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Salmon Baby Food Gives a Nutritional Boost to Infants and Toddlers

Posted by Susan Brewer, University of Illinois in Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017

Just as adults receive nutritional benefits from a diet rich in seafood, babies and toddlers also need the omega-3 fatty acids for brain, nerve and eye development. Researchers at the University of Illinois and the Alaska’s Agricultural Research Service have developed baby food made from salmon to incorporate fish into children’s diets. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Just as adults receive nutritional benefits from a diet rich in seafood, babies and toddlers also need the omega-3 fatty acids for brain, nerve and eye development. Researchers at the University of Illinois and the Alaska’s Agricultural Research Service have developed baby food made from salmon to incorporate fish into children’s diets. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA's rich science and research portfolio.

As adults, we have heard for years about the value of adding fish to our diets. But have you ever stopped to consider the health benefits a diet rich in seafood can offer your children?

Babies need the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish for brain, nerve and eye development. Most children don’t get enough, especially when they switch from breast milk or formula to solid food. Additionally, children’s food preferences largely develop by age five, so I urge parents to help their kids develop a taste for seafood early.

To help toddlers get the recommended twice-weekly servings of fish that experts recommend, I worked to develop a salmon baby food. As unappetizing as that sounds, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are behind the idea, and similar foods have successfully been marketed in the United Kingdom and Italy.

Working with Peter Bechtel of Alaska’s Agricultural Research Service, we created a product using Alaskan wild-caught salmon. We discovered that when salmon swim upstream to spawn, their flesh gets very soft, which is perfect for baby food. I tested both pink and red salmon and found that red salmon survives the baby food production process better.

To boost nutritional value, we added bone meal, which provides calcium for bone development, and pureed salmon roe (eggs), which provides high quality proteins and contains significant quantities of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

The results have been very encouraging and taste testers agree! Salmon is very mild, and the toddler dinners don't taste or smell fishy. In a sensory panel, parents found little taste difference between formulations that contained roe or bone meal and those that didn't. Eighty-one percent of the parent panelists--even those who don't eat salmon themselves--said they would offer it to their children after taste testing the product.

Our goal is to deliver maximum nutrition in an entrée that's aesthetically pleasing, and these studies show that we can do just that!