What are whole grains? What different types are there? What do they taste like? Why are they important and how can they be easily incorporated into family meals? This month I’d like to explore these questions as we build a case to support adding whole grains to the family menu. Whole grains provide a base to the wonderful seasonal vegetables that we can enjoy in the spring and summer. They can be added to hearty soups or incorporated into healthy casseroles in the fall and winter. They are also very economical, which is always a plus. So let’s learn more about them!
What are Whole Grains? A grain is a seed made up of three parts – the germ, bran and endosperm. You might remember these terms from high school biology. J The germ will, upon germination and sprouting, give rise to the first tiny leaves and rootlets; the endosperm provides the starchy bulk of the grain which nourishes the seedling during its early growth; and the bran is the tough outer coating that protects the grain. Each part contains different vitamins, minerals, oils and nutrients. So when grains are processed, removing parts of the original grain such as the bran and the germ, the nutrients that are associated with these parts are lost. Because of the loss in nutrients during the milling and refining process, flours are “enriched” by manufacturers. The “enrichment” process usually involves adding back in thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. However, refined grains still don’t have as many nutrients as whole grains do. White flour contains, for example, less than 1/3 of the pyridoxine and folic acid contained in whole wheat flour. Another example is vitamin E, which is destroyed by bleaching; white flour contains as little as 14% of the vitamin E in whole wheat flour. (1) So it is important to look for whole grains instead of processed grains to ensure maximum nutritional value from your grain intake.
What are Some Different Types of Whole Grains? Throughout the world, there is a wide variety of grains cultivated. Each culture and climate has its favorites. In the US some of the most popular grains include rice, wheat, corn, and oats. My own personal favorites are quinoa, barley and millet. Some more exotic options include amaranth, faro, hominy, kamut, rye, sorghum, spelt, teff, triticale, and wheat berries.
What do Various Whole Grains Taste Like? Here is a chart based on the palette of Lorna Sass, author of Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. I’ve included only some examples to get you started:
|Oats (steel cut)||Chewier than rolled oats; wholesome texture|
|Bulgur||Chewy, popular in Middle Eastern dishes|
|Millet||Very mild, firm but not tough|
|Quinoa||Slightly sweet, herbal taste|
|Long grain brown rice||Light and fluffy; less chewy than short grain|
Why Should Grains Be Incorporated Into the Family Menu? Besides being extremely economical, grains have a great nutrition profile. Here is a chart created by Heather Sullivan, R.D. (2).
(½ cup dry)
|Brown rice||374||2.5||0.5||72||3.2||7.1||B vitamins||Magnesium Zinc, Iron||Higher in protein and 3x the fiber of white rice|
|Rolled oats||150||3||0.5||27||4||5.5||B vitamins||Magnesium Iron||2 grams cholesterol lowering soluble fiber|
|Barley||320||1||0||74||10||10||B vitamins||Magnesium||Top 3 in Fiber and protein|
|Bulgur||240||1||0||53||13||9||B vitamins||Iron, Magnesium||Tops in Fiber|
|Steel cut oats||300||4||0||52||8||8||B vitamins||More Calcium than rolled oats||More flavor than rolled oats|
|Millet||360||4||0||64||12||9.6||B vitamins||Magnesium Iron||Fiber and protein top 3|
|Quinoa||340||5||0||60||6||14||B vitamins||Iron, Zinc, Magnesium||Tops in protein, great source of iron|
How Can Grains Be Easily Incorporated Into Family Meals? When I want to plan a meal quickly and simply, I avoid cookbooks, complex recipes and long shopping lists and instead think about a meal in terms of a recipe framework. Recipe frameworks give you a basic understanding of what elements you might like to combine (a grain with a protein source, some vegetables, a healthy fat and seasonings, for example). They allow you to make the decisions about what goes into your dish based on your families’ own food preferences and tastes as well as what you have on hand in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Recipe frameworks make meal planning flexible, simple and easy.
Note: You’ll notice that we’ve suggested using a rice cooker to cook your grains, because it is so easy to prepare them this way. You can also cook grains the conventional way using a pan on the stovetop. If you don’t have a rice cooker, there are some inexpensive options in the Nurture store.
At Nurture, through our work with resource-limited families, we have developed a set of example recipes developed from each framework. These recipes incorporate low-cost ingredients but still render an incredibly delicious meal. Here are some examples for breakfasts.
For lunches and dinners, I developed Fiesta Casserole years back and often served it at play-date gatherings. I have found this recipe to a be a hit with all ages. My family (and extended family) consistently ask for this meal. I often make large batches and freeze them. Tabouli requires more of an acquired taste in a child or an adventurous eater. My husband and I love Tabouli (especially drizzed with a bit of balsamic vinegar).
To further test the concept of the Grain Recipe Framework, I enlisted the help of Nurture board members Beth Busch and Colleen Scopacasa. They each took the Grain Recipe Frameworks and invented various meals for their families. I also tried some of my own variations on Fiesta Casserole (which has a southwestern or Mexican flare) and tried some other versions based on different international flavorings and ingredients. See below for charts of our explorations at the meal table– and have fun with your own grain adventures!
Thanks Beth and Colleen for your great work on these “whole grain meal adventures” with your families!
|Invented by||Recipe Name||Grain||Fruit/Veggie||Seasoning||Protein||Comments|
|Beth||Banana Oats||Steel cut oats||Bananas/ Golden Raisins||Cinnamon||Strawberry yogurt||“I think vanilla yogurt or a bit of vanilla would have given it even a better flavor. Easy to make ahead and then warm up.”|
|Beth||Inca eggs*||Quinoa||Sauteed spinach||Yellow mustard, salt, pepper||Scrambled eggs||“The kids were not crazy about the spinach, but my husband and I liked it. Medium results.”|
|Colleen||Chop||Steel cut oats||Pears||Honey/ Cinnamon||Ground pecans||“Ground pecans are a great way to sneak in protein. My 3 year old didn’t know they were there!”|
|Colleen||Barley corn bananas||Barley||Bananas||Honey||Almonds||“Anything with honey was a hit!”|
|Colleen||Yotes and Berries||Steel cut oats||Strawberries||None needed||Vanilla yogurt|
|Kathryn||Blue Oats||Steel cut oats||Blueberries||Honey||Blueberry yogurt||“My husband now eats this every morning”|
|Kathryn||Blue Barley||Barley||Blueberries||Honey/ vanilla||Blueberry yogurt||“This is second best to Blue Oats”|
* Quinoa was called “the mother grain” by the ancient Incas.
|Invented by||Recipe Name||Grain||Fruit/Veggie||Seasoning||Protein||Comments|
|Beth||Spicy Chicken and Barley||Barley||Steamed broccoli, sauteed mix of garlic, red pepper and canned fired roasted tomatoes||Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar||Shredded cooked chicken||“No precise measurements, just to taste. Thumbs up with the kids. I have to say it was tasty!!!”|
|Beth||Spring Peas with Chicken and Rice||Brown rice||Frozen peas||Ginger, fresh mint, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard||Cooked chicken||“My family said too much mint (I put 4 Tbsp in) and a bit dry. I would add a bit of orange juice. I would also shred the chicken—my kids find shredded chicken not as dry and easier to chew. It was such a refreshing spring taste!”|
|Peas, green onion, tomato||Salt pepper||Cheddar cheese, ham||“We used the framework as a leftover system. Anything I cooked for the week was added, except the grains, and just mixed together and baked – it really stretched our pantry!”|
|Colleen||Black, Yellow, Brown||Brown RiceBarley||Black beans, corn, chickpeas||Cilantro, salsa, salt||Chicken, cheese|
|Kathryn||Italian Casserole||Brown Rice
|Tomatoes||Fresh basil/ Italian seasoning||White beans and ricotta cheese in casserole, shredded mozzarella on top||“Not as good as Fiesta Casserole, but my daughter and husband were big fans.”|
Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.