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MyPlate and the Update on Grains

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MyPlate is a tool to help you teach your kids balanced eating.  Part of balanced eating is including whole grains in our diet.  In our carb conscious society, you might be wondering how and which grains fit into a healthy diet.  With the simplicity of MyPlate, and some research based guidelines,  you don’t have to wonder!  Grains are a part of MyPlate because of their important contributions to our health.  The bottom line is that grains are part of a healthy diet for kids!

What are the health benefits of eating foods from the grains group?

Besides the health benefits listed above, along with an overall healthy diet, eating whole grains may lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity and may reduce blood cholesterol levels.  Folate, a B vitamin found in grains, is imperative before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects during fetal development.

The nutrients in grains help give kids the energy they need to sustain their super active little bodies from sports, to playing, to working in school!

What foods are included in the grains group?

Foods made from wheat, oats, rice, barley, cornmeal, sorghum, rye, millet, farro, freekeh, emmer, spelt and triticale, which are all cereal grains, are considered to be grain products.  Even though amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and several other members of this group are not true cereal grains, they are nutritionally similar to grains and are included in the grains group.  A complete list of whole grains and descriptions of each can be found here.

What is the difference between whole grains and refined grains?

Whole grains are made from the entire grain kernel, which is made up of the bran, germ and endosperm.  Refined grains have been milled, and so the bran and germ are removed. Milling removes many B vitamins, dietary fiber, and iron.  Many refined grains are enriched, meaning that certain B vitamins and iron are added back after processing.

How many grains should kids eat everyday? 

A table showing how much grains are recommended daily is shown here.  At a minimum, half of your daily grains should come from whole grains.

What is considered a one ounce serving of grain?

  • One slice of bread
  • One cup of cereal
  • Half of a cup of cooked rice, cooked cereal, or cooked pasta

What are some tips for increasing the amount of whole grains that your family eats?

  • Try substituting whole grain alternatives for refined products. Try whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice, et cetera instead of their refined counterparts.  Not all brands taste the same, so try different brands until you find one that your family likes.  You can start by trying these substitutions in casseroles where the flavor change may go unnoticed.
  • Substitute a whole grain flour for half of the white flour in muffin, pancake, or other recipes.
  • Add half of a cup of wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to homemade or canned soups and stews.
  • When making hamburgers, meatballs, or meatloaf, add three fourths of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of meat.
  • Try replacing one third of the flour in a recipe with old fashioned or quick cooking oats.
  • Look for cereals with whole grains, such as buckwheat or spelt.
  • Substitute whole grain bread or whole grain cracker crumbs in recipes. We make our own whole wheat bread crumbs from the ends of our bread loaves since no one in our house likes the ends.
  • Snack on popcorn or whole grain ready-to-eat cereals.
  • Cook extra bulgur, barley, or brown rice to freeze and reheat when needed.
  • Be a good role model. Allow your kids to see you eating whole grains.

Tips for finding whole grains:

  • Look for the Whole Grain Stamp on products to help you narrow down your choices.
  • Look for one of the whole grains listed below to be listed first on the food’s ingredient list.
  • Keep in mind that foods labeled with the words “100% wheat,” “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “bran,” “cracked wheat,” or “seven-grain,” are usually not whole-grain products.
  • Do not use color as an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of added ingredients, such as molasses.
  • Compare the Nutrition Facts label of similar foods to choose a whole grain product with a higher percent daily value (% DV) for fiber. Good sources of fiber contain 10% to 19% of the daily value for fiber and excellent sources contain 20% or more.
  • Read the food labels ingredient list to look for added sugars, and choose grains with fewer added sugars.  Terms such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, raw sugar, honey, malt syrup, or maple syrup indicate added sugar.

Grains and carbs often get a bad rap.  But when eaten as part of a healthy diet and integrated into MyPlate, with at least half (or more) servings coming from whole grains and combined with fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy, they are a wonderful addition to our diet and to our health.

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

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