The Clean Plate Chronicles: How I Got My Kid to Eat Fish

I still remember the moment I decided that my now-husband was a keeper. We were spending a long weekend in the Catskills with a group of friends, and while I opted to spend all of Saturday frolicking in a nearby lake with the majority, Peter trudged off by himself to go fishing. How antisocial, I thought—until he returned that evening brandishing several beautiful trout, which he manfully slung over some twigs and smoked on the grill. The fish tasted delicious, and I was smitten. Here was a man who would never let me go hungry.

Fast-forward 10 years: Peter still fishes enthusiastically, and now our eldest daughter, Stella, often accompanies him on his weekend excursions. But she refuses to even look at the catch of the day once it has landed on her dinner plate. So much for the theory that teaching your kids where food comes from increases the likelihood that they’ll actually eat it. That might be all well and good when they’re stirring chocolate chips into cookie dough, but 6-year-olds apparently don’t feel obligated to eat a fish just because they’ve caught one, even if their father waxes on about not taking a noble creature’s life in vain.

If I had my way, fish would be on the menu at least once a day, which is why I persisted in bringing Stella around to eating and enjoying it. I had been successful in smuggling pureed vegetables into mac ’n cheese (thank you, Jessica Seinfeld), but fish tends to be too, well, fishy to sneak unnoticed into other foods. And salmon hardly passes muster just because it happens to be pink. So, I went back to the basics: fish sticks. I remembered them well from my English childhood (we called them fish fingers), but they failed to elicit more than a perfunctory “yuck” from Stella. In desperation, I whipped up a sumptuous fish pie filled with gobs of cheesy mashed potatoes, but it, too, was a dismal failure.

Stella finally overcame her fish aversion, strangely enough, thanks to a popular ’70s throwback: the fondue pot. Last summer, friends on Long Island invited us to a beach party, at which hordes of sandy-toed kids were inhaling fish nuggets. The reason? Making them was more than half the fun! First, they speared chunks of freshly caught striper with little silver fondue forks, and then they dunked them in a bowl of whisked egg, coated them in panko and watched them cook in a small pot of sizzling oil. Needless to say, Stella wasn’t about to be left out. Let’s face it: If you deep-fry anything in breadcrumbs and serve it up with a healthy dose of peer pressure, you’re pretty much assured of adding a new food group to your fussy eater’s diet.

Homemade fish nuggets are now a staple in our house, although a frying pan stands in for the fondue pot. Stella especially enjoys sharing her seafood creations with her 2-year-old sister. “Here, Maeve,” she says sweetly. “Try this yummy chicken nugget I made for you.” I don’t know if she happened to catch Jessica Simpson’s take on Chicken of the Sea, but clearly she already understands the power of false advertising.

Do your kids eat fish? Chime in below!

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