Why Whole Grains are Great for Kids


We've got another installment of our "Ask a Nutrition Expert" series, where expert Daphnie Yang answers all of our burning questions about nutrition! Take it away Daphnie...

Q: Are whole grains really better for you?


What are grains?

Many yummy foods fall into the grain category- bread, pasta, rice, cereal, muffins and oatmeal to name a few. However, within the grain category, there is a type of grain that is much better for your health- the WHOLE grain!

What are whole grains, and why are they better for kids (and their grown-ups)?

There is a big difference between WHOLE grains and REFINED grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel- the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been processed, thus removing the bran and germ. Manufacturers do this to give grain foods a finer texture and improve their shelf life. The processing and refining of grains strips them of their fiber, iron and many vitamins and nutrients. Eating too many foods containing refined grains can lead to heart disease, diabetes and high levels of blood fats called triglycerides. That's why whole grains are great for kids, and refined grains should be avoided.

farro- nomster chef - why whole grains are great for kids

So what foods are considered whole grains?

Examples of everyday healthy whole grain foods are:

  • Whole wheat pasta

  • Whole grain bread

  • Brown rice (also black rice, red rice, and wild rice)

  • Oatmeal

  • Whole cornmeal

  • Whole grain tortilla

Less common but also awesome healthy whole grains:

  • Amaranth

  • Bulgur

  • Barley

  • Farro

  • Freekeh

  • (For a full list of whole grains, check out this handy guide)

Examples of refined grain foods (i.e. food to be avoided):

  • White bread

  • White pasta (regular pasta)

  • Cookies and Pastries made with white flour

  • Flour tortillas

  • Cereal, crackers, etc. that are not made from “whole wheat”
amaranth-nomster chef- why whole grains are great for kids

How can I make sure I’m buying whole grains at the grocery store?

When going to the grocery store, don’t be tricked by marketers wanting you to think you’re buying a healthy product. Remember, if the product is listed as “whole” it means the gran, germ and endosperm are intact.

Words to look for when buying grains:

  • “Whole grain”

  • “Whole wheat”

Red flags when buying grains:

  • “Multi-grain”

  • “Wheat” (instead of “whole wheat”)

whole wheat pasta- nomster chef- why whole grains are great for kids

So Whole Grains are really health food? I thought carbs are bad for you.

Carbohydrates are our friends. The key is picking carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar. Carbohydrates give us energy, fiber and nutrients. Luckily for us, whole grains fall into the category of carbohydrates that fill us up with fiber and stabilize blood sugar. Some delicious foods that can be made with whole grains are pizza dough, pancake and waffle batter, baked chicken tenders using whole wheat bread crumbs, and muffins/cookies/baked goods made with whole wheat flour and/or oats.

How to explain the whole grain concept to kids:

If your kids protest over eating whole grains, it may help to explain the nutrition behind the funny colored rice and pasta. Here’s how Nomster Chef explains whole grains to kids:


And remember, often times the best way to encourage kids to eat something is to talk about how yummy it is! If you (the grown-up) are not yet sold on the taste of whole grains, keep trying them! You may find over time that you learn to love the added flavor.

There are many health benefits of eating whole grain foods. Whole grains are chock full of fiber, iron, nutrients, minerals and antioxidants. Whole grain foods aid digestion and metabolism. The nutrients in whole grain foods keep our hearts healthy.

For all these reasons, whole grains are great for kids!

For more information on the benefits of whole grains, visit the USDA's great Choose My Plate resource.

Thanks, Daphnie! You can also learn more about carbohydrates (and why they get a bad rap) from Daphnie's excellent nutrition and fitness podcast, Just One More. Check out the Carbs episode here!

Check out these other "Ask a Nutrition Expert" posts:

Is Whole Milk Better Than Skim?




Daphnie Yang is a Certified Personal Trainer/Certified Nutritional Counselor through the International Sports Sciences Association and believes eating nutritious can be delicious. She goes nuts for nuts and bananas for bananas. She also believes in eating the rainbow, making every plate as colorful and tasty as possible with vibrant fruits and veggies. 


About the Photographer & Illustrator

Ashley Moulton is the Founder and Nomster-in-Chief of Nomster Chef. She's got a M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford's Graduate School of Education, and loves helping kids learn about food. She would describe herself as an om-nom-nomnivore, and her favorite veggies to nom are mushrooms.