Kids (and grown ups!) love ❤️ carbs and grains make up a significant portion of the average child’s daily diet. Carbohydrates are an important part of a growing child’s food intake, and for most children, carbs provide the best source of fuel for their growing muscles and active brains.
Children can get carbohydrates from starchy vegetables and fruit, but a large portion of their intake tends to come from grains – that’s why choosing the best quality grains is the first step towards improving the quality of your family’s nutrition.
In fact, if there’s one improvement I recommend all parents make, it is replacing processed grains with whole grains whenever possible, and focusing on grain variety. This is the most powerful way to immediately supercharge the nutritional value of your family’s meals & snacks!
What’s the problem with processed grains?
Processed or refined grains like white rice or white flour are simple or ‘empty’ carbohydrates. All of the fibre, vitamins and minerals your growing child needs have been stripped during processing. Unlike all whole grains, which contain three parts: the bran (outer layer), endosperm (middle layer) and germ (inner layer), refined grains are left with only the endosperm, the least nutritious part composed of starchy carbohydrates and low in nutrients. These quickly convert to sugar in the bloodstream, and a rapid spike in blood sugar may provide an instant energy hit, but very soon afterwards they may feel tired and struggle to concentrate.
Swapping to complex carbs won’t create that same insulin wobble. But note, combining simple, processed carbs with protein and healthy fats helps to lower the impact on blood sugar levels, so always aim to do this whilst you’re transitioning.
Whole grains for the win:
While processed grains are stripped of the most important nutrients, whole grains contain…
- Original phytonutrients and micronutrients
- Several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate) to unlock the energy found in carbohydrates
- Minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese and selenium)
- Dietary fibre essential for stabilsing blood sugar and eliminating constipation
How many serves of whole grains should my child be eating?
Prior to 2015, grains resided in the ‘eat most’ layer on Nutrition Australia’s healthy eating pyramid and were recommended as the largest part of our diets. However, the updated 6 layer pyramid places more emphasis on vegetables, fruit and legumes. Easier said than done? I agree - for help boosting these food groups, be sure to check out my Veggies+ and Superfruits+ products.
From toddler age until 9 (boys) or 12 (girls), it is suggested children eat no more than 4 serves of whole grains per day. Other carbohydrate serves should come from starchy vegetables.
A common problem
Many of the children I’ve seen in my practice over the years won’t eat anything other than processed grains. Processed foods such as Beige foods such as white bread, white rice, white pasta are firm favourites, and their parents’ attempts to offer alternatives are usually met with tight-lipped rejection.
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t worry – making gradual changes within the framework of your child’s favourite foods can lead to great progress.
Often, the parents I work with are surprised at how easy it is to make small changes when they slowly swap white rice for brown, white flour for wholemeal flour or refined bread for a wholemeal version.
Read your labels!
If wheat is left unprocessed it qualifies as a whole grain. Make sure the nutrition label says ‘whole’ before ‘wheat’ and not just ‘wheat’. In addition to whole wheat, there are so many other fantastic whole grains worth introducing and experimenting with, such as:
- Oats / Oat flour
- Brown rice / Brown rice flour
- Wholemeal spelt flour
You can swap plain flour for wholemeal spelt, brown rice or buckwheat flour 1:1 in conventional recipes. Most of these whole grain flour alternatives are now available in major supermarkets.
Where to start - your daily bread
The best place to start is the bread aisle - and let’s be honest, it can be a minefield!
When it comes to choosing bread, the truth is that supermarket loaves, although marketed as healthy, often do not live up to this claim. They’re often loaded with ingredients such as modified starch, canola oil, added sugar, high levels of sodium, yeast, thickener, added gluten, vegetable gum and more – some of which are hardly recognisable. Or those marketed as wholemeal don’t have a whole grain as the primary ingredient.
As a general rule, the less ingredients the better! And sometimes, a sourdough from your local bakery may tick the boxes for something soft and healthier, better than the supermarket.
For more detailed information on reading nutrition labels and choosing healthy staples such as bread, check out my Wholesome Shopping course, it is complimentary in My Wholesome Child.
Choc+ muesli bars - https://wholesomechild.com/blogs/recipes/choc-muesli-bars
Easy Berry Muffins - https://wholesomechild.com/blogs/recipes/easy-berry-muffins
Boosted Choc Biscuits - https://wholesomechild.com/blogs/recipes/easy-choc-biscuits
The issue with too much wheat or gluten
There’s nothing wrong with wheat and gluten per se, but it is the quantity of these ingredients that can cause reactions or sensitivities in susceptible children.
Hear me out. For many Aussie kids, a typical day might look like this…Breakfast - Wholemeal toast or wheat-based cereal
- Mid morning tea - Wheat crackers
- Lunch - Wholemeal sandwich
- Afternoon tea - Wheat-based Muffin
- Dinner - Stir fry with wheat-based noodles or pasta
By increasing the variety and quality of the grains your child eats, you greatly reduce their risk of developing sensitivity to wheat or gluten while maximising their nutrition on a daily basis.
If we overhaul the typical day above, it might look like this with some easy swaps…
- Breakfast - Oat porridge
- Mid morning tea - Rice or quinoa crispbreads
- Lunch - Sandwich on spelt sourdough bread
- Afternoon tea - Oatmeal or buckwheat muffin
- Dinner - Stir fry or with rice noodles or pulse pasta
If you need a helping hand with how to transition a fussy eater off refined grains, check out my Fussy Eating course. And remember, you can boost their foods while they’re learning to accept new ones to protect against blood sugar spikes. My Protein+ products are perfect for this!