Let’s be honest, there are some foods we all find hard to get onto our plate, and that’s OK. Being healthy is not just about being active and selecting nutritious foods. It’s also about having a comfortable relationship with our food. In short, eat what you like and like what you eat. With the recent release of the new Canada’s Food Guide, whole grains continue to be recommended as an important part of a healthy diet. Often though, people struggle with getting enough on their plate.
For many, the biggest barrier is a lack of time. Whole grains such as brown rice can take two to three times longer to cook compared to their more refined counterparts. Another barrier to eating more whole grains is a lack of familiarity with how to cook them. Whole grains, such as whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, popcorn and even quinoa are commonly eaten because people are more familiar with these foods. But others like sorghum, spelt, and bulgur, may be unfamiliar to some and therefore less likely to be eaten.
Have no fear. Whole grains are easier to make than you might think, plus they taste great and have major health benefits. Fiber-rich whole grains can help you feel full1 throughout the day, and have been linked to better blood sugar regulation and both heart and gut health. While our national guidelines recommend that people select more whole grains daily, the only way for us to eat more is if they taste good and we feel comfortable cooking them.
Five Time Saving Tips
1. The Soak
I soak my whole grains in water at night when I am preparing dinner. I store them in the refrigerator and cook the next day. Five minutes today will really save you time tomorrow. The best grains for soaking overnight are barley, spelt, and wheat berries.
2. The Simmer
The easiest way to cook whole grains like brown rice or barley in half the time is to simmer them in plenty of water, just like you cook pasta. To cook, place grains in a large pot and cover with water. Add in a little salt and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, testing the grain after 20 minutes. If not done to your liking, simmer longer until it tastes right to you. I prefer my whole grains slightly firm, but not mushy when cooked. A good test to see if your grains are done is to think of the term ‘al-dente’ which translates to “to the tooth”. This means there is a slight resistance to the grain when you chew it. When done, drain and return to the pot to keep warm or spread on a sheet tray to cool.
3. The Big Batch
Cook a large batch of whole grains at once. Then they can be added to soups, stews, salads, or microwaved with milk for an easy breakfast.
4. The Rest
Soak 1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat) in 2 cups boiling water. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. From here the options are endless. My favorite is to add in chopped tomatoes, parsley, olive oil, and lemon for a traditional and easy side dish called tabbouleh.
5. The Mix
Add cooked whole grains into the foods you already enjoy. I love adding cooked bulgur or even quinoa to my meatloaf and then bake as normal.
Three ways to enhance your whole grains
- Toast your grains for 3-5 minutes in a dry skillet over low-medium heat before cooking. They will give off a soft, nutty aroma.
- Add cumin, garlic, turmeric, or paprika to spice it up.
- After cooking your grains, mix in fresh herbs like cilantro, thyme, and mint to boost colour, flavour, and texture all at once.
Before you give up on the world of whole grains, try one of my simple tips. The most important thing to remember is to start small, discover what is right for you, and have fun exploring in the kitchen.
For more ideas on ways to eat more whole grains, visit Canada’s Food Guide.
For more nutrition education articles, visit nutritioneducationbc.ca.
Health Canada. Grain Products. Modified: 2008-01-14. Accessed April 02, 2017 at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/choose-choix/grain-cereal/index-eng.php.