Unlike today's kids, you probably didn't grow up eating tilapia. While it's been aquacultured since ancient Egypt, tilapia wasn't introduced to the U.S. on a commercial scale until sometime in the early 1990s. But since then, it's been the homecoming queen of the underwater world, ascending easily to the fifth most consumed fish in the country. Tilapia is low in mercury (unlike many other fish species), so it's extra-safe to serve to kids. Plus, it's mild flavor -- some adults consider it bland -- makes it kid-friendly; in recipes, it's more or less interchangeable with any other mild white fish filet. Add to that the fact that it's a low-fat, high-protein food and that the American Heart Association now recommends that you eat at least one serving of fish twice a week, and you've got a dinner winner.
Homemade fish sticks are surprisingly simple to make -- plus, they can be baked in the oven instead of fried, which makes them healthier, too. The homemade version is also more versatile, since you can make the outer coating out of crushed nuts, cornmeal or breadcrumbs. Serve with -- what else? -- kiddos' favorite condiment, ketchup.
Tilapia filets can also be breaded and tucked into flour tortillas as the basis for fish tacos. Use grilled or sauteed filets instead for a healthier choice. Finish the tacos off with some sort of vegetable slaw -- cabbage slaw is commonly used, but you can add or substitute other shredded veggies such as carrots, zucchini, broccoli stems or red bell peppers. Or try topping the tacos with a corn, tomato and/or avocado salsa.
Fish cakes are a resourceful way of using any leftover tilapia you might have from other recipes. Substitute cooked tilapia for the same amount of crab in your favorite crab cake recipe. Serve with mayonnaise for dipping and coleslaw, corn relish or green beans on the side. Or make Thai-style fish cakes with some lime juice and ginger; omit any red pepper, curry paste or chilies to spare sensitive toddler palates. Serve with some lettuce for wrapping and some cucumber relish on the side; peanut sauce is great for dipping.
Kids love the mildly tangy flavor of teriyaki, so why not spread it on a filet or two of tilapia? You can use your favorite bottled sauce or make your own. Broil or saute your filets as you prefer. Serve with steamed broccoli or zucchini and rice.
Tilapia in Parchment
Baking fish in parchment is extra-healthy because it avoids added fat thanks to the lack of frying or sauteing -- basically, the fish steams in its own juices. This is a great meal to serve to kids because they love tearing open the little packets -- it's like a present! You can throw all sorts of vegetables in the packet with the fish, too -- anything that's amenable to steaming. A little bit of lemon juice, some herbs, a bit of salt and pepper, and dinner's done.