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Whole Grains and Your Family

Everywhere you look, people are trying to “Go Green,” making environmentally responsible choices to help the planet. When you think about it, what could be better for the Earth than decreasing the energy needed to mechanically refine products while boosting the energy in our bodies by eating whole foods?

Fortunately, cereal companies have jumped on the bandwagon, making it easier than ever to introduce whole-grain products to our children from the moment they begin table foods. In fact, the largest area of growth in the food industry is the organic, whole food found in mainstream supermarkets in increasing quantities.

Still, whole-grain food can be tricky to track down at the grocery store. That’s why label reading is a must. First, you have to make sure the key ingredient has the word “whole” in it. For example, there’s a big difference between “wheat bread” and “whole wheat bread.” The former is processed white flour with a colorant, often molasses, added to make it look darker than white bread. The later is not processed.

Whole grains are dense in nutrients and contain lots of antioxidants as well as phytochemicals, which are only found in plants. Studies show that phytochemicals, together with fiber, vitamins and minerals, improve overall health and probably protect against certain types of cancers by deactivating the cells. Whole grains also supply those essential vitamins and minerals we need, as well as the “healthy” fats.

Since many kids are fussy eaters, how do we convince them that whole grains are better for them than processed grains? The answer is, we don’t. We slowly add whole grains into their diets, removing a processed item at the same time.

Cereals are a great place to start because most children don’t notice a difference. Then move onto pastas. Whole-wheat spaghetti is still spaghetti. Covered with sauce, it tastes just as good. There are so many wholegrain pastas available that finding one shouldn’t be difficult. Although they may cost a little more initially, your family will eat less because a serving—1 cup cooked—will actually fill them up. So, you’ll probably end up saving money! This also applies to brown rice.

If necessary, you can introduce whole grains to your kids by starting with a combination of whole and processed grains, gradually eliminating the processed portion. Just know that there’s a difference in cooking time between the two, so start boiling your whole grains first, later adding the processed pasta or rice to the same pot.

Changing from white to whole-wheat bread may be more challenging than pasta or rice. But with some ingenuity, you can do it. When making a sandwich, use one slice of their favorite bread and the other side the whole grain bread you’re introducing. Put their favorite filling inside so that they focus on that instead of the bread. Toast should be easier because the color difference between white and whole-wheat bread isn’t as obvious after toasting. And remember, whole grains come as crusty loaves and soft crust, so you don’t have to change the shape of the bread you offer your kids.

Once you’ve made these changes, consider taking more steps to make yours a whole-wheat household. When making pizza at home, use a whole-wheat pizza crust, which you can buy pre-made or make from scratch. You’ll probably notice that these crusts taste better and are moister. Tortillas, also available in whole wheat, make great sandwich wraps.

If you have been down the baking aisle at the grocery store, you’ve probably seen whole-wheat flour on the shelves. Although it’s slightly darker than its white counterpart, it bakes up the same and can replace white flour in any recipe. Cookies made with whole-wheat flour are fabulous, and don’t forget about oatmeal! The old-fashioned kind of oatmeal is best, both for breakfast and for cookies.

Now you’re ready to start experimenting with all the foods you can make healthier with whole grains. Your family will be healthier, will eat less and will have more energy—guaranteed!

Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant