Every September, it’s time to assess what we are buying, eating and packing in those back-to-school lunches. Are you making “half of your grains whole,” as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture?

Now’s the time to try a new whole grain food, because they get tastier and easier to find every day. Consumers say they choose whole grains because of the taste, according to a survey by the Whole Grains Council. The term “whole grain” appears on 40 percent more menus now than four years ago, according to Dataessential’s Menu Trends 2015 Report. Quinoa leads the way, appearing on more than 7 percent of all menus, and an impressive 20 percent of fast casual menus (those in restaurants such as Panera or Chipotle).

Perhaps because eating meatless is seen as a health-seeking activity, whole grains and the vegetarian option go together. Browse the freezer case, and the frozen veggie burgers will contain brown rice or quinoa. Peruse a menu, and the roasted veggie sandwich is likely to be offered on whole wheat.

So if you are looking for a tasty whole grain, look for a meatless option and you may just find grainy goodness there, too.

Whole grains are a perfect fit in vegetable meals, in part because they offer up some protein. In breads, whole-wheat flour provides 28 percent more protein than white flour. A ¾-cup serving of such whole grains as quinoa and spelt or whole wheat pastas has about 6 grams of protein.

Whole grains also provide fiber and energy, which makes them more filling and satisfying. “Both whole grains and legumes are important to round out the fruits and vegetables in a meatless diet,” said Cynthia Harriman of Oldways Whole Grains Council. “Whole grains have great staying power (you’d get pretty hungry just eating vegetables!), and provide texture variety to meals.”

For a whole grain dish that is sure to impress, try this walnut tart. Whole wheat pastry flour is made from soft wheat, so it makes a tender pastry. You’ll build flavor by sautéing the vegetables until they are lightly browned, and the thyme will infuse the oil and be present in every bite.

The nutty flavor of the wheat complements the browned veggies and walnuts in the filling, and a sprinkle of aged Gouda pulls it all together.

Celebrate Whole Grains Month in September by starting a new healthy habit. You’ll be glad you did.

Brussels Sprouts and Walnut Tarts With Whole Wheat Crust

Serves 6.

Note: Serve these hearty tarts as a main course, with a tossed salad or a cup of soup on the side. These are perfect to share with omnivorous friends. Serve them as a first course or side dishes. Vegans can substitute a nondairy cheese for the Gouda and use vegan buttery sticks or shortening for the butter. From Robin Asbell.

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced

• 1 large shallot, chopped

• 1 large carrot, diced

 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried

• 1 tsp. maple syrup, Grade B

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

• 1/4 c. chopped walnuts

 2 oz. shredded aged Gouda or Gruyère (about 3/4 c.)

Whole Wheat Crust:

 1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour

 1/2 c. unbleached flour, plus extra for rolling dough

• 1 tsp. salt

 1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, chilled

• 1/2 c. ice water

• 1/2 tsp. cider vinegar


In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts, shallots and carrots, and stir. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are wilted and browned. Add the thyme, maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, and stir for another minute. Scrape the vegetables into a medium bowl and let cool. When cooled, stir in the walnuts and shredded cheese.

Line a large sheet ban with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, unbleached flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to mix well.

Use the coarse holes of a grater or a pastry cutter to shred or cut the butter into the flour mixture. Toss the mixture and mix with your hands for a few seconds, leaving the butter in small pieces.

In a cup, combine the ice water and vinegar. Using a fork to toss the flour mixture, drizzle in the water mixture until the flour is all moistened. Stir and gently turn and knead with your hands, just until a dough is formed. If the dough is dry, drizzle in a tablespoon of cold water just to make a firm but flexible dough.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, and form each piece into a disk shape. On a floured work surface, roll each round out into a 7-inch circle.

Place a round on the prepared pan and measure 1/2 cup of the Brussels sprouts mixture into the center of the dough, and leave a 1-inch border bare all around the edge as you spread the vegetables mixture and pat it down gently. Form pleats as you fold the dough over the filling, picking up the edge and pulling it toward the center and repeating a section at a time. Repeat to form all 6 tarts.

Bake for 20 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven, then rotate the pan and bake on the top rack until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm. These keep for 3 days in the refrigerator, and reheat well in a warm oven.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 410 Fat 24 g Sodium 70 mg

Carbohydrates 40 g Saturated fat 12 g Total sugars 4 g

Protein 11 g Cholesterol 50 mg Dietary fiber 7 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 2 starch, ½ carb, ½ high-fat protein, 3½ fat.


Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.