In Dining

Sushi with the smalls.

Tips for taking kids out for sushi

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Taking kids out for sushi could very easily be a waste of money – especially with picky, noodle-focused eaters like mine were for years. However, my kids are a little older now, and recently they asked to try sushi again. I agreed, but was careful how I proceeded because I didn't want to wind up with a huge bill and post-meal hungry kids who confirmed once and for all that raw fish was gross.

We have lots of really good sushi restaurants in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas, but my son asked specifically to go to Kanpai, 408 E. Chicago St., because we drive by it so often and it piqued his interest. I thought this was a great choice and so I started to think about how I could make this experience the most fun and interesting for a 14-year-old who, until recently, would have eaten pizza every night of the week if permitted. (He actually loved sushi as a little guy, but went through 5 or 6 years of ridiculous pickiness, so I was actually reintroducing sushi to him.)

Originally, I wanted to sit on the floor, in the tatami room, to enrich the cultural experience and because I thought he'd enjoy it. However, the tatami room is for larger parties and requires a reservation. Next time.

I looked online at the menu and knew immediately we were going to try one of the sushi / sashimi samplers that came in a boat-shaped serving dish. I had seen other people order this before, but I had never myself, and knew the boat would be a big hit with my kid.

And indeed it was. We ordered the Love Boat ($59) and the colorful, artistic platter came with nine pieces of sashimi, seven pieces of nigiri, cherry blossom maki and rainbow maki. I challenged my son to only use chopsticks, and he agreed. He was good humored about it, but definitely struggled with the utensils.

In the end, he pretty much stabbed the sushi with the end of the stick and popped it into his mouth. Whatever works.

The cool thing about the boat was the variety and therefore the opportunity for him to figure out what he liked and what he didn't. He even tried the fish eggs and said they "weren't bad."

We polished off every last piece and then he asked for dessert, which I obliged. I don't always buy dessert, I'm not really a "dessert person," but I decided it was integral to the full Japanese meal experience. And so we ordered free tea and strawberry mochi, Japanese rice cakes, for $5.

"So squishy," he said.

The dinner set me back about $100, which is a lot more than I'd have to spend at Noodles & Co., but I found the experience to be worth the money. And we left absolutely stuffed.

If you decide to take your littles for sushi, here are a few tips:

  • The generally recommended age at which kids can eat some kinds of raw fish varies, but usually about 2 1/2 to 3 should be the youngest. Most Japanese parenting magazines and websites say not to feed raw fish products to very young children because of their immature digestive systems. Most say you should definitely not feed raw or undercooked fish products to babies who aren't on solid food yet. However, after kids are on solid food, some parents let them have raw fish.
  • Training chopsticks are a great way for kids to learn how to use regular chopsticks. There are many different kinds, but these are affordable and effective, as well as cute.
  • During dinner, chat with your kids about the Japanese films / anime that they like. Or if they are not familiar, consider introducing them to one of Hayao Miyazaki's films, "Kiki's Delivery Service," "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Ponyo." Maximize the experience!

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