Parents want their kids to eat healthy, but no one wants to hear “yuck” or “gross” when they put dinner on the table. But as a professional recipe developer I’ve developed a sizeable arsenal of tricks to get kids to love any food — even whole grains!
The “whole grain” is the seed or kernel of a plant in its complete form. Grains have three parts, the endosperm which contains starch and protein, the bran – rich in fiber, minerals, and phytonutrients, and the germ – full of B vitamins, vitamin E and other antioxidants and minerals. “White” or refined grains like white flours and white rice are stripped of their most nutritious parts when they take away the bran and sometimes the germ too.
Getting kids to eat whole grains is not hard when you start with things that kids know and already like. Try these easy swaps before trying something totally new.
Crazy for Couscous
Coucous is a tiny pasta that comes from Morroco and is also used in Southern French cuisine. Most parents report that their kids really love it, and coussous can be fluffy and light, and totally simple to prepare. You can add whole wheat couscous to your pantry for around $2 a box and the best part is that it looks like the white counterpart and doesn’t taste that much different.
Make the Swap that Matters
Swapping out white bread for whole grain might sound easy – but it’s the one swap that takes some simple nutrition know-how. Sadly, a lot of so called “whole grain” products out there like breads, crackers, and cereal are made with a mixture of white flour, loads of preservatives and things like high fructose corn syrup. There are three easy ways to make sure your whole wheat bread is sound.
1 – First look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should have the word “whole” in it like whole wheat, whole oats, whole spelt – the word “whole” plus the type of flour should be the only flour listed. Enriched wheat flour isn’t really 100% wheat – it’s wheat flour that has been partially stripped of bran and then had vitamins added back.
2 – Second look for preservatives Those may be words you don’t recognize, for example things like calcium propionate or sodium propionate. Next, if it has the whole grains councel stamp, then you know it’s make with real whole grains, but you should still check for preservatives. Quality whole grain bread is both soft and tasty for kids.
Sow Your Oats
People might not know that oatmeal is a whole grain. But start with a good brand of rolled oats or steel cut oats that don’t have added sugar or flavorings. Spruce up your morning oatmeal with ground flax – most kids will eat oatmeal, but why not make it even healthier by adding flax?
I’m a huge fan of short grain brown rice because its awesome chewiness works great in stir fries… the grains stick together nicely like white rice, and you can even reheat leftovers without the rice turning to mush. There is a trace amount of oil in all grains so to keep them from becoming rancid, I store all my whole grains (like brown rice) in the freezer until I’m ready to cook them.
Nifty and New
When trying new foods with kids, I always do it the way my granny used to. I make their favorite meal and just add one side of something new. I always take a bite myself so they can see that it’s something I enjoy as well – kids follow by example and learn what to eat from their parents and people around them.
Keen for Quinoa
Sometimes called a whole grain, quinoa is actually the seed grown in South America, but it’s a wonderful whole food that has the health properties of whole grains. Most kids like it because of its mild taste and creamy texture. It also has a fun shape kids love, like a curly q that makes eating fun. Cooking quinoa is as easy as cooking rice, only faster. Rinse it first, under cold water, to help remove a natural compound that can make it bitter. Some brands of quinoa are “pre-washed” so check the label before rinsing. Add a little olive oil, parmesan or just serve plain.
Berry Delicious Wheat Berries
Wheat berries (also called groats), look like short grain brown rice. They have a fabulous, almost “bouncy” tooth feel and make excellent risotto and cold salads. Though they can be a bit costly if you buy them in a health food store, they are really delicious and you can always hunt them down at bargains online.