National Whole Grains Month in September provides a timely opportunity for parents and caregivers to recalibrate what they send in their children’s lunches as they head back to school. Eating whole grains can help maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol, and help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes. Yet, 4 in 10 Americans don’t eat any whole grains at all.
“School age children should eat three ounces, or three servings, of foods containing whole grains every day,” says Amy Moyer, MPH, RD of Action for Healthy Kids. “Eating one slice of whole-grain bread, a half-cup cooked brown rice and a cup of whole-grain cereal gets your kid to this goal – and there are many creative and easy ways to help your child be a whole-grain goal-getter.”
Moyer emphasizes that parents should use sharp eyes when at the grocery store. “Product labels can be confusing. It’s important to read the labels, and to buy products where the first ingredient is whole grain. Just because bread is brown or is called ‘whole wheat’ or ‘9-grain’ doesn’t make it whole grain. If bread feels heavy, it doesn’t mean it’s hearty! And crackers looking grainy or nutty aren’t always so.”
Helping children eat more whole grains is simple. As a rule of thumb, the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest trying to substitute whole grains for about half of the grains you or your children eat.
1. Buy products whose first ingredient is whole grain, such as ‘whole-wheat’ or ‘whole-grain’ corn. Other whole grains include oats, barley, wild rice, brown rice, and graham.
2. Use only 100% whole-grain bread and tortillas for sandwiches and wraps. If hesitant, give whole-grain white bread a try first.
3. Snack on whole-grain cereal with low-fat/fat-free milk.
4. Make a whole-grain breakfast burrito by slicing a banana length-wise, then rolling it with yogurt or peanut butter in a whole-grain pancake.
5. Top low-fat yogurt with a generous sprinkling of oats, or layer with yogurt, oats and strawberries to make a fun parfait.
6. Snack on baked tortilla chips with chunky salsa – the corn is whole-grain! Add a sprinkle of shredded cheese for a nutritionally sound treat.
7. Fill whole-grain pita bread with your favorite lunchmeat and vegetables, or with hummus and cucumbers. Cut the pita into triangles and bake in the oven for easy pita chips.
8. Choose whole-wheat crust for pizza.
9. Make pasta salad using whole-grain pasta. If a gradual transition is needed, mix whole-grain pasta with regular pasta, increasing the whole-grain proportion over time.
10. Experiment with lesser-known whole grains such as amaranth, barley, or protein-packed quinoa. Perhaps you’ll find a new family favorite!
For more ideas on helping children boost nutrition by incorporating whole grains and other foods, visit www.ActionforHealthyKids.org.