I wish I could tell you my family has always eaten “clean” but that would be a lie. And since my family had already been introduced to sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed food, I knew I was facing a mutiny if I changed our entire way of eating overnight. So, when I decided that eating healthy was going to be one of the cornerstones of our family life, I approached the change in a slow, gradual way to not only ward off a revolt, but also to increase the chances the changes would stick. The first step (which also turned out to be the easiest) was to swap out refined grains for whole grains. If you’re wondering how to get your family to eat more whole grains, keep reading.
Why Whole Grains?
Whole grains are an important part of our diet. Unfortunately, when you buy products that contain refined grains, you’ve lost most of the nutrition. When grains are refined, the best part of the kernel have been stripped away – the germ, bran and endosperm. Those are the parts that contain the fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Unsurprisingly, since refining grains strips them of nutrition, switching to whole grains substantially improves your health. There have been many studies that have linked eating whole grain to a reduction of chronic diseases such as stroke, type 2 diabetes and even heart disease risk. Eating whole grains keeps your sugar regulated which helps you ward off diabetes. A side benefit is that you more naturally retain a healthy weight since all that fiber keeps you full longer. To get the best weight management results, eat whole grains three times a day.
How to Eat More Whole Grains
The easiest way is to start slowly substituting whole wheat products for regular or white. To ease the transition, you can gradually shift by combining whole grains with their refined counterparts in varying ratios. Start with 1/4 whole grain to 3/4 refined and gradually increase the ratio of whole grain and reduce the amount of refined grains until you completely eliminate them. Just keep in mind that whole grains typically need more time to cook so you may need to cook them separately before combining them.
For baking, as you replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, you’ll need to add liquid to the recipe and/or reduce the amount of flour added since whole wheat flour tends to be denser than all-purpose flour. You can also use white whole wheat flour instead since it behaves like all-purpose flour but has the benefits of whole wheat flour. Also, think beyond wheat flour in your recipes. Oats work in place of flour in many recipes and there are also several other varieties of flour made from whole grains that contain other health benefits like more protein – brown rice flour, coconut flour, and almond flour. If you are daring enough to experiment with other flours, use this flour substitution chart (from Joyous Health) as a guide. Not all flour behaves the same!
Bread can be tricky since the consistency of whole wheat bread is very different from white bread. I made our swap back before white whole wheat bread was a thing so to convert my family I went first to honey wheat. Honey wheat bread is not a whole grain, but is a similar color, so it got my kids used to a darker bread (and seeing the word “wheat”). Eventually I switched to whole wheat bread and nobody seemed to notice.
Try New Foods
Depending on your family and your track record with trying new recipes, this may or may not work. Since my family was skeptical of new recipes, I had to do this very carefully. I started with quinoa. Since taco night is popular in my house, I made this southwestern quinoa salad as a side dish. Because it was a side dish, it didn’t warrant the same scrutiny my entree experiments typically endured and the flavors were consistent with the meal so the dish was accepted pretty easily.
My kids all got my sweet tooth so it was easy to get them to eat whole grains if I incorporated them into baked goods. This Whole Grain Baking cookbook has a lot of amazing recipes using different whole grains. It’s a great way to introduce new grains into your “diet” – though many of them aren’t good choices if you are “on a diet.”
Buying Whole Grains
I mentioned earlier that to switch my family to whole wheat bread, I first substituted honey wheat for our white sandwich bread. Honey wheat is not whole grain bread – a fact that still confuses my husband when I ask him to pick up bread at the store.
Be careful when you are buying products marked “wheat” that you are actually buying “whole grain” wheat. An easy way to make sure that you are getting whole grains is to check the ingredient label on the packaging. One of the first three ingredients should be whole. Also, search for products that say “100% whole wheat” on the packaging. You can find several bread products such as English muffins, pita bread, tortilla, bagels, hamburger buns and rolls that contain whole wheat. I was very sad when I realized the wheat bread at Subway isn’t actually whole wheat. A better option there is the 9-Grain Wheat or the Multigrain Flatbread since they both contain whole wheat.
Remember, just because a food is brown (or dark), doesn’t mean it’s made from whole grains. Make sure you read the label!
Adding whole grains might seem a little daunting at first, but by substituting and slowly adding to your diet you’ll get it in no time at all. You don’t have to change all at once and if your family is used to refined products it might take a few months to switch, which is okay. Each day you’ll be making progress towards better health.