After teaching a kid to fish, the next step is teaching them to love cooking and eating the fish they’ve caught. If you’ve done your job right, your kid is reeling fish in, learning, and getting better, and they can feel it. That same sense of accomplishment can extend past the shoreline and into the kitchen, where kids can learn to play an important role in what goes on the family’s dinner table. Here’s some input from experiences with my 5-year-old daughter who will always gladly put down a plate of freshly fried crappie.
1) Choose the Right Species
There is a hierarchy of tasty fish, with fish like crappie sitting at the top, and bottom-feeders sitting at, well, the bottom. In terms of saltwater table fare, salmon, while something special for adults, may taste too fishy for youngsters. Consider targeting clean-tasting panfish. The action throughout the day is usually better for them as well—which goes a long way toward keeping a kid’s attention on the water.
2) Stick to Recipes Kids are Familiar With
Every kid knows and loves chicken nuggets, and, when made right, fried fish isn’t that much different. Consider making the recipe below, which is double-breaded, crispy fried crappie. When it comes to sauces, stay away from tartar or cocktail sauce. A quality fish fry shouldn’t even require condiments, in my opinion. Instead, keep it simple. Serve fried fish to your kids with a lemon wedge, or if they love ketchup, put some on the side.
3) Get Your Kid Involved in The Kitchen
Getting your kids to want to help cooking begins well ahead of their first successful fishing trip. Ask them to cook meals as simple as mac and cheese. Make sure to have a stool so they can stand up to the counter and participate in everything happening. Let them feel that sense of accomplishment of putting together a meal that will go on the dinner table.
4) Make a big deal out of cooking the fish they caught
There’s a big difference between a trip to the store for groceries and reeling in dinner. Explain this to your kids when you go fishing, or when you bring home fish to eat. One way to show them this is to serve your catch on something different than your everyday dishes. And if your kid brings home a fish to eat, make sure they know how special that is. It’s not just another dinner at home, it’s a fun, monumental event.
5) The Earlier You Can Introduce a Kid to Wild Game, the Better
Kids can develop aversions to eating wild game and fish. Start ‘em young and anyone who doesn’t eat game and fish will be the anomaly, not the other way around. Plus, you’ll tune their tastebuds into appreciating freshly-caught fish versus asking them to adapt after getting used to fish from the grocery store. Admittedly, the timeframe for introducing your child to eating fish will likely predate the age when they learn how to fish. My 5-year-old daughter has been eating wild game and fish for as long as she’s been able to put down solids. Just be sure that you’re familiar with the local water quality where you fish and check your state’s guidebook or fishing regulations for advisories on eating fish.
6) Ease Them in Slowly
You’ll want to include your child throughout the whole process of catching, cleaning, and cooking fish, but it’s important to do this gradually. This may mean showing your kids pristine fillets before teaching them how to clean a fish. I personally cut the throats of most of my fish to bleed them out, but that step is one you might want to withhold until your kid is more comfortable and enthusiastic about fishing.
The Best Fried Fish Recipe for Kids
This recipe calls for crappie, but you can make it with other white-flesh fish including walleye, bass, and various species of panfish. Regardless of your catch, you’ll want to cut your pieces into 1- to 2-inch squares that are no more than a half-inch thick.
- 20 ounces crappie, filleted, skinned, and cut into squares
- Whole milk
- Oat or almond milk
- Peanut oil for frying
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon dry oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground celery
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup Frank’s RedHot sauce
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup from the spice mix above
Fillet crappie and cut fillets from the skin. Cut the fillets into square pieces, which usually means cutting the meatiest section in two and keeping the meat from along the ribs whole for a total of three pieces. Soak fillet squares in whole milk for 1 to 2 hours. Drain the milk. Do not rinse. Cover the fillet squares in oat or almond milk and allow to soak for another 2 to 3 hours.
Mix the spice mix and add 1/3 cup of that mix to the flour dredge and thoroughly mix. Split the flour dredge into two separate containers. I usually prefer two baking dishes for this. When ready to fry, in a third, separate bowl or container, thoroughly mix ingredients for egg wash.
Preheat a fryer or Dutch oven containing peanut oil to 400 degrees F. To prep fish for frying, remove each piece from the milk marinade and toss in the first flour dredge container. Shake off excess. Dip in the egg wash mixture, then toss into the second flour dredge container. Shake off any excess flour and set on a dish or stainless steel grate.
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Fry several pieces of crappie at a time until the breading is brown and crispy. Just be careful not to crowd the fryer or Dutch oven. Remove the fried fillets and place on a stainless steel grate to allow the grease to drip. Let the fish cool before serving (5 to 7 minutes for kids, 1 to 2 minutes for adults).