September is Whole Grains Month and what better way to celebrate than by packing healthy, whole grain foods in your family’s lunches? But first, what exactly are whole grains?
When growing in the field, all grains start out as whole grains. Each grain kernel contains three specific parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran is the outer skin of the grain and contains fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins. The germ is the part of the grain that, if the conditions are right, will sprout and become a new plant. It contains B vitamins, a little protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm is the germ’s food supply – if the grain begins to sprout, the plant will use this food to grow roots and shoots. It is the largest part of the grain, and it contains carbohydrates and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
A grain product on the grocery store shelf is only a whole grain food if it still includes all three of the parts of the grain kernel. Many times, grains are processed into what is called refined grain. This means at least one part of the whole grain has been removed. White flour and white rice are examples of refined grains because they both have had their germ and bran removed.
Here are ten ideas for whole grain lunches to go:
- Popcorn – Popcorn is a 100% whole grain snack you can easily make at home. Avoid the pre-packaged, flavored varieties.
- PBJ – It’s an old standby. But make this one with whole wheat bread. Got a picky eater? Try whole wheat white with all the nutrition of other whole wheat varieties, but a lighter color and milder taste.
- Oatmeal Cookies – Simply adding oatmeal to your favorite cookie recipe turns them into a delicious whole grain treat.
- Whole Grain Pretzels – Skip the chips and go for a healthier crunch.
- Whole Grain Pita Pockets – They’re fun and easy to hold and you can fill them with just about anything (cream cheese, tuna, veggies or even PBJ).
- Granola Bars – Look for whole grain oats as the first ingredient and choose brands lower in sugar.
- Whole Grain Bagels – Who said they’re just for breakfast? Load them with cream cheese or peanut butter or a little mayo and your favorite deli meat and now it’s lunch.
- Whole Grain Muffins – Muffins make a great snack and as long you swap out half the white flour for whole wheat or bran, you’ve got an extra healthy one. You may need more baking powder, so experiment.
- Trail Mix – Combine nuts, dried fruit and your favorite whole grain cereal and you’ve got a super fun snack. Want to make it more fun? Throw in a few colorful M&M’s.
- Whole Wheat Tortillas – Use them to make “pinwheels.” Fill them with cream cheese, or hummus, cheese and grated carrots. Try egg salad or peanut butter and banana slices, too.