A total of seven focus groups were conducted (n = 38 participants) with women aged between 23 and 45 years representing 44 children, from a mid-level socio-economic status and a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. A criterion for inclusion into the focus groups was that participants were mothers of young children. Several participants also had children outside the age group of interest however their responses were confined to information about family experiences of children within the target group. Focus groups results are presented thematically.
Results presented within this section are based upon the responses from the 38 focus group participants to discussion points (underlined), with direct quotations recorded in italics. All numbers in brackets (n = x) refer to the proportion of participants out of a possible 38.
Have your children tried fish or seafood before?
Participants from all focus groups indicated they and their children had consumed fish or seafood. The discussions centred around the introduction of different types of seafood and fish depending upon what was being prepared for the family. Most participants indicated that they prepared one family meal rather than a separate meal for children and adults.
What types of fish or seafood have your children tried?
The types of seafood children had tried were relatively diverse. Most children had tried tuna (n = 35), prawns (n = 33), fish and chips (n = 34), fish fillets (n = 23) and white flesh fish (n = 21).
'... we often get just like a firm white fillet and sort of crumb it ourselves'
'... homemade fish and chips using frozen fish'
'She (child) has always loved tinned tuna right from very early solids eating'
Some had either not been exposed to crustaceans or had expressed negative attitudes to these species for a variety of reasons.
'They sort of turn their nose up at things like mussels, crabs and anything in a shell'
'They haven't really gone into the more exotic seafood'
'They're too scared to actually eat the crab because they see them when they're alive'
What is your child's favourite type of fish or seafood?
The favourite types of fish or seafood noted were tuna (n = 31), fish and chips (n = 25), prawns (n = 12), and boneless, white flesh fillets (n = 10). With regards to fish and seafood meals that children did not like, an emerging theme was that young children tended to prefer dishes where they could see the fish meat clearly rather than those where the fish was hidden in other ingredients such as mornays or in sauces.
'They don't like it prepared in any sort of sauces, they don't like fish mornay or anything like that'
'Her favourite is prawns but I think that might just be the scarcity value because we don't have them very often, they're a treat'
'Her favourite breakfast is tuna and pickles'
What type of fish or seafood do you usually purchase?
When asked about the type of fish usually purchased for their family, participants in the majority of focus groups said this decision was influenced primarily by the price (n = 34) and the freshness (n = 32) of the product. Boneless fillets, tinned tuna and frozen products (n = 27) were common purchases among participants.
'We don't eat probably as much as what we should do, because of the price'
'I won't go over $20 a kilo'
'I always in the pantry have tins of sardines and tuna'
'I must admit in my house I would very rarely buy fresh fish'
'I'll never buy frozen fish I'll only buy the fresh fish but I will freeze it in my own freezer, at least then I know when it was frozen'
Trends in where fish and seafood products were purchased by participants was also apparent, with most participants preferring to purchase products from a specific supermarket chain, seafood specialty outlets or fish mongers. However, accessibility to these outlets was a perceived barrier among participants.
How do you usually prepare fish to be served?
The preparation and cooking style of fish or seafood most often included crumbed (n = 28), oven baked (n = 23), pan fried (n = 22), barbequed (n = 19) and battered fish or seafood (n = 17). Themes relating to cultural influences on the methods of preparation and how fish was served as a family meal also emerged from several focus groups. Across focus groups, almost half of the participants said they lacked confidence when it came to preparing and cooking fish (n = 18) and tended to remain with dishes they were comfortable cooking and they knew the family liked.
'We used to do a lot more fish baking (whole fish) but just didn't want to have to deal with the bones, I was just too nervous of all that so it was kind of dropped off the menu'
'I need more creative ways to prepare it and a cookbook which has got simple, tasty ways of cooking fish'
'... if I cook fresh fish, because it is quite expensive then I'll just concentrate on the taste of it'
'Barbequed because then my husband goes outside and cooks it'
'I'm still I guess inexperienced in cooking fish in different ways, like if I know how to cook it one way I'll always cook it that way because I know it won't be dry or mush'
'It's a man's job in our house. It's always been a man's job in Turkey, ... men clean the fish and women clean the kitchen afterwards'
'In France you would have salad rather than vegetables with fish'
What are your experiences when serving fish/seafood as a family meal?
Several commonalities were found between participants regarding their experiences when serving fish or seafood as a family meal. The majority of participants considered bones to be an important factor when serving fish to their children.
'I have no problems with the bones because I'm Asian we usually use chopsticks you know, but my problem is with the children and I'm constantly like did I clean enough or did I check enough'
'Mine would just eat them (bones) .... they eat everything, so that's not such a pain for me'
'We usually try to de-bone it as much as possible before hand but if it is fish that has bones in it it'll be like who can find the most bones, it kind of becomes a competition'
The influence of personal attitudes towards fish and seafood (n = 33), and those of children or husbands/partners also impacted upon the type and frequency of fish served as a family meal (n = 27).
'My husband doesn't really like fish so I find it kind of hard'
'I find what I like ... I'm quite fussy so they don't probably get to taste that much'
'My kids are just reluctant to try new things. You have to disguise it. I remember the first time they ate salmon I had to tell them it was Barbie chicken because it was pink'
'Our little boy won't touch like the prawns and the octopus, the squid rings and that could partly be because I don't like it you know, I like white fish with no bones and he tends to be the same'
'We go through stages where we would have fish on a weekly basis and then my husband would say look I'm really sick of fish lets go off it so wouldn't have it for maybe three or four months'
A few participants (n = 8) were willing to serve separate seafood or fish-based meals for children that were less spicy than those prepared for adults. This allowed adults to enjoy fish and seafood dishes considered unsuitable for children.
'For the children I tend to crumb it, I dip it in egg and flour and then crumb it and that looks like nuggets you know'
'I must admit we will split it up sometimes, if we really fancy a curry and they're not going to eat that then we will feed them earlier, we actually quite enjoy splitting up meals'
Strategies employed to introduce and encourage the ongoing consumption of a variety of fish and seafood meals by children included eating fish before being permitted to eat chips or calling fish by a similar food that the children had experienced and enjoyed (e.g. chicken).
'I find the gimmicky thing for young children worked really well'
'We use chips as an incentive to get the kids to eat fish'
'The only reason they eat fish is because of the association with chips'
'If I have my nephew over we call it chicken'
'For a long time everything was chicken, as long as it was called chicken she ate it'
What do you think would encourage your family to eat more fish?
Price emerged as the dominant factor influencing the consumption of fish or seafood (n = 32). Availability and accessibility to good quality seafood outlets (n = 27), freshness of the products available (n = 25) and the availability of good quality boneless varieties (n = 21) were also considered important determinants of the frequency of fish consumption.
'... main thing for me is availability, trying to find a good fish monger'
'We only go for fresh fish that we can buy, we won't buy frozen fish'
'I find that I am buying more fish now because meat has got so expensive, so there's not such a huge difference in the price between meat and fish'
'I still think that parents have control over what the kids eat and you still have to encourage adults to eat more fish before you can encourage the kids to eat more'
What do you think are some of the barriers to fish becoming a regular family meal in your community, that is including fish in meals two to three times per week?
When asked to discuss perceived barriers relating to fish becoming a regular family meal in their community, several dominant themes were evident. Participants considered the price of fish and seafood products to be the main barrier for regular consumption (n = 33). Lack of preparation and cooking skills (n = 20), availability and accessibility of high quality products (n = 18), whether family members like fish or seafood (n = 14), availability of (boneless) filleted fish (n = 12), and the smell associated with fish (n = 12) all featured prominently during discussions.
'... it's hard to ruin chicken, you can't really ruin a lamb chop but you can ruin fish very easily'
'I try to limit it to fifteen (dollars), otherwise I don't buy it, we don't eat fish'
If you do like a weekly shop when I buy fish I like to cook it that night so I don't usually buy a lot of it'
'... there is a bit of a fine art to cooking seafood and maybe people are afraid to risk the money that it costs you know to experiment'