Boost Whole Grains for Young Kids

Sharon Palmer

Boost whole grains for young kids by serving them wholesome whole grains at every meal, right beside fruits and veggies. There are so many ways to bring these nutritional powerhouses—so important for a growing tot’s optimal nutrition and health—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 fruit, whole grains should be an integral part of a toddler’s meals. Whole grains deliver a host 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 toddler’s boundless energy! Research shows that diets of toddlers who eat grains are associated with higher nutrient intake and significantly better diet quality compared with those who do not eat them. Yet, too few young children are eating whole-grain varieties of foods, which means they’re missing out on the bulk of whole grains’ goodness. Starting kids off with whole grains nourishes them with what they need today and sets the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Why Whole Grains?

After mother’s milk or infant formula, baby’s first food experiences should include whole grain cereals, such as rice, oats, and quinoa. We want their first foods to be pure, wholesome, and nourishing, just as nature created them—and that doesn’t change when they become toddlers. In fact, it’s even more important as little ones become active participants in mealtimes. Offer them whole grains—whole grain cereals, breads, and intact grains—whenever possible, because they pack so much more nutrition than refined grains. While all grains are made up of three parts: the outer fiber-rich bran filled with B vitamins and minerals; the micronutrient-rich germ, which contains B vitamins, vitamin E, phytochemicals, and healthy fats; and the starchy endosperm, which has some proteins and vitamins, only whole grains keep all three intact. Refined grains (such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice) contain only the endosperm. The bran and the germ contain the most nutritional punch, packing important dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds associated with health benefits.

Whole grain consumption has been shown to have many protective effects, including reduced weight gain and risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends children between the age of one and 18 years eat 1.5- to four-ounces of nutrient dense foods such as whole grains, half of which should be whole grains, to increase dietary fiber, ensure normal gastrointestinal function (like avoiding constipation), and prevent chronic diseases.

Rice, wheat and other whole grains provide fiber and important vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to nourish and fuel toddlers’ rapid growth.

Explore the variety of whole grains out there—from familiar oats and brown rice to less familiar amaranth and teff—and enjoy experimenting with them as substitutes for your go-to grains or trying something completely new. The goal is to offer them as often as possible and to enjoy them as a family so children become familiar with them, developing a taste for, and eventually, a love for this healthy food group. Definitely seek out convenient packaged foods made with whole grains. Kids love Sprout Organic pouches and snacks made with whole organic vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and no preservatives or artificial ingredients. Their Fruit, Veggie & Grain Blend pouches come in tasty combinations of whole grain oats, quinoa, and fruit, and their Plant Power Puffs are made with fruits and veggies and a full 5 grams of whole grains.

Research shows that 2- and 3-year-olds are eating too few nutrient-dense foods, including fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. However, they are eating too much saturated fat and sodium, which are largely in the form of snacks. For example, the most commonly consumed vegetable was French fries and on the day of a 24-hour dietary recall, nearly 90 percent of toddlers consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage, dessert, or salty snack, while 30 percent did not eat even one serving of vegetables or fruit. When it comes to grains, almost all of the 2- to 3-year-olds consumed some type of grain or grain product, and nearly 60 percent ate a food containing at least 50 percent whole grain. However, of the most commonly consumed foods, such as cereals, pretzels, crackers, pancakes and pasta, very few children ate the whole grain varieties.

Choose those whole grain varieties of your tyke’s favorite snack foods, being sure to check the ingredients label to be sure they contain whole grains. Sprout Organic Foods pouches and snacks are made with 100% natural, organic whole vegetables, fruits, pulses, and grains, with no additives or preservatives. They are a quick and convenient way to introduce new flavors and tastes to young children—beets, quinoa, butternut squash, chickpeas—that will encourage their willingness to try and develop their taste for healthy foods.

Strategies to Serve More Whole Grains

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to ramp up your toddler’s whole grains intake. Check out these simple, kid-pleasing ideas to boost whole grains for young kids.

Swap the Pasta! Choose whole grain varieties of pasta—whole wheat, quinoa, barley, buckwheat—over white pasta in kid faves like spaghetti. The sauce and toppings keep it familiar enough that they’ll give it a try and probably not even notice a difference.

Farro is a great whole grain alternative to white rice or white pasta.

Kick Up the Sides. Switch out plain white rice as your go-to side or stir-fry base with a whole grain like farro, quinoa, or brown rice and ramp up the fiber and nutritional value in a snap.

Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins contain whole grain oats, fruits, and veggies—a plant-based way to nourish little ones.

Bake & Switch. The next time your tot craves a homemade baked favorite, switch out part of the white flour with whole wheat, oatmeal, or buckwheat flour and bake up a batch of whole grain muffins, cookies, pancakes or waffles that will satisfy you both. Try my recipe for Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins, or my no-bake Kids Pumpkin Power Balls, which uses whole grain oats and a pouch of Sprout Organic Pumpkin Apple Red Lentil with Cinnamon, doubling up the whole grains.

Sprout Organic Fruit, Veggie & Grain Blends are perfect for little hands and filling bellies with nutrient-dense whole grains.

Sell ‘em on Cereal. Kids already love whole grain oats, so it’s easy to serve a bowl with nutritious toppings like fruit and nuts. Why not offer a bowl of grits, quinoa, or cream of wheat? You can start by mixing the new whole grain into a familiar one. A super easy and convenient way to do this is with Sprout Organic Fruit, Veggie & Grain Blends, in flavors like Peach Banana Quinoa Raisin and Mixed Berry Oatmeal made with whole, organic fruits and grains. Little ones love the fun flavors and package too!

Toddlers love to snack on Sprout Organic Plant Power Puffs, which pack 5 grams of whole grains.

Always Opt for 100% W.G. Anytime there’s an option to choose a whole grain product, go for it! Whole grain breads for sandwiches, whole grain pita and English muffins for pizza crust, tortillas for quesadillas and wraps, whole grain crackers and snacks. Be sure the ingredients label lists the grain as whole grain or 100% whole grain like Sprout Organic Plant Power Puffs, which have 5 grams of whole grains, plus a yummy and nutritious blend of real fruits and veggies.

Note: This blog post is sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.

2 thoughts on “Boost Whole Grains for Young Kids

  1. Eating whole grains is definitely a plus, however is there an alternative to this, as my 4 yr old granddaughter is intolerant for grains? Quinoa is ok, except she doesn’t like it!

    1. Whole grains include a variety of grains, including buckwheat, brown rice, oats, quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, millet, wild rice, rye, and barley. Maybe keep trying a few until she likes them!

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