- Toddlers can eat 2-3 serves of salmon per week (75g per serve)
- Salmon has a rich protein content, is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and low in mercury
- Toddlers’ livers can’t synthesise DHA - they much ingest it in forms like salmon, for development of nerve tissues
- Children’s food preferences are generally established by 5 years old, so it’s wise to encourage a love of eating salmon early
If you’re trying to expand the variety of foods you feed your toddler, fish is certainly a good place to start. And, it’s a great protein alternative if you’re trying to spice up the dinners you currently have on rotation - don’t worry, getting stuck in a meal planning rut happens to the best of us!
In particular, you might be wondering about salmon. Can toddlers eat salmon? What’s the catch?
Can toddlers eat salmon? Toddlers definitely can eat salmon - in fact, they can eat 2-3 serves per week (at 75 grams per serve).
Firstly, we feel it’s important to mention that fish is classed as an allergen. This should have been covered by your child health nurse or GP when your toddler was a baby and you were about to introduce solids. If you have not yet introduced fish to your toddler, please follow medical advice.
Why salmon is the ideal fish option
Eating seafood is an important part of a balanced diet. But, for your toddler to get the most benefit, it’s vital that you choose the right type of seafood.
Salmon is the ideal choice of fish for several reasons.
Rich protein content
Salmon contains almost as much protein as chicken breast, but less saturated fat.
High Omega 3 fatty acid content
Salmon is particularly high in Omega 3 fatty acids - it is known as a “fatty fish”. These are good fats.
Low mercury content
Salmon has a lower mercury content than many other types of fish. That makes it a safer option for toddlers.
Why Omega 3 fatty acids are essential
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for nerve, brain and eye development.
In utero, placental transfer is responsible for ensuring adequate Omega 3 fatty acids reach the baby. And after birth, these are present in breast milk (and also formulas) to ensure an infant receives what they need.
But, when the switch is made from breast milk or formula to solids, many babies and toddlers don’t get enough Omega 3 fatty acids.
That’s because their livers are immature and cannot yet synthesize enough DHA to support their developing nerve tissues . DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) is a particular long-chain fatty acid of 22 carbons and 6 double bonds.
Why toddlers need dietary DHA
So, if toddlers’ livers can’t synthesise the DHA, “they must ingest it in their food .” Although you may have heard that Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in plant oils like flaxseed and canola, DHA isn’t present in foods with plant origins, including grains.
DHA is present in animal tissue lipids and the richest source for our diets , well that’s fatty fish, like salmon.
Why it is important to eat fish low in mercury
We’ve mentioned that toddlers can eat salmon because it is low in mercury . So, what’s the catch with fish higher in mercury? Well, mercury is a neurotoxin and young children are more vulnerable to the effects.
Mercury poisoning (which tends to build over time) can result in cognitives delays, and problems with speech and language development.
Methylmercury is an organic form of mercury that fish absorb from ocean sediment. Predatory fish tend to contain more mercury (like sharks, barramundi, swordfish and orange roughy), while salmon contains much safer levels.
According to betterhealth.vic.gov.au, “ mercury from most fish sold in Australia is not a health risk, when fish is consumed as part of a normal diet.” However, it is still important to follow the guidelines previously mentioned and limit consumption of fish with high levels of mercury.
When children’s food preferences set in
Children’s food preferences are developed considerably by age 5. That’s why it’s a good idea for them to get the taste for seafood now, and then continue to happily eat it throughout their lives.
As we’ve already explained in this article, eating salmon (or a similar fatty fish) is essential to your toddler’s healthy development. But, it’s just as important when they are adults - for helping to prevent coronary heart disease for example. This is because “ Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic, and anti-thrombotic properties”.
Recommended servings of fish for a toddler
To make it easy, guidelines are in place to recommend how much fish is appropriate for toddlers to eat.
Advice for parents and carers of infants and children up to 6 years of age states that:
- A child should be limited to one serve per fortnight of shark (flake), swordfish, broadbill or marlin, with no other fish eaten in that fortnight. These fish are particularly high in mercury.
- A child should be limited to one serve per week of catfish or orange roughy (deep sea perch).
- A child should be encouraged to eat 2-3 serves per week of any other fish or seafood. Good examples include salmon and tuna.
Please note that one serve for a child up to 6 years is 75g, which is equivalent to approximately 3 fish fingers.
Final thoughts on: Can toddlers eat salmon? What’s the catch?
Encouraging your toddler to eat a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do as a parent - setting them up for a life of healthy habits.
That includes encouraging them to eat salmon. Toddlers can eat salmon 2-3 times per week to provide them with the Omega 3 fatty acids they need for nerve, brain and eye development.
And this will add even more variety to their diet too.
Happy meal planning!