Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Whole grain kids intake

Kids need whole grains for optimal health

Here's why and how to ensure they get enough

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.

Consumption of whole grains is up, but more needed

Despite a rallying cry from the health community, evidence that whole grains are linked with better health, and studies showing a significant increase in intake of whole grains by school age children over the last 15 years, whole grains consumption in all age groups remains low, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Move’em beyond poofy squish

At least one Puget Sound baker postures that for more people to reach the whole grains intake goal, they need to embrace the denser textures of whole grain foods, breads and other baked items.

“Whole grains are heavier, so the standard U.S. consumer doesn’t always appreciate the lack of poofy squish” in whole grain foods, says Evan Price, owner of Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia.

How to spot a whole grain food

To buck the trend, make sure your kids get three servings of whole grains per day. Whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar, millet, oats and other grains whose kernels contain three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm, according to The Nutrition Source at Harvard University. Each part provides healthy nutrients and their outer layers supply B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals needed for a healthy body. Whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and whole-wheat crackers are a popular source of good grains. But be wary of items labeled “multi-grain” or “honey wheat.”

What do you look for when purchasing whole grains products? Here are some tips from local nutritionists:

  • Look for the phrase 100% whole grain in the ingredients list. If it isn’t there, the grain is refined, not whole.,
  • Watch for the “Whole Grain” stamp, which tells you how much whole grain is in the product
  • Whole-grain products should be tightly packaged and well-sealed and should have a use-by date
  • Whole grains or breads and other foods that contain them should always look and smell fresh

Bake or cook with grains at home

Another way to make whole grains a part of. your family’s diet is to consider baking with them at home. You can pick up an array of whole grain flours at your local natural food stores and PCC Community Markets and you can even find them at most major grocery store chains . Check out PCCs online whole grain primer before you go.  Then get cooking, rolling, kneading and baking.

Start with your favorite recipes

Pick something your family already loves 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).

Muffin batter
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

Topping (optional)
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.

This article originally ran in Seattle’s Child in 2009. Recipe reprinted with permission from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking (copyright 2007, The Countryman Press). 

About the Author

Jennifer Crain