Fish dishes can be a hard sell to kids. Adults can acquire a taste for strongly flavored oily fish, but kids' sensitive noses and taste buds could be permanently put off if they encounter potent seafood. Tilapia, a mild, flaky white fish, gives your kids all the benefits of fish -- little fat, plenty of protein and minerals -- without the oily flavor. Farm-raising tilapia brings prices low, so this fish is budget friendly and kid approved.
Know Your Tilapia
Tilapia live in brackish or fresh water and eat primarily plant matter. Their vegetarian diet explains the mild taste of this freshwater species. The fish are fairly compact; unlike large species such as tuna and swordfish, tilapia find their way into supermarkets and restaurants as fillets, not steaks. Farming satisfies the increasing demand for mild tilapia, and it's a good thing the fish take to aquaculture; by the USDA's count, Americans ate about 475 million pounds of these fish in 2010. Because the majority of them come from farms, tilapia are mercury free, so you can feed tilapia to your little ones without worry.
Like other white fish, tilapia cooks quickly no matter which cooking method you use. How you cook the fish depends on your family's tastes. Some children won't touch even the mildest fish unless it's wrapped in a golden-brown coating of crumbs, while others happily dine on oven-baked fillets or poached fish with no concealing breading. Tilapia holds its shape well during cooking, so you can poach, broil, bake, grill or pan-sear with equal ease. Cook the fish just until its translucent flesh turns opaque so it will remain tender.
With its faint sea taste, tilapia goes well with flavors that won't overpower it. Fresh herbs laid atop fillets as they grill infuse the meat with just enough flavor to enhance it without covering it. Try dill, thyme, marjoram or tarragon with a dollop of butter on your broiled tilapia if you want a simple preparation. Crushed pecans or almonds make a deliciously crunchy crust for oven-fried tilapia. Traditional batter works beautifully for deep-frying, but for pan-frying, stick with cornmeal coatings that will stay put on the fish as you cook it.
Sides and Sauces
High in protein and relatively low in fat, tilapia leaves plenty of room on your family's plates for wholesome side dishes. Prepare a side salad with a rich ranch dressing that complements the lean fish. French fries traditionally accompany fried fish in the form of fish and chips, but try oven-roasted red potatoes for a healthful and flavorful alternative. Like all fish, tilapia goes beautifully with a lemony butter sauce; add capers to the sauce if your kids are adventurous eaters. Tilapia's light flavor also goes well with fresh sauces such as Mexican salsa and Italian pesto.