Increase whole grains in children’s diets for optimal health with these expert nutritional tips.
Boost whole grains for kids by serving them healthy whole grains at every meal, right next to fruits and vegetables. There are so many ways to get these nutritional powerhouses, so important for the optimal nutrition and health of a growing toddler, to the plate. Encouraging children to eat and learn to love whole, nutrient-dense foods is one of the most loving and impactful gifts we can give them. Along with vegetables and fruits, whole grains should be an integral part of a child’s meals. Whole grains provide a plethora of fiber and nutrients that are so important during this phase of rapid growth and development, not to mention the fuel to keep up with a child’s unlimited energy! Research shows that the diets of children who eat whole grains are associated with higher nutritional intake and significantly better food quality than those who do not. Yet too few children eat whole grain varieties of foods, which means they miss out on most of the benefits of whole grains. Starting kids with whole grains feeds them what they need today and lays the foundation for healthy eating for life.
Why whole grains from the start?
Right after breastmilk or infant formula, baby’s first feeding experiences should include whole grain cereals, such as rice, oats, and quinoa. We want their first foods to be pure, healthy and nourishing, just like nature created them, and that doesn’t change when they become toddlers. In fact, it’s all the more important as toddlers become active participants in meals. This continues throughout childhood. Offer them whole grains (whole grains, breads, and whole grains) whenever possible, as they contain many more nutrients than refined grains. While all grains are made up of three parts: the outer bran rich in fiber, filled with B vitamins and minerals; the micronutrient-rich germ, which contains B vitamins, vitamin E, phytochemicals and healthy fats; and starchy albumen, which contains proteins and vitamins, only whole grains keep all three intact. Refined grains (like white bread, white pasta, and white rice) contain only the endosperm. Bran and Germ packs the most nutritious punch, containing important dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds associated with health benefits.
Consuming whole grains has been shown to have many protective effects, including reducing weight gain and reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The Diet Guidelines for Americans recommend that children between the ages of one and 18 eat 1.5 to 4 ounces of nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, half of which should be whole grains, to increase dietary fiber. ensure normal gastrointestinal function (such as avoiding constipation) and prevent chronic disease.
Explore the variety of whole grains available – from the familiar oats and brown rice to the less familiar amaranth and teff – and have fun experimenting with them as substitutes for your favorite grains or try something completely new. The aim is to offer them as often as possible and to take advantage of them as a family so that the children become familiar with them, develop a taste and possibly a love for this group of healthy foods. There are many convenient packaged foods made with whole grains. Kids love to snack on whole grain cereals, crackers, muffins and snacks. Just check the labels to make sure they’re made from whole foods without preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Research shows that even 2 and 3 year olds eat too few nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, they eat too much saturated fat and sodium, which is largely in the form of snacks. For example, the most commonly eaten vegetable was French fries, and on the day of a 24-hour food recall, nearly 90 percent of toddlers had a sugary drink, dessert, or salty snack, while 30 percent of toddlers had a sweet drink, dessert, or salty snack. one hundred did not eat even a serving of vegetables or fruit. Regarding cereals, almost all children aged 2 to 3 ate some type of cereal or grain product, and almost 60 percent ate a food containing at least 50 percent whole grains. However, among the most commonly eaten foods, such as cereals, pretzels, crackers, pancakes, and pasta, very few children ate the whole grain varieties.
Choose whole-grain varieties of your child’s favorite snack foods, making sure to check the ingredient label to make sure they contain whole grains.
Strategies for serving more whole grains
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to increase your child’s intake of whole grains. Check Out These Easy, Kid Friendly Ideas To Boost Whole Grains For Young Children.
Swap the pasta! Choose whole grain pasta varieties (whole wheat, quinoa, barley, buckwheat) rather than white pasta in children’s favorite dishes like spaghetti. The sauce and toppings make it familiar enough that they try it and probably won’t even notice a difference.
Lift up the sides. Replace plain white rice as a side dish or stir-fry base with a whole grain like farro, quinoa or brown rice and boost fiber and nutritional value in a snap.
Bake and change. The next time your child craves a homemade favorite, substitute some of the white flour for whole wheat, oatmeal, or buckwheat flour and bake a batch of muffins, cookies, whole grain pancakes or waffles that will satisfy both of you. Try my Berry Oatmeal Little Muffins or Cowboy Cookies recipe pictured above.
Sell them on grain.Kids already love whole grain oats, so it’s easy to serve a bowl with nutritious toppings like fruits and nuts. Why not offer a bowl of oatmeal, quinoa or cream of wheat? You can start by mixing a whole new grain with a familiar grain.
Always go for 100% WG Whenever there is an option to choose a whole grain product, go for it! Whole grain breads for sandwiches, pita breads and whole grain English muffins for pizza crusts, tortillas for quesadillas and wraps, whole grain crackers and snacks. Make sure the ingredient label says the grain is whole grain or 100% whole grain.
For more ideas on healthy whole grain eating for kids, check out these kid friendly whole grain recipes:
Vegan blueberry and millet muffins
Vegetarian Oatmeal Zucchini Patties
Strawberry, banana and coconut baked oatmeal
Written by Lori Zanteson with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Photos by Sharon Palmer.
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