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Kids need variety in meal selections
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi leads the world in catfish production, but for various reasons, the state's children may not be introduced to fish on their plates as soon as they should.
As the Bolivar County home economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, Sharon Allen works in the heart of catfish production -- the Mississippi Delta. She sees firsthand what children are eating and what they are not eating. She also knows the importance of consuming a variety of foods to maintain a healthy diet.
"We knew how much catfish was being harvested in the Delta, but we didn't know how much was being consumed there," Allen said. So she designed a study of several preschool facilities to find part of the answers.
Allen wanted to determine and compare the types of fish served in four Bolivar County preschools: two Headstart and two non-Headstart facilities. Two were in Mound Bayou and two were in Cleveland. Directors of each of the facilities and 207 parents completed surveys.
"I found out that Headstart kids typically were introduced to fish in their meals between 3 and 4 years of age; children in the private centers were younger -- 2 to 3 years of age," she said. "Catfish were the most common fish consumed, and frying was the most common cooking method. No surprises there, but we would like to see more variety in cooking methods."
Allen said children need to be introduced to a variety of foods and cooking methods early in life. By the time they reach 3 or 4 year olds, they have already developed their likes and dislikes.
"Cooks need to provide a variety of foods and cooking methods regardless of their personal likes and dislikes. In addition to serving fried fish, cooks can bake, grill or serve it in salads, such as tuna salad," Allen said. "Fish offer many nutritional benefits. They are high in protein and Omega 3 fatty acids, which improves vision, eliminates chronic diseases, and improves resistance to colds and other germs."
In 2000, the state had 110,000 acres of catfish ponds primarily located in Delta counties, while the nation had a total of 190,000 acres. Humphreys County has the state's largest catfish acreage, with 30,400 acres of ponds in 2000. Sunflower County ranks second with 23,800 acres and Leflore is next with 19,100.
Contact: Sharon Allen, (662) 843-8371