One of the biggest challenges in feeding a child is to combine your knowledge of healthy foods with the task of actually getting your child to eat it!!! Young children are notoriously fussy eaters and to get them to eat a varied, healthy, balanced diet is often difficult. So I thought it was about time I shared one of my most successful child-friendly recipes... an adaptation of the humble fish finger!
Like many children, my brother & I grew up on fish fingers... the bright orange crispy breadcrumbs and the flaky white fish inside... yummy! They were probably not the healthiest dinner out there, especially when served with deep fried potato chips, but in terms of kid-satisfaction Mum always got the thumbs up from us! So when the Big One graduated onto big-boy meals I looked out the frozen fish finger in the supermarket. There seemed to be a lot of variation in quality, with some of the cheaper brands not even able to specify the type or part of the fish in question. However, some of the nicer ones were clearly labelled '100% fillet' and used paprika rather than artificial colouring to achieve the traditional golden coating. So it wasn't long before the Big One became hooked and a fish finger supper became a regular serving on the menu.
However, when we moved to Texas from the UK we were stumped. The equivalent over here are called 'Fishsticks' and they are much less popular. Consequently, there is little variety in the brands & types available. Most that I have come across are made with 'minced white fish', and instead of breadcrumbs they are coated with batter. So rather than settle for second best, I decided to make my own ... how hard could it be, right? Easy peasy is the answer and they are far more delicious than any store bought ones too! I find it best to prepare a large batch ahead of time and then freeze uncooked. They can then be cooked from frozen in about 15 minutes for a quick, nutritious meal.
Over time, I have adapted the recipe to incorporate healthier ingredients, especially key foods for brain development in infants and children (and for maintaining brain health in adults). My grandfather died of Alzheimer's disease a few years ago and so I am very aware of the importance of feeding this key organ right!
Antioxidants - foods with antioxidant vitamins and minerals act in a way to protect the brain & body from wear & tear! Basically, as you breathe your cells react with the oxygen absorbed and some highly reactive molecules called free radicals are produced. These free radicals can interact with other molecules within your cells and can cause damage to proteins, membranes and genes. Antioxidant molecules help prevent the oxidation process and therefore reduce potential cell damage. Foods high in antioxidants include fruits & vegetables, especially those with bright intense colours (e.g. berries & dark green leafy veg). However, beans, nuts & seeds are also packed with antioxidants such as Vitamin E.
Choline - this is a nutrient essential to healthy brain function and memory. It is especially important for pregnant & nursing mothers to make sure they have enough choline-containing foods in their diet as studies have shown that this nutrient is key to fetal/infant brain development. Luckily it's present in quite a few foods (such as broccoli, beans, cauliflower, tofu and lean beef), but the best source of choline is eggs, specifically the yolks!
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acid - this is a well known key nutrient for good brain health. However, they are also crucial for eye development and help stabilise moods. Oily fish, nuts & seeds are the best sources of Omega 3.
Complex carbohydrates - these fiber-rich grains & starches are the fuel of the brain! Unlike refined starches (like those in white bread, white rice, sugar etc...) the energy from fiber-rich foods is released slowly and steadily over time! Whole grained bread, pasta, rice etc... is best!
Brain Boosting Fish Fingers
For approximately 48 brain-boosting fish fingers, you will need...
- 1lb salmon fillet (or you could substitute with trout or any other oily fish)... make sure that it has not been previously frozen if you plan to make these to freeze for future use - Omega 3 fatty acids & choline
- 1 cup wholewheat breadcrumbs - Complex carbohydrates
- 1 cup ground flax seeds (called linseed in the UK) - Complex carbohydrates, omega 3 fatty acids & antioxidants
- 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour (you can substitute regular wholewheat flour) seasoned with a small amount of salt & pepper if desired - antioxidants & complex carbohydrates
- 1 or 2 beaten eggs - Choline & Omega 3
Remove the skin from your salmon fillet (lay the fish skin side down, use a sharp knife to make a slit in the flesh at the thin tail end, hold the skin tightly and then cut along the skin at a 30' angle to the board). Check to make sure there are no small bones... the easiest way to do this is to run your fingers over it. Then cut the fillet into strips approximately 3/4" wide and 2-3 inches long... unlike shop-bought fish fingers, uniformity isn't necessary!
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Then assemble your ingredients for breadcrumbing the fish. I've blogged about the best method for coating things in breadcrumbs before when describing my Mum's Leftover rissoles, but the key is to get organised with your plates of fish, flour, egg, breadcrumbs and the lined tray to freeze them on in advance. And then remember to keep your hands assigned to wet & dry roles!
Roll the fish strips in the flour. To prevent you getting in a sticky mess, use only your 'dry' right hand for flour.
Then dip the fish in the egg - only using your 'wet' left hand.
Then roll the fish in the breadcrumbs - using your 'dry' right hand. Place the finished fishfinger on the lined tray.
Open freeze the fishfingers and then transfer into a ziploc freezer bag or container, labelled with details of contents.
To cook, simply shallow fry in oil over a medium-high heat turning occasionally until golden and crispy on the outside and fully cooked and pale pink within. Drain on kitchen paper before serving. They can also be oven cooked... place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, brush or spray with a little olive oil so the breadcrumbs go crispy and then bake at 375'F (190'C) for approximately 15-20 minutes (again, check they are fully cooked before serving).
Serve with antioxidant-rich vegetables such as asparagus, carrots, broccoli & sweetcorn, and a portion of skin-on oven baked potato wedges or steamed new baby potatoes for a healthy, balanced, quickly prepared, and most important child-approved dinner!