concerning, especially because “they encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.” In fact, in its policy statement on pesticide exposure in children, the AAP cites evidence associating early life exposure to pesticides with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.

Even though the British Journal of Nutrition review has gotten a lot of positive press, not everyone agrees (as evidenced in this article by AG professional) that its conclusions are definitive or that such results should ultimately dictate people’s perceptions or purchases when it comes to organic versus conventional food. Eating and buying food is very personal, and it’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their families based on personal preferences, nutrient needs, budgetary and time considerations and other factors.

In the meantime, kids should at very least be encouraged to meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, especially when it comes to foods that many fall short on including nutrient-rich vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Until we know more, focusing more on helping kids get closer to meeting current recommended intakes for produce and whole grains rather than pitting organic and conventional foods against one another is a great first step towards helping them meet their nutrient needs that support optimal growth and development. MyPlate recommends 1 to 2 cups fruit, 1 to 3 cups vegetables and 1.5 to 4-ounce equivalents whole grains daily, depending on your child’s age and gender.

Still, if you can afford and choose to provide your family with mostly organic foods, you’ll likely reap at least some benefits (eg lowering pesticide intake) by doing so.

To learn more about organic food, check out my Scoop on Food post, Should You Buy Organic Food?

Do you buy organic foods?

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

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Is This Chemical The New BPA?

This is a guest post by Brooke Bunce.

Phthalates (pronounced thal-eights) aren’t a new type of antioxidant-packed ancient grain. They’re actually hazardous chemical compounds that exist in food, packaging, cosmetics, personal care products, containers, and more, which is why we should be watching out for them around every corner. Primarily, they’re used to soften plastics and create lubricants in hygienic products, and there are a slew of different types of phthalates. Since they’re so ubiquitous (especially in our food)—and continuously released into surrounding materials—phthalates are even harder to avoid than most chemicals.

So why the worry? Aside from ingesting and inhaling an unknown toxin, many studies have shown phthalates to be endocrine disruptors,  which means that they can seriously mess with normal hormone production. Registered dietician Natalia Stasenko, of Tribeca Nutrition in New York City, notes that phthalates can target the reproductive systems of boys, reduce levels of testosterone, and even cause allergies and asthma. They’ve also been linked to diabetes, excessive weight gain, and premature births.

When phthalates were found to be in many toys and teethers, parents and doctors pushed back through protest, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 removed multiple toxins from toy production. Unfortunately, a new study from the journal Environmental Health found that infants still ingest twice the recommended amount of chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. Considering all the other precautions we take to keep our kids safe, this figure is quite unsettling.

High fat foods such as cream, full fat cheese, cooking oils, meats and poultry are partly to blame for increased phthalate ingestion, Stasenko says. But why are high fat foods more prone to phthalate contamination? No one’s quite sure, but it’s speculated that fat molecules are much easier for phthalates to latch onto. The Washington Post points out that plastic packaging and plastic tubing used to milk cows may be the culprit for high concentrations in dairy and meat products.

Despite these disheartening figures, there are still steps that parents can take to reduce the intake of phthalates. Even small changes can make a huge impact when it comes to kids’ health. Stasenko and other experts suggest the following:

  •  Stay away from toys made before February 2009, or any toy marked with a “3″ inside the recycling symbol. Look for alternatives to plastic toys, such as wool, wood, or cotton.
  • When reheating food, cover it in a paper towel instead of plastic wrap (especially wrap that’s marked with “N3″).
  • Reheat leftovers in glass, ceramic, or stainless steel instead of plastic containers. Likewise, avoid putting  hot foods in plastic containers.
  • Reduce plastic as much as possible in your kitchen—within reason. Try to use silicone or stainless steel instead for kid-friendly items like sippy cups or snack containers.
  • Reduce the use of personal care products that have “fragrance” in the ingredients, as this can be a catchall for numerous chemicals, including phthalates.
  • Try to get electronic receipts whenever possible, since they’re made with paper that contains phthalates. Or, wash your hands after handling receipts.
  • Switch to low fat dairy products. Note: low fat dairy is not appropriate for children under 2 year of age due to their unique calorie and nutritional needs.

 

Organic produce, dairy, and meat are also a safer bet when it comes to avoiding chemicals, since phthalates can be found in many pesticides. If you’re ever unsure, there are a bounty of resources that can help decode what’s in the products and food you buy, such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group.

Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen
Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen
Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen

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Should Kids Consume Caffeine?

If you’re like most parents, you wouldn’t dream of getting through the day without some kind of caffeine pick-me-up first thing in the morning or midday. Not only can a cup or two of iced or hot coffee or tea, soda or other caffeinated beverage stimulate your brain and nervous system—and keep you awake for that early morning meeting, feeding or workout—it may also make you feel just a little bit happier! And what sleep-deprived parent of an infant or young child wouldn’t appreciate the perks caffeine can provide?

Unfortunately, it’s likely our caffeine-centric ways coupled with the widespread availability and marketing of caffeine-containing beverages and other products may prompt our children to seek out caffeine and possibly harm their health.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to determine a safe level of caffeine for children, the agency—concerned about the proliferation of caffeine-infused products including chewing gum, jelly beans, bottled water and waffles—announced last year its plan to investigate the safety of caffeine in food products and the effects of caffeine on children and adolescents. And just last week, the FDA issued a warning to consumers to avoid powdered pure caffeine, sold on the internet. The substance is believed to have caused a caffeine overdose and subsequent untimely death of an 18-year-old high school wrestler in Ohio.

According to a recent ABC News report, the boy had 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his system, an amount that far exceeds the 3 to 5 micrograms you’d find in a typical coffee drinker.

Even a tiny amount of pure caffeine powder, which isn’t regulated by the FDA, can be harmful. For example, a mere teaspoon provides just about the same amount of caffeine as 25 cups of coffee.

As a moderate caffeine consumer, registered dietitian and mother of two (my older son just turned 16, and my younger son is 12), the use of caffeine by children concerns me. Because children typically weigh less than adults, they’re much more vulnerable to caffeine’s effects. And although few studies have examined the effects of caffeine in children, a recent review published in the Journal of Hypertension found that the caffeine concentration in so-called energy drinks is high and their over consumption could contribute to insomnia, agitation, tremors and cardiovascular complications like sudden death.

Although I don’t mind if my sons have an occasional caffeinated soda at a party, I’ve tried to encourage them to play it safe by simply avoiding caffeine-containing beverages—at least until they’re older and until caffeine amounts are required to be posted on labels. But until the FDA provides guidance on how much caffeine is safe for children to consume, it’s wise for parents to heed the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics or Center for Science in the Public Interest and to encourage kids to avoid caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and for most kids (except extremely athletic ones), sports drinks—at least most of the time.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), caffeine may dial down a child’s appetite—a problem if a child is underweight or already has limited food or nutrient intake. The NIH also discourages caffeinated beverage intake in children who are hyperactive since it can potentially exacerbate their behavior.

Caffeine can also exacerbate anxiety and depression or interfere with sleep. In large amounts, it can reduce calcium absorption and thin bones. None of these effects are desirable, especially in growing children.

At the very least, it’s prudent to follow Health Canada’s daily guidelines for caffeine use in children aged 4 and above:

  • Age 4 to 6: 45 milligrams (~one 12-ounce can of cola)
  • Age 7 to 9: 62.5 mg (~one and a half cans cola)
  • Age 10 to 12: 85 mg (~two cans cola)
  • Age 13 and older: no more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight

To see how much caffeine various beverages and foods contain, check out MedlinePlus or CSPI’s Caffeine Content of Food & Drugs.

It’s also critical to monitor children’s online purchases and to protect them from potentially harmful products like powdered pure caffeine and caffeine-loaded energy drinks that are easily available to virtually anyone online.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

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Do you let your kids consume caffeine? 

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The Mediterranean Diet Bonus for Kids

This is a guest post by Karen Cicero, Parents’ Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor.

Fish, whole grains, veggies—these probably aren’t your kids’ favorite foods (okay, they might not even like them at all), but it’s worth your time to work on it. Here’s why: A new study of 9,000 children ages 2 to 9 in eight European countries found that those who most closely follow a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be overweight. I admit that it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but considering nearly 1 in 5 American kids ages 6 to 11 is overweight, it makes a significant dent. Plus, since obesity rates increase as kids get older, it’s worth getting on the right track before the tween and teen years.

What’s so special about the Mediterranean approach? The researchers think that the high fiber content and healthy fats found in foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and produce may help prevent kids from overeating. “This is the first study I’ve seen that makes the connection between the Mediterranean and obesity in kids,” says Lauri Wright, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and mom of three. “We already know that this type of eating plan is healthy in many other ways—like helping to prevent heart disease—so it’s wonderful that it may have extra benefits for children too.”

Of course, you’re not going to be able to switch your child’s eating habits overnight, but take these steps to make your family’s meals and snacks more Mediterranean:

* Do over dip. Swap the creamy salad dressings your kid drenches his baby carrots in for healthy hummus.

* Make pizza at home. Use thin whole-grain crust. Make it yourself (find a recipe here) or buy pick up a package of whole-wheat Naan bread (my daughter prefers it for her pizza!). Top it with whatever veggie your kid likes—even if it’s corn.

* Start working in more seafood. Let your child give it a try in a no-pressure situation, like when it’s on a buffet or when she’s having a bite of yours. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to swipe clams and mussels from my plate, at first mainly because she was intrigued by the shells. But then she began requesting a bowl of her own! Eventually, work your way up to homemade fish nuggets—Wright coats pieces of mild fish with applesauce and then rolls them in cornmeal before baking. When you’re ready to move onto grilled fish, top it with a salsa made from your child’s favorite fruits. That’s how I got my daughter to taste salmon and sea bass, which are now her faves.

* Build on veggie success. Chances are, your child likes a lot of different kinds of fruits and a few veggies. Combine a favorite with something that’s unfamiliar or not as well liked (such as corn with red onions or cucumbers with radishes or watermelon with baby spinach) to increase the chance that he’ll eat it. Salad can be a tough sell so start with mild butter lettuce and add a lot of fun familiar ingredients (like dried fruit, sunflower seeds, or orange wedges). Kids may also enjoy salads more if they’re chopped.  Even though it takes longer to prepare, you’ll have a happy, healthier eater as a reward.

Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack

Image of Mediterranean food via Shutterstock.

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