Now You're Cookin': More Whole Grains!

(FN695, Reviewed August 2021)

Children who eat more often with their families eat a healthier diet, including more grains, fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
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USDA’s MyPlate recommends that we make at least half our grains whole. The recommendations for grain foods are in “ounce equivalents.” An ounce equivalent from the Grain Group equals:

  • ½ cup cooked rice, cooked pasta or cooked cereal
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ English muffin
  • 1 4½-inch pancake
  • 1 small tortilla
  • 7 square or round crackers

Enjoy 3 or more ounce equivalents of whole-grain foods every day.


Enjoy a wide variety of grain foods. Eating more whole grains is good for your heart and may help prevent certain types of cancer. Whole grains also make you feel “full” longer, so you are less likely to overeat.

Whole-grain foods contain all parts of the wheat kernel — the bran, germ and endosperm.

  • The bran is the outer shell that protects the seed. It’s rich in fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals.
  • The germ contains B vitamins and vitamin E.
  • The endosperm provides energy in the form of carbohydrates and protein.

How Can You Spot a Whole Grain?

Some whole-grain foods are “brown,” but color isn’t the best clue for whole grains. Sometimes names on bread labels can be confusing. Breads labeled “stone ground wheat” and “100 percent wheat” are not whole-grain foods, but “whole-wheat bread” is a whole-grain food.

Read the ingredient label. If the first or second item on the ingredient label is “whole grain” (followed by the name of the grain), “whole wheat” or “oatmeal,” the food is more likely a whole-grain food.

Look for a “whole-grain” seal. Many whole-grain foods, but not all, have a whole-grain seal. If it’s on the package, the product is a whole grain.

Look for the health claim. The health claim is allowed only on foods that meet the whole-grain standards. This is a sample of a whole-grain claim:

“Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risks of heart disease and certain cancers.”

Limit Distractions During Family Meals

Turn off the TV and radio. Put away reading materials and ignore the phone. Family meals are a time to reconnect as a family. The time together strengthens family bonds and is important in teaching manners and communication skills.

Safety/Storage Tip

Store whole-grain flour in the refrigerator or freezer. Whole-grain flour tends to become rancid at room temperature because of the fat it contains.

Family Fitness Tip

According to health-care and parenting experts, limit children’s “screen time” (TV, computers, video games) to less than two hours per day. That leaves more time for families to go for a walk, bike ride or sledding trip, depending on the season.

Get More Whole Grains

When planning family meals or snacks, include whole grain with these tips:

  • Substitute whole-grain products for things you already buy. Try whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.
  • Enjoy popcorn as a snack. Sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese or seasoned salt instead of butter.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals and enjoy them for family breakfasts. Cereals “made with whole grains” are not necessarily whole-grain cereals. Compare fiber, sugar and other nutrients.
  • Use recipes calling for oatmeal or whole-grain flour. Try substituting up to half of the all-purpose flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes with whole-wheat flour.


Invite kids into the kitchen to help make these recipes. Children who help prepare foods are more likely to try them.

Light as a Feather Whole-wheat Pancakes

  • 1a c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1a c. buttermilk
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. oil

Preheat griddle. In medium bowl, stir or sift dry ingredients together; beat egg, buttermilk, brown sugar and oil together. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened; batter should be slightly lumpy. Pour ¼ cup batter for each pancake onto sprayed or seasoned hot griddle. Flip the pancake when bubbles appear on surface; turn only once.

Makes 12 4-inch pancakes. Each pancake has 80 calories, 2 g fat, 3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 190 mg sodium.

Recipe source: Wheat Foods Council

Menu Idea: Whole-wheat pancakes with spiced apple sauce, lean ham, orange slices and low-fat milk

Kids’ Funny Face Pizzas

  • 4 whole-grain English muffins, split
  • ½ c. pizza sauce
  • ¾ c. part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Assorted vegetables of choice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly toast English muffins in toaster or under broiler. Arrange on a baking sheet and spread each muffin with one-fourth of sauce, then top with cheese. Cut vegetables into shapes as suggested below. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until cheese melts.

Suggestions for faces: For eyes, use olives, mushrooms or carrot strips; for nose, use tomato halves, zucchini slices or mushrooms; for mouth, use bell pepper slices or carrot strips; for hair, use strips of carrot, or cauliflower or broccoli florets cut in small pieces.

Makes eight servings, one-half English muffin per serving. Nutrition content varies with your choice of toppings. With sauce and cheese, each serving has 110 calories, 3 g fat, 5 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 240 mg sodium.

Recipe source: Wheat Foods Council

Menu Idea: Kids’ Funny Face Pizzas, canned peach slices and low-fat milk

Bugsy Bread (Whole-wheat Carrot-Raisin Bread)

  • ½ c. brown sugar, packed
  • ½ c. granulated sugar
  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1b c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 large or 4 small, finely grated carrots, enough for 1½ cups
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease bottom only of one 8½-inch by 4½-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, beat brown sugar, granulated sugar and oil for one minute, scrape bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together whole-wheat flour, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir into bowl mixture just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in carrots and raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Makes one loaf or 35 1-ounce servings (slices). Each 1-ounce serving has 80 calories, 3.5 g fat, 1 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 60 mg sodium.

Recipe source: Wheat Foods Council

Snack Idea: Bugsy Bread and low-fat milk

Eat Smart. Play Hard. Together

For more information about food safety and nutrition, contact your county office of NDSU Extension.

Visit the NDSU Extension website for parent/caregiver information, recipes and educational activities for children.

For more information about healthful eating for the entire family.


“Eat Smart. Play Hard.” is an initiative of the Food and Nutrition Service, USDA.