Bake up Some Whole Grains; Kids Need Them, Too!
Without question, parents want to serve their kids food that is good for them. But even health-conscious moms and dads often overlook whole grains.
Most baked goods contain not only an overload of fats and sugars, but refined starches that can burden kids' bodies (and ours). The culprit is the staple in any traditional baker's kitchen: enriched, "all purpose" flour.
Despite a rallying cry from the health community and evidence that whole grains are linked with better health, consumption of whole grains in all age groups remains low. Only about 4 percent of Americans ages 12 and older are eating enough whole grains, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Whole grain intake among children is discouraging. The USDA's dietary guidelines recommend three servings of whole grains each day for youngsters and adults, alike. But a survey of children and adolescents ages 2 to 18 found that "average whole grain intake ranged from 0.8 servings per day for preschool-aged children to 1.0 servings per day for adolescents."
Kids' diets may be lacking in whole grains because adults aren't doing much better. USDA statistics show that the average American adult consumes too many grains overall (10 daily servings rather than the recommended seven) and very few whole grains (only about one serving per day).
Clearly, parents and kids, alike, have not fully embraced the more complex flavor and heartier texture of whole grains. "Whole grains are heavier, so the standard U.S. consumer doesn't always appreciate the lack of poofy squish" in goods baked with whole grains, says Evan Price, owner of Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia.
One way to buck the trend and serve your kids three servings of whole grains per day is to start baking with them at home. Buy some whole grain flours at your local natural food store or food co-op – you can even find them at most major grocery store chains – and get started.
Start with your favorite recipes and substitute some of that enriched flour with whole grain flour. A good starting point is to use about half whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour and half unbleached "all-purpose" flour.
Be adventurous. Branch out and try new flours – you may find something you like even better. Price prefers the slightly nutty flavor and airy texture of flour made from spelt, an ancient species of wheat. (He suggests using about 40 percent whole grain flour when mixing with enriched.) Experiment by grinding oats or making cookies with some barley or even white rye flour. Try switching to "white whole wheat" flour. According to the Whole Grains Council, this whole grain variety is made from a sort of albino wheat and is a milder-flavored alternative to traditional whole wheat flours, which are made from red wheat.
Give it a rest. Try allowing a whole grain pancake batter to sit for about 15 minutes or your muffin batter to rest overnight before baking. This gives the flour time to absorb liquids more completely and will help with leavening. If you're adding whole grains to an old favorite, you may need to increase the amount of liquids in the recipe to compensate.
Use organic flours. In addition to supporting sustainable farming practices, the flavor of organic flours is far superior to that of non-organic, Price says. Since organic flours can cost more, buy small amounts from bulk bins, if available, and store in the freezer. If you use some enriched "all-purpose" flour, make sure it's unbleached to avoid the off-flavors and health risks of added chemicals.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to improve the healthfulness of your family's diet by baking with whole grains. It's a simple change you can make that will yield big pay-offs in the long run.
What's So Great about Whole Grains and Health?
Studies have shown that consuming recommended amounts of whole grains – three servings a day – lowers the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, type II diabetes and several types of cancer. "A whole grain will also digest more slowly than a processed one," says Judy Simon, dietitian and owner of Mind Body Nutrition in Bellevue. "This keeps blood sugar levels stable, providing more sustained energy than refined grains."
Since much of the nutrient-and fiber-rich portions of the grain (the bran and germ) have been removed during processing, refined "all-purpose" flour is required by law to be "enriched." That is, five essential nutrients uncommon in U.S. diets are added back in: niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid and iron.
But Simon warns: "Just because a product is enriched doesn't mean it has all the nutrients the original whole grain contained. A whole grain gives us more than just fiber. It provides us with energy, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals."
Indeed, a USDA comparison between whole grain wheat flour and enriched white flour showed that whole wheat contained significantly more protein, more fiber, superior quantities of thirteen minerals and vitamins, slightly fewer calories and fewer carbohydrates than enriched flour.
RECIPE: Gingered Oatmeal Muffins
Replace that bagel in your kids’ lunch with a whole grain muffin. Try this one. Each muffin contains 14 grams of whole grains, or just under one serving (a serving is defined as 16 grams of whole grains).
1 cup white whole wheat flour
½ cup oat flour
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup diced crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a muffin tin or line with papers and coat the papers with nonstick spray.
2. Stir together the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together milk, oil (or butter), eggs and vanilla. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to blend. Stir in the crystallized ginger. If making the topping, stir the sugar and spices together.
3. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the muffins with the topping, if using. Bake the muffins 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling.
Reprinted with permission from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking (copyright 2007, The Countryman Press).