Lately, I’ve been doing a few nutrition courses to get a bit more knowledge on the subject and the main thing that stuck with me is how variety plays such an important part of a healthy diet. It makes sense if you think about it, different foods provide different nutrients so eating various foods every day helps reach the recommended intake of nutrients we need to keep us healthy. In Japan, they even recommended to eat 30 different foods a day! This may be hard to achieve but adding a little variety actually makes meals more interesting. It’s so easy, especially when cooking for kids and time is limited, to get into habits of cooking the same meals week after week with ingredients that are familiar to us.
So, I’ve been trying to add a little variety to our family meals. I started with grains as they are an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. Here’s a list of our 12 favourite grains to try with the kids, some more common than others:
1- Corn – Soft Polenta
Soft Polenta is great, it’s a bit like mash potato. It could be bland but cook it in stock and add parmesan and it’s really tasty. You can also find my recipe for Polenta Chips here. You can also make polenta chips with a ready made polenta block , cutting it into fingers and baking them in the oven on an oiled tray until crispy. Super easy and a healthier option to potato fries.
2- Buckwheat- Buckwheat Pasta/ Soba noodles
Buckwheat groats take a little time to cook but buckwheat can be found in other products.Why not substitute your normal pasta with Buckwheat Penne from time to time? My kids seem to like most types of pasta so I usually rotate between Gluten Free, Wholewheat, Buckwheat and plain Durum Wheat pastas just to add a little variety. Soba noodles (made from buckwheat) are also a good alternative to egg noodles.
It don’t make Millet that regularly but I should probably cook it more often. It takes a bit of time to prepare but it’s a great grain with lots of health benefits. I would cook a double batch, eat it plain or in a salad one night and then make these millet croquettes for the kids the next day.
Quinoa is actually seed and not a cereal, however as it can be used much like a grain is is considered a pseudo-cereal. Everyone loves Quinoa in our household, so we have it most weeks. I quite often serve it plain with a knob of butter as an alternative to rice. It doesn’t take too long to cook (15 minutes) and it’s good for you. I also sometimes buy Quinoa pops and mix them with the kids Rice Krispies, I like them too.
5- Brown Rice
Ok, so you do need to have a little extra time for brown rice but it’s worth doing from time to time. Including whole grains such as brown rice in our diet is important as it has many health benefits and rich in nutrients and fiber. I also find brown rice keeps better than white, so double the portion and make a salad the next day.
Oats are probably the easiest way to add wholegrains to yours and the kids diets. Have it as porridge or granola for breakfast or bake healthy treats such as my carrot cake oaty bars. And you don’t even need to cook them: just add a spoonful to fruit smoothies and you get the benefit of extra vitamins, minerals and fibre. A true superfood!
Farro refers to a type of heirloom/ ancient wheat grain, it could be either einkorn, spelt or emmer as it can be sold as farro piccolo, farro grande and farro medio. I recently found out that I can buy Quick Cook Emmer Wheat (Farro) from my local Tesco which only takes 10 minutes to cook. If your kids like brown rice they would probably eat Farro too.
Just like Farro it is a heirloom wheat grain but Kamut® (pronounced ka-moot) is actually a trademark for the ancient khorasan wheat variety. Being a trademark brings the advantages of knowing it is always grown certified organic, never hybridized or genetically modified. I found it interesting to read that some studies have been conducted to show that ancient wheat grains such as Kamut® are healthier than modern wheat and can benefit people with IBS or type 2 diabetes. I also found Kamut® in Tesco in their Wholefoods Quick Cook 10 minutes range so there’s no excuse not to give it a try.
It’s so versatile, I like it plain as well as in salads and tabbouleh.You can apparently also add it to mince meat to make it go a bit further whilst cooking your favourite recipes, I want to try it next time I make a chilli! It’s worth buying cracked bulgur wheat as it only takes 8-10 minutes to cook.
Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is young green wheat that has been toasted and cracked. It has a slightly nutty, chewy texture and I love it. Again, choose cracked Freekeh as it’s takes less time to cook. Try my Poached Chicken with Freekeh here.
11-Wheat-Giant Couscous ( Also called Israeli Couscous)
We have couscous regularly as it’s so easy and quick to prepare but giant couscous is a fairly new one for our family. It takes a little more time to prepare but it’s still ready in about 10-12 minutes. Couscous is not a grain, they are small balls of semolina that have been toasted and cook much like pasta. You can also buy wholegrain giant couscous which is a healthier option but my kids were less keen on it.
Barley has a very high fiber content, it also contains lots of vitamins, minerals & antioxidants. I quite like mixing it up sometimes and using Pearl barley instead of rice to make a risotto but the easiest way is just added to soups and casseroles.