New University of Minnesota research suggests some strategies to get kids to eat more whole grains, whether the kids know it or not.
Right now, less than 1 percent of Americans ages 9 to 18 meet dietary guidelines to eat three to five servings of whole grains per day. This despite research showing that whole grains have a variety of health benefits, compared to white or refined grain breads that have literally had vitamins removed as part of the process to improve their shelf life.
One study confirmed an increase in dietary intake among elementary school students when the amount of whole grain was increased in the recipes for pizzas, pastas and breads served at their schools -- or when white rice was replaced with brown rice. (On average, 25 percent of refined grain was substituted with whole grain.)
On average, the students switched from eating only 6 percent of recommended whole grains at school, to eating 28 percent of the daily recommended amount. (The increase in whole grain intake was most profound among students in poverty.) The U of M authors concluded that gradually increasing the use of whole grains in recipes at home and in schools would improve children's whole grain intake without causing them to reject the food based on its different taste or appearance. Rolls and pizza with higher whole grain content were popular among the students.
A second U of M study, published like the first one in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, actually weighed the amount of discarded food to assess whether students in Minnesota and Texas schools warmed up to whole grain options. The study focused on whether students would eat pancakes and tortillas made of 50 percent or 100 percent whole grains when compared to enriched grain options. High school students weren't as finicky as elementary school students -- who in particular didn't like the whole wheat tortillas as much -- but again the research found a net increase in whole grain consumption. Students were more likely to accept whole grain options when they were made with whiter, smoother whole grain flour.
For schools and parents, cost is an issue. Whole grain ingredients and foods tend to cost more. But aside from cost, the researchers concluded that children will eat more whole grains if they are gradually added to their everyday foods.
What do you think, parents? Is this a good idea? Would your kids notice? And would you tell them up front that you were changing recipes, or just sneak a bit more whole grain in to see if they'd even notice?