Move over, tuna fish: Canned wild salmon may be the new power lunch for kids this back-to-school season.
Bite-size samples of wild salmon salad sandwiches are being promoted as lunch box-friendly brain food at Whole Foods Market, Ukrop's Super Markets, Sprouts Farmers Market, Big Y, Earth Fare, Wild Oats Markets, My Organic Market, New Seasons Market and Mother's Market stores through October.
The demos are part of SeaWeb's KidSafe Seafood initiative, a collaborative effort of chefs, pediatricians and sustainable seafood experts to help parents serve more nutritious seafood to children.
The program, which includes an online campaign and more than 200 in-store tastings, began late last month in nearly 50 Whole Foods stores.
The retailer didn't return SN's request for comment.
“Tuna has high levels of mercury, so the idea is to see if we can interest kids in wild salmon sandwiches instead,” said Hollis Hope, managing director of SeaWeb, a Silver Springs, Md.-based nonprofit whose objective is to advance ocean conservation. “We've partnered with Henry & Lisa's, a natural seafood company, to stage demos to get people to try canned wild salmon, which is a good source of lean protein for kids, it's packed with omega-3s, it's low in contaminants and rich in vitamins and minerals.”
Also distributed at the demos are recipes for wild salmon burgers and wild salmon salad sandwiches, seafood tips, information about canned wild salmon and coupons good for $1 off 7.5-ounce cans of Henry & Lisa's Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon, which retail for $2.99.
“Fish is one of the most complicated foods that we eat, and that's why we're interested in helping parents navigate the supermarket and their own dinner menus,” said Hope. “Parents who are entertaining the idea of feeding kids seafood face a big challenge, because kids think they don't like it. We're providing recipes and tips about how to serve it so that it's palatable to children.”
Although pregnant women receive clear information as to what kinds of seafood to eat, and how much, the KidSafe Seafood campaign comes at a time when there is confusion surrounding the types and amounts of fish that children can safely consume without suffering harm from mercury and other contaminants.
“Because they have small bodies and rapidly developing brains, mercury and some of the other contaminants found in seafood can be particularly harmful to children,” noted Hope. “There is a risk of learning disorders, behavioral problems and memory loss.”
Under the guidance of a panel of doctors and scientists, KidSafe has developed a list of the best seafood choices for kids, based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's risk-assessment methodology for mercury and PCBs. Sustainability issues were also considered when drafting the list. For instance, Hope noted that Atlantic salmon, which is overfished, didn't make the cut.
“Wherever possible, we take into consideration fish that's been grown appropriately from fishermen that are responsible,” she said.
The list includes wild Alaskan salmon, fresh tilapia, farmed blue mussels, northern U.S. and Canadian shrimp, U.S. farmed crayfish and farmed bay scallops.
Although it's too soon to gauge the success of the program, Henry Lovejoy, president and founder of EcoFish, the Dover, N.H.-based parent company of Henry & Lisa's, is hopeful that the healthy lunchtime alternative will be well received.
“It's the back-to-school season, and we're trying to pack a good lunch,” he said. “It's the perfect time of year to inform people that this seafood is healthy and safe.”
To help take some of the mystery out of how often it's safe to eat certain types of seafood, EcoFish developed the Seafood Safe testing program for mercury and PCBs.
“We provide random samples to independent labs, and they test seafood for over 200 industrial contaminants,” said Lovejoy. “Then we take the results and apply them to the EPA standard for safe consumption based on a woman of childbearing years, and apply a number to a label.”
If, for instance, that number is 10, then a woman of childbearing age can have 10 4-ounce servings per month and get the maximum benefits of the seafood product without being exposed to dangerous contaminant levels, he noted. Conversions for children up to age 6 and ages 6 to 12 can be found on the Seafood Safe website, www.seafoodsafe.com.
Although it's currently only available for EcoFish products, the company is working on making the labeling system available to the entire seafood industry.