Back to School With Whole Grains
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
It’s that time of year again—back to school for the kiddos. September may signal the start of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it also happens to be Whole Grains month. This is a perfect time to remind parents there are some easy steps and swaps they can make that will help get their kids off to a good start and help them make it through the school day while doing their best.
As almost any parent can tell you, there’s something innately appealing to kids about soft white bread; puffy, sugar-laden cereals; and frosted toaster pastries. Incorporating whole grains into kids’ diets can be especially tricky; the brown color often elicits a “Yuck!” But, according to research, making the switch to whole grains is worth the effort.
While several studies have found that breakfast consumers perform better in school than breakfast skippers, some studies suggest that a breakfast of low-glycemic index foods may be the factor that confers breakfast’s benefits. Many whole grain foods, such as whole wheat breads, oatmeal, and whole grain ready-to-eat cereals are low- to moderate-glycemic index options. A recent study of 700 elementary school students (average age 7½) found that greater servings of whole grains like these at breakfast were significantly related to higher scores on standardized tests in reading comprehension and fluency as well as math.1
“Parents sometimes think that their kids won’t eat whole grains, but if you’re serving it along with other things they like, it simply becomes what they eat,” says Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RDN, coauthor of No Whine With Dinner and a food blogger for Meal Makeover Moms.
Ten Back-to-School Tips for Sneaking in Whole Grains
The benefits of whole grains also can center on lunch and after-school snacking. The following are a few suggestions for parents to help them get whole grains into their kids’ diets throughout the day.
- A growing number of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals marketed to kids are now made with whole grains. Mix-and-match might be the best approach to get kids to eat them. Mix a sweetened whole grain cereal, like granola, with one that provides less sugar, such as shredded wheat.
- Parents can give breakfast smoothies a whole grain boost by adding cooked quinoa or oatmeal.
- Many other kid-friendly breakfast foods, such as Thomas’ or Sara Lee mini bagels, toaster waffles, and Thomas’ English muffins, come in whole grain varieties.
- If time is a luxury parents can’t afford in the morning, look for breakfast bars made with whole grains.
- Pack a bag of air-popped or low-fat, microwaved popcorn, such as Skinny Girl or Orville Redenbacher’s Smartpop, in their lunch. Popcorn is a little-appreciated source of whole grains.
- Prepare lunch with a sandwich made with whole grain bread. If kids turn up their noses at dark bread, opt for whole wheat varieties that are lighter in color and milder in taste. Pepperidge Farm, Sarah Lee, Wonder, Sunbeam, and Arnold all offer white whole wheat breads.
- Whole grain pita is another good option for sandwiches, and fillings are less likely to fall out and create sticky fingers.
- For lunch, pack multigrain chips, such as Food Should Taste Good or Garden of Eatin’ brand, or Snyder’s or Auntie Anne’s whole grain pretzels instead of potato chips. Even whole grain cheese puffs are available from Eatsmart.
- Create your own trail mix with your child’s favorite dried fruit, whole grain breakfast cereals, and nuts to pack in their lunch or for after school.
- For after school, serve whole grain bagel chips like Stacey’s brand; whole grain crackers, such as Kashi brand; or multigrain snack chips with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
Need proof that kids will eat whole grains? Newell Bissex recalls a taste test the Meal Makeover Moms did several years ago. Kids were blindfolded and given whole grain goldfish, bagels, English muffins, and pretzels. The result? “They didn’t discern much of a difference,” she says. “Sometimes you have to compromise. You can’t strive for perfection. It’s a matter of taking baby steps toward better nutrition.”
— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.
1. Ptomey LT, Steger FL, Schubert MM, et al. Breakfast intake and composition is associated with superior academic achievement in elementary school children. J Am Coll Nutr. 2016;35(4):326-333.
Pumpkin Maple Pancakes
Serves 4 to 5
These can be made ahead and frozen for the ultimate in healthy convenience.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 T ground flaxseed or wheat germ
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/3 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/2 cup canned 100% pure pumpkin
1 T pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, flaxseed or wheat germ, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin, maple syrup, and vanilla until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.
3. Lightly oil or coat a large nonstick skillet or griddle with nonstick cooking spray, and heat over medium-high heat. Pour the batter onto the hot skillet using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, forming four-inch pancakes.
4. Cook until bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the pancakes and the bottoms turn golden, about three minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until the other sides are golden, an additional two to three minutes. Adjust the heat as you go if the bottoms brown too quickly. Repeat with the remaining cooking spray and batter.
Nutrient Analysis per serving (About three to four pancakes)
Calories: 250; Fat: 4.5 g; Sat fat: 1.5 g; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Sodium: 360 mg; Fiber: 5 g; Protein: 11 g
— Recipe courtesy of Meal Makeover Moms Kitchen; www.mealmakeovermoms.com/kitchen/2015/10/23/healthy-pumpkin-pancakes.