This food group, along with fruits and vegetables, comprises of what we most need to eat in any given day. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation lately with all sorts of diets designed to get rid of them, but in truth, carbs are a necessary component for our bodily functions. Our cells use them to fuel our daily activities, and when we don't eat them, our bodies take what they can from elsewhere, to our detriment.
The caveat I want to stress, however, is that whole grains are the ones you need to eat. Processed grains, also referred to as refined, don't really do much for our bodies. They give us calories without the health benefit, and really, what's the point of that? They also tend to be high in sugar, which our bodies deal with by over-producing insulin. Not only that, but they lack fibre, which means that hunger will strike more quickly given the rate at which the foods are digested. It leads to an unhealthy cycle of spikes and crashes. These are referred to as "high GI" foods. Examples include white bread/rolls, cake/cookies, short grain rice, bran/corn flakes, crispy rice cereal, soda crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, cheesy fish shaped crackers, and so on.
Today, we focus on Breads and Cereals.
First, why worry about it?
As briefly stated above, our bodies use the nutrition found in whole grains, such as fibre, to reduce cholesterol, keep hunger at bay, keep our body's waste system working optimally, and reduce the risk of colon cancer. We also get several other vitamins from whole grains such as several B vitamins- riboflavin, folate, thiamine, and niacin- known to help our metabolism do its' job- and minerals, such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. Here's a great article about some of the other benefits of whole grains.
I'm going to take a detour from the Canada Food Guide, now, because it suggests that half of our daily consumption from this food group be comprised of whole grains. My personal opinion is that this food group has a great opportunity for us to make or break our health. It makes very little difference to eat a few whole grain servings in a day but spend the rest of the day eating high GI, low nutritional value foods such as macaroni and cheese, waffles, most store bought granola bars/snack foods, and white bread toast.
There is a certain segment of the population that absolutely cannot eat gluten, found in all wheat products, that have a disease known as Celiac Disease. They cannot process gluten, and with continued ingestion, can do long-term damage to their small intestines. Fortunately, there are other foods they can eat that satisfy the whole grain requirement, such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats. The most important thing to remember is to read the food labels. Cross contamination can occur.
The Canada Food Guide determination for servings of Breads and Cereals is age dependent. From 2-3 years old, both boys and girls need 3 serving of breads/cereals per day. From 4-8, that jumps to 4 servings per day for both sexes. From 9-13, girls and boys need 6 servings.
From 14-18, girls need 6 and boys need 7, and while it varies slightly with adults, it basically hovers around the same as you age.
What constitutes a serving?
Note: Look at ingredient labels! You are looking for the words "whole grain", whenever possible!
So what does this look like in a typical school lunch?
Here are some ideas that you could send in your typical school lunch. Luckily, gluten intolerance doesn't extend to people by being in the same room as gluten, so unless kids share their lunches with a celiac friend, there shouldn't be a problem.
I've got a homemade chocolate banana bran muffin, some sliced whole grain pita bread (about half a pita), a plain slice of whole grain whole wheat bread cut into quarters (my second son likes plain if he can't have peanut butter!), some original triscuit crackers, shreddies, cooked brown rice, cheerios, and popcorn. Rice is a terrific base for school lunches. You can send it as leftovers from dinner the night before- think rice pilaf or fried rice- or as dessert- like the rice pudding I'm putting in the slow cooker tonight.
Most of these are full servings- the pita bread and triscuits are just over and just under one serving, respectively.
Out of all of these, just pick one! For my second son, he only needs 4 servings in a day- my first son, 6 servings. If we think about a typical breakfast involving (usually) toast or cereal, the usual dinner involving some sort of starchy side like rice or buns, and there's always a bedtime snack in our house (because we eat dinner really early) I know they're getting their recommended servings.
I just want to say, I don't completely limit my kids' food choices when it comes to breads and cereals...or anything, actually. From time to time I'll buy the Presidents Choice version of those little fish crackers. When we travel, I usually bring a box of granola bars. We do eat really well, most of the time. I don't generally buy what I consider junk food, because if it's in the house, we'll eat it, and I'd rather spend our grocery budget on nutrition. I try to make my own desserts (like banana bread, zucchini loaf, cookies, etc). I feel that sometimes we really do want a cookie- so I'll try to make them. But life is busy, and sometimes I will buy them. I still try to buy the better of the processed snacks- keep reading food labels! And I will limit how much we can have in a day- and always, overall, choose nutrition over calories.
Please like, comment and share as you like! I can't wait to see our kids mobilized to making healthier choices even when we aren't watching! And as always, if you have some suggestions to add to this list, I welcome them. Please add your voice to my blog posts!
All the best,