10 Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Eat More Fish and Seafood

Fish up favorite foods so everyone at your table will be more likely to eat these healthy proteins.

Shrimp Street Tacos
Photo: grandriver/Getty Images

Chicken and beef may be the queens and kings of weeknight dinner, but fish deserves a spot on the lineup, too. Fish and seafood are great sources of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are good for kids' healthy development, and they even protect the hearts and brains of grown-ups from disease.

But cooks that are not familiar with preparing fish and seafood at home, or diners who haven't had the best experiences with them, may turn up their noses when catfish replaces chicken or barramundi pushes beef off the plate. But for your health (or your kids' health), it's well worth your while to learn to cook, eat, and enjoy fish and seafood.

Incorporating more fish into your diet can be made easier by selecting recipes and cooking techniques that are familiar, easy to cook (or difficult to mess up), and convenient. As soon as cooking fish filets is as easy as cooking chicken breasts for you, you'll find yourself turning to the fast-cooking proteins more and more, which will be a boon to your health.

Here, 10 ways to make eating fish and seafood more fun and delicious, even for people who say they don't like it.

1. Make Fish Burgers

Skip the typical beef or turkey burgers, and use a chunky fish (like salmon or white fish) in your next batch of burgers. Salmon and haddock are especially great for fish burgers because they combine well with binders like bread crumbs, peppers, onions, and spices.

Cook the fish patties in a cast iron skillet to get a good crust on each side, or pull out the grill or grill pan. Just be sure to oil the grates well so the fish won't stick and fall apart.

Not into burgers? The same rules of deliciousness (and binding ingredients) apply to fish cakes or crab cakes. The fish and shellfish can be blended with herbs and spices to make a unique patty. Then, serve them with any variety of dips or sauces to make the cakes extra special.

Try This Recipe: Tilapia Burger Patties

2. Pick Fish Sticks

Fish sticks are synonymous with cafeteria food, but the nostalgic nibbles are just what some people need to make the switch to fish. The crispy coating on the flaky fish, reminiscent of chicken fingers, may convince picky eaters, especially kids, to eat their dinner.

For a creative twist, use crushed crackers, pretzels, or even chips in place of basic bread crumbs. And get creative with the dipping sauces you offer. Instead of ketchup, try a Greek yogurt-based ranch dip or a sweet-and-sour sauce. For more mature eaters, a malt vinegar dipping sauce is reminiscent of the iconic British dish fish and chips (another great dish to serve lukewarm fish fans).

Parmesan Fish Sticks with Malt Vinegar Dipping Sauce
Baking Nana

Try This Recipe: Parmesan Fish Sticks with Malt Vinegar Dipping Sauce

3. Fire Up the Grill

A grill imparts a delicious smoky flavor to fish, which might help disguise some of the strongest fishy flavors. Bonus: Cooking the fish outside keeps any accompanying odors out of your house, because one whiff of fish may send up red flags for picky eaters.

Be sure to oil the grates. Delicate fish can easily stick to grill grates if you don't, causing the fish to fall apart when you try to flip it.

4. Schedule a Taco Tuesday

One of the best ways to introduce fish and seafood to eaters who typically avoid it is to fish up favorite foods; Tacos are an excellent example..

Once you combine fish or shrimp with typical taco toppers like slaw, guacamole, cheese, citrus juice, and salsa, they won't be hung up on whether that's chicken or chicken of the sea inside the tortilla.

You can use nearly any fish or seafood in tacos, but mild fishes like tilapia or cod take the flavors of taco seasoning well. Shrimp is a quick and easy option for taco filling, too.

5. Serve Up Shrimp

With its naturally sweet flavor, shrimp may be less divisive among the seafood-averse at your table. Plus, shrimp is wildly versatile, can be served hot or cold, and is often sold as already peeled and deveined which eliminates some of the "Eww!" factor of crustaceans.

Serve shrimp in pasta dishes, in place of chicken in shrimp stir-fry, or threaded onto skewers with onions and peppers for quick kebab dinners. You can even serve shrimp cold in shrimp salads or as a topper on soups.

When they're comfortable with shrimp, you can extend to other naturally sweet seafood, like scallops and mussels.

A small platter piled with shrimp coated in chopped parsley and minced garlic
Chef John's Simple Garlic Shrimp. catherine.drew

Try This Recipe: Simple Garlic Shrimp

6. Go Mild

Many fish-phobic people simply don't like the strong flavors of fish. And to be honest, some fish can be, well, fishy. That's where you should call on mild fish for introductions to the food that swims. Instead of salmon or mackerel, try to serve one of these fish each week, either alone or in one of the other preparations mentioned here:

  • wild-caught cod
  • halibut
  • rainbow trout
  • catfish
  • flounder
  • arctic char
  • haddock
  • tilapia
  • swai

7. Avoid Overcooking

Overcooking pork, chicken, or beef dries it out until it's a barely-chewable mess. The same happens to overcooked fish, and if that's what someone thinks of when imagining a fish dinner, it's no wonder they'd rather skip the meal altogether.

Poaching and steaming help keep the fish moist while they cook. Grilling and baking are also easy methods for cooking fish that are less likely to dry them out.

But the best rule for fish is this: Check doneness early and often. Instructions for cooking fish usually come with time ranges because some filets and fish pieces will cook faster than the instructions say. Use those suggestions only as an outline, and use your meat thermometer to keep tabs on the temp.

8. Be Consistent

If Wednesday is spaghetti night and Friday is pizza night, make Monday seafood night. Establishing familiarity with seafood and fish will help make it part of their palate preferences, and it'll mean fewer fights over what's going on the plate.

For health purposes, it's a great idea to aim to eat fish or seafood one to two times per week, and fish can be classed up for special occasions. For example, instead of serving a big roast, try Savory Halibut Enchiladas or Baked Halibut Steaks.

Baked Halibut Steaks on a plate with rice

9. Do the Dip

Sometimes, all it takes for picky eaters to try something new is to eat it with something that's familiar. Dipping sauces can do that work wonderfully well.

You can go for basic dippers, like ketchup and mayonnaise. Or get creative with copycat dipping sauces or high-flavor dipping sauces reminiscent of their favorite dressings.

10. Dine Out

Many people don't cook seafood at home, and that's understandable, especially for novice fish and seafood cooks. Until you feel comfortable searing salmon or grilling grouper, let the professionals do it.

Order fish or seafood the next time you're dining out, whether that's a fillet of fish over rice or just shrimp on a salad. Introducing your kids, your spouse, or even yourself to the flavors of fish and seafood as cooked by chefs with more experience will help you recognize what you like, and perhaps what you don't.

Then, take home that inspiration for your next dinner and try to create something similar, or whip up something all new. For example, Bang Bang Shrimp is a dining out favorite that makes for a fantastic appetizer for parties or a fun dinner any night of the week.

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