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Switching to whole grain: A family-friendly guide

As a mom of two (with one having sensory problems), I know it can be tough to sudden make a favorite food look, taste, and feel different. But you don't have to make the switch overnight! Here are some tips that worked for our family—I hope they help yours!

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Switching to whole grain can make a significant difference in our family’s nutrition and overall health. As a parent, I have found that incorporating whole grains into our meals is a great way to improve our diets, and it offers an array of health benefits. Whole grains are packed with nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Research has shown that eating whole grains regularly can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and support a healthy digestion.

When I started my journey to incorporating whole grains into our family’s meals, I realized that it’s not as daunting as it might seem at first. There are plenty of simple ways to make the transition, from choosing whole grain versions of our favorite foods to experimenting with new grains in our recipes. Another fantastic aspect is that whole grains are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, making it easy and enjoyable to make the switch.

To help your family embrace whole grains and reap the benefits, I’ll share a few tips and tricks that have worked well for us. From choosing the right ingredients to finding delicious recipes, this family-friendly guide will make the transition to whole grains an enjoyable one for everyone involved.

Understanding whole grains

To help you make the switch, I wanted to share some basic information about whole grains and what makes them so beneficial.

Definition of whole grains

Whole grains are the complete seeds of certain plants that have not been refined or processed to remove any of their parts. This means they still contain all three components: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Some examples of whole grains include wheat, oats, and brown rice. Making the switch to whole grains can provide numerous health benefits, such as increased fiber intake and improved digestion.

Components: bran, germ, and endosperm

Let’s dive a little deeper into the three parts of whole grains – the bran, germ, and endosperm.

  • Bran: The bran is the outer skin of the seed, and it’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a key reason whole grains are so beneficial for our health, as increased fiber intake is linked to numerous positive outcomes, including improved digestion and reduced risk of various diseases.
  • Germ: The germ is the embryo of the seed, and it contains healthy fats, some protein, and additional vitamins and minerals. This component is a valuable source of nutrients, and including it in our diets can contribute to overall wellness.
  • Endosperm: Lastly, the endosperm is the starchy, energy-providing part of the grain that supports the growth of the plant. It contains carbohydrates and some protein, making it a valuable source of energy for our bodies.

It’s clear that whole grains offer numerous health benefits, thanks to their complete nutrition from the bran, germ, and endosperm. By incorporating more whole grains into our family’s meals, we can provide them with essential nutrients needed for a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Remember, small changes can make a big difference!

Types of whole grains

As I try to make healthier choices for myself and my family, I’ve discovered the wonderful world of whole grains. These grains offer numerous health benefits and can be a great addition to our daily meals. In this section, I’ll talk about some common and unique whole grains that you can easily incorporate into your family’s diet.

Common whole grains

Some whole grains that you might already be familiar with include:

  • Wheat: One of the most popular whole grains used in various products like whole wheat bread and pasta. It’s a versatile option that can easily replace refined grains in your meals.
  • Rice: Brown rice and wild rice are whole grain varieties that offer essential nutrients. They can be used as a base for dishes, in soups, or as a side dish.
  • Oats: Adding whole oats to your breakfast routine with oatmeal or granola is an easy way to enjoy this nutritious grain.
  • Barley: This chewy grain is great in soups, stews, or as a side dish to accompany your favorite protein.

Unique whole grains and pseudo-grains

If you’re adventurous or looking for some variety, these unique whole grains and pseudo-grains might pique your interest:

  • Quinoa: A popular gluten-free option, quinoa is rich in protein and versatile enough to be used as a base for salads, in stir-fries, or as a side dish on its own.
  • Millet: This small, round grain can be cooked like rice or used to create a creamy porridge.
  • Bulgur: Often used in Mediterranean dishes, bulgur is a great addition to salads, soups, or as a base for stuffed vegetables.
  • Farro: With a nutty flavor and chewy texture, farro can be used in place of rice for a more exciting side dish.
  • Buckwheat: Despite the name, buckwheat doesn’t contain wheat and is gluten-free. You can use it in pancakes, as a flour alternative, or in a warm porridge.
  • Amaranth: A tiny grain with impressive nutritional benefits, amaranth can be popped like popcorn or used in stews and porridges.
  • Spelt: This ancient grain has a slightly sweet flavor and can be used in recipes calling for wheat, making it an interesting alternative for bread, pasta, or baked goods.

Incorporating these whole grains into my family’s meals has been a satisfying and nutritious change from the refined grains we’re used to. Give them a try and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the variety and health benefits they bring to your table.

Health benefits

As someone who has switched to whole grains, I want to share with you the amazing benefits my family and I have experienced. In this section, I’ll discuss how whole grains can help in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and managing weight.

Reduced risk of chronic diseases

One of the primary reasons for including whole grains in our diet is their ability to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Whole grains are packed with essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and preventing diseases.

For instance, consuming whole grains has been associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The high fiber content in whole grains helps to regulate blood sugar levels, keeping diabetes at bay. Additionally, studies have shown that a diet rich in whole grains can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is because whole grains contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.

Weight management

If you are looking for a way to maintain or lose weight, whole grains can be your best friend. They contain more fiber than refined grains, which means they can keep you feeling full longer and prevent overeating. The low-fat and low-sodium nature of whole grains also helps in managing weight.

The fiber in whole grains contributes to a healthy digestive system, which can further aid in weight management. By replacing refined grains with whole grains, you’re likely to consume fewer calories, saturated fat, and sodium – all of which contribute to weight gain.

Whole grains vs refined grains

Know the difference

When it comes to choosing grains for my family, I always prefer whole grains over refined grains. Why? Because whole grains contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, germ, and endosperm, while refined grains only retain the endosperm.

This difference means that whole grains have more nutrients, fiber, and vitamins as they retain the natural goodness of the entire grain. Some examples of whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat bread, and quinoa. On the other hand, refined grains are found in white rice and white bread.

Enriched vs fortified grains

As I choose grains for our meals, sometimes I come across enriched and fortified grain products. But what’s the difference between them? Enriched grains are refined grains where some of the lost nutrients are added back in after the refining process, but they still don’t match the nutritional profile of whole grains. Fortified grains, however, have extra nutrients that weren’t originally present in the grain, like vitamins and minerals, added to them.

To keep my family’s diet healthy and full of essential nutrients, I’ll continue to prioritize whole grains over refined, enriched, or fortified grains. That way, we can all enjoy the natural benefits of these wholesome foods!

Introducing whole grains to your family

As a parent, I understand the importance of incorporating whole grains into my family’s daily diet.

Start with breakfast

In my experience, breakfast is the easiest meal to begin introducing whole grains. During the week we typically eat eggs and sausage, bacon, or another protein. But especially on the weekends, we have more time to make a big family breakfast and this is a great opportunity to experience with whole grains.

Start with whole-grain pancakes or waffles and replace half or all of the white flour with whole-grain flour when making your own batter. This 50/50 approach means that no one will be able to tell you’ve made a change, and you can slowly change the ratio as your family gets used to it.

Breakfast is also a great time to use up leftover whole grain wild yeast bread, either as a breakfast sandwich or with butter and strawberry jam.

Incorporating whole grains in daily meals

One simple trick to add whole grains to our daily meals is substituting white bread with whole-grain bread for sandwiches. I also like to use whole-grain pita, my super-easy and flexible 4-ingredient whole wheat tortillas, or rolls for a convenient and tasty option.

The easiest way to add more whole grains is to add a 1/4-1/2 a cup of whole grain berries to stews, casseroles, and soups as a hearty and filling ingredient.

Ruben sandwiches made with rye bread, served with French onion soup. My kids loved them!

Experiment with new foods

To keep things interesting, I like to experiment with new whole-grain foods in our meals. Some options we’ve tried and enjoyed include quinoa, barley, and farro in our salads or stir-fries. Brown rice, bulgur, or whole-grain pasta are also great alternatives to traditional white rice and pasta. Don’t be afraid to try new grains and see which ones your family prefers.

Including healthy recipes

Making whole-grain meals can be fun and delicious for the whole family. Here are some recipe ideas that we enjoy:

  • Whole-grain burgers: Swap out the white bun for a whole-grain version and add grains like quinoa or bulgur to your burger patties for a delicious and nutritious twist.
  • Tabbouleh: This refreshing salad made with bulgur, fresh herbs, and vegetables is a great way to introduce whole grains to your family, especially in warmer months.
  • Whole-grain stir-fries: Adding brown rice, quinoa, or farro to your favorite stir-fry recipes is a simple and tasty way to incorporate whole grains into your weeknight dinners.

Just remember, it’s all about finding what works best for your family and making the switch to whole grains an enjoyable and healthy experience.

Whole grain recipes and ideas

Baking with whole grains

Incorporating whole grains into baking is easier than you might think! I’ve had success substituting whole grain flour or whole-wheat flour for white flour in various recipes like cakes, muffins, and quick breads. For instance, I’ve made delicious whole grain bread and even whole grain pasta, both of which are healthier and keep me fuller longer. Another great option I found is using amaranth, which is an ancient grain that’s high in protein and perfect for boosting the nutritional value of baked goods.

Creative meal ideas

I love using whole grains like brown rice and pasta in my cooking. One of my favorites is creating healthier versions of popular dishes. For example, I often make my own tortillas using whole grain flour for delicious and nutritious sandwiches or wraps. When I crave a warm bowl of comfort food, substituting brown rice in dishes like risotto or stir-fry adds extra fiber and nutrients.

Here are a few meal ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Stir-fry: Cook brown rice and combine it with your favorite vegetables, protein, and sauce for a satisfying, nutritious meal.
  • Brown Rice Bowls: Top cooked brown rice with a variety of toppings, such as grilled chicken or tofu, roasted vegetables, and your favorite sauce.
  • Whole Grain Pasta Salad: Toss cooked whole grain pasta with fresh vegetables, protein of your choice, and a tangy vinaigrette for a great summer meal or side dish.

Whole grain snacks

I’ve found that whole grain snacks are an easy way to incorporate whole grains into my daily life. Some simple options include enjoying popcorn as a high-fiber snack, and munching on whole grain crackers with hummus, cheese, or avocado.

Here are some snack ideas to keep you satisfied and energized:

  • Popcorn: Air-popped popcorn is a quick, high-fiber snack option.
  • Whole Grain Crackers: I love pairing whole grain crackers with different types of spreads, cheeses, and fruits for a satisfying and nutritious snack.
  • Toast: Top whole grain bread with your favorite spreads, like almond butter, honey, or mashed avocado.

Remember that making small changes can have a big impact on your health. So, whether you’re trying out a new recipe or tweaking an old favorite, switching to whole grains is an easy and delicious way to make your meals more nutritious and family-friendly!

Choosing the right whole grain products

Reading ingredient labels

This store-bought bread is not made with “whole wheat flour” but instead just “wheat flour,” meaning it is NOT whole grain, even though it looks whole grain.

When I’m shopping for whole grain products, I pay close attention to the ingredient labels. To ensure that I am buying a product made with whole grains, I look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” at the beginning of the list of ingredients.

The first ingredient of this bread (with the green highlight) is made with “whole wheat,” making it a much better choice.

Sometimes, products may say “bran” or “100% wheat,” but these might not contain any whole grain. Brown or dark colors aren’t a reliable sign that foods are made with whole grains either.

Identifying whole grains council stamp

Another handy tool for choosing the right whole grain products is the Whole Grains Council Stamp, which can often be found on the packaging of whole grain products. This stamp indicates if the product is either 100% whole grain, 50% whole grain, or if it has at least 8g of whole grain.

But be careful, a product can still have the “basic stamp” and contain more refined grains than whole grains.

Shopping tips

I try to incorporate whole grains into my family’s meals in various ways, although I think it’s important to remember that what is every family is different.

The Whole Grains Council recommends that children should consume anywhere from 1.5 to 3-3.5 servings daily, which is mind-blowing. I find these way too high, even as a whole grain advocate and someone who loves grains! We typically have one, maybe two, serving of grains per day as a family, making sure that this serving is homemade and made with fresh-milled grains.

But, homemade is NOT always possible as we have busy seasons of sports and work and all the life things. When I am buying foods at the grocery store, here are some shopping tips I like to keep in mind:

  • For breakfast, I will turn to high-protein, animal-based foods as my go-to. This includes eggs, sausage (pork, chicken, and turkey), and bacon. But I also love whole grain oatmeal because you can easily add any fruit or topping for a warm healthy breakfast. I stay away from cereal in general, even if it’s marketed as “whole grain”
  • When buying breads, I stick to whole wheat options. Local bakeries will always be best but I’ve found some decent grocery store options (Aldi’s Simply Nature 21 Whole Grains & Seeds Bread isn’t perfect but is widely available). Remember, brown bread doesn’t necessarily mean whole grain so take the time to read the nutrition label and ingredients!
  • Quick side dishes are always a good addition and easy to find at your local grocery store. These include brown rice, quinoa, and barley (I add it to soups) are quick whole grains to have on hand. We eat rice a few days a week for dinner as it pairs well with Asian or Mexican food dishes, both my family loves.

By following these tips I can make healthier choices for my family when switching to whole grains.

Tips for transitioning to whole grains

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful for making the transition easier and more enjoyable for the whole family.

Combining whole and refined grains

One of the first things I did to introduce whole grains was to combine them with the refined grains my family was used to. For example, I started mixing whole wheat pasta with regular pasta and brown rice with white rice. This helped everyone become accustomed to the new textures and flavors while still enjoying some of their old favorites.

When baking, I experimented with whole wheat flour and other whole grain flours like spelt. I gradually increased the ratio of whole grain flour in my recipes, allowing my family’s taste buds to adjust over time. Hot cereals were another great opportunity to mix in whole grains, especially since many are quite versatile and can easily be paired with fruits and veggies for added flavor and nutrition.

Adjusting taste buds

Re-training our taste buds is essential for making the shift towards whole grains. I began incorporating new grain varieties into our meals, such as quinoa, bulgur, and barley. This not only offered a variety of health benefits and nutritious options but also helped reduce our carbon footprint by diversifying our food sources.

To ease the transition, I added whole grains to dishes my family already loved, like salads and stir-fries. This made it simpler for everyone to enjoy the healthier choice without feeling like they were giving up their favorite foods.

Another useful trick I discovered was to use whole grain versions of familiar products, such as whole grain crackers and bread, when grocery shopping at the supermarket. This allowed my family to enjoy their usual snacks while still reaping the benefits of whole grain nutrition, like phosphorus and fiber.

Overall, I found that embracing whole grains didn’t have to be a difficult process. By being mindful and creative with our food choices, my family has happily embraced the switch to whole grains.

Frequently asked questions

What are some kid-friendly whole grain recipes?

One of my favorite kid-friendly whole grain recipes is the classic whole grain banana pancakes, which is perfect for breakfast. Another fun recipe is homemade whole grain pizza crust, which lets kids create their own pizza toppings. Whole wheat quesadillas with various fillings, like cheese and veggies, can also be a hit with little ones.

How can I serve whole grains for toddlers?

For toddlers, I suggest starting with soft and easy-to-chew whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or barley. You can mix these grains with vegetables and protein sources, like chicken or beans, to make a well-rounded meal. You can also try using whole grain pasta as a substitute for regular pasta in your little one’s favorite dishes.

What are some easy ways to include whole grain pasta in meals?

I find it easy to replace regular pasta with whole grain varieties in most pasta dishes. For instance, whole grain spaghetti works great with marinara sauce, and whole wheat penne pairs well with pesto. You can also experiment with incorporating whole grain pasta into stir-fries, salads, and casseroles.

How much whole grains should my child eat per day?

Although the Whole Grains Council recommends that children aged 4-8 years should consume at least 1.5 servings of whole grains per day, children aged 9-13 years should aim for 2-2.5 servings, and teenagers 14-18 years should consume about 3-3.5 servings daily, I find these way too high. (Even as a whole grain advocate!) We typically have one, maybe two, serving of grains per day as a family, making sure that this serving is homemade and made with fresh-milled grains.

Always remember, what you serve your child is 100% up to you!

What are the benefits of whole grains for children?

According to the Mayo Clinic, whole grains provide essential nutrients for children, such as fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and magnesium. They also help in maintaining a healthy weight, promoting good digestion, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases later in life.

What are some tips for introducing whole grains to kids?

If I could go back in time, I would have only served whole grains for my kids. But that was not reality (ha!) and had to get my kids accustomed to whole grains and not reject them completely.

To introduce whole grains to kids, I recommend starting gradually by mixing whole grains with their favorite foods. For example, you can blend whole wheat pasta with regular pasta or replace half the white flour in recipes with whole wheat flour. Offering a variety of options, like incorporating quinoa or brown rice into meals, allows your child to explore different textures and flavors, making the whole grain experience more enjoyable.