The Scoop on Food

New Guidelines Make It Easier to Choose Safe Fish for Your Family

Updated FDA guidelines make it simpler to choose lower-mercury fish that's safe for kids.

Ever stood at the grocery store fish counter and felt a little puzzled about what to do? You know fish is a healthy choice for your kids—but you also know some types are safer than others. Brand new guidelines from the FDA and EPA help clear up some of that confusion and make it simpler to make a smart (and safe) choice for your family.

The new guidelines expand on past recommendations by sorting more than 60 kinds of fish into categories they call Best Choices, Good Choices, and Fish to Avoid, based on the amount of mercury the fish contains.

Safe Fish Infographic

Truth is, all fish contain some amount of mercury, which can affect a child’s brain and nervous system if consumed in large amounts over time. But fish is also flush with health benefits: It’s a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals—and some varieties are rich in essential omega-3 fats. These are all nutrients that are important in the period of fetal brain development and during growth and development in early childhood. (Keep in mind there is also evidence that fish may boast a natural defense against mercury toxicity.)

Because fish is so packed with good nutrition for growing bodies, the FDA recommends that kids get 1-2 servings a week. Here’s what a serving looks like:

  • 1 ounce for ages 2-3
  • 2 ounces for ages 4-7
  • 3 ounces for ages 8-10
  • 4 ounces for ages 11 and older (and adults)

It’s okay to have 1-2 servings a week from the Best Choices category, which includes:

  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Canned light tuna

 It’s okay to have one serving a week from the Good Choices category, which includes:

  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Snapper
  • Monkfish
  • Canned albacore (white) tuna

You should completely avoid these fish, which have the highest mercury levels:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Bigeye tuna 

If you’d like to eat more fish but can’t get the family on board, here are some ideas for making it kid-friendly:

  • Cut fillets into strips or bite-sized chunks, bread it, and bake it. Then let kids dunk it into ketchup, tartar sauce, or other dips.
  • Brush a thin layer of sweet sauce, such as teriyaki or barbecue sauce, on top of the fish before baking.

What are your favorite ways to serve fish to your family?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist’s Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.