Whole Grains - Whole Wheat Bread and Whole Grain Cereals

Child Nutrition Basics

Whole grain bread can help make your child's lunch even healthier.
Whole grain bread can help make your child's lunch even healthier.. Photo by Getty Images

Unlike fruits and vegetables, grains aren't a food group that kids usually have a problem getting enough of each day.

The problem is, though, that usually kids don't eat enough whole grains — instead they eat too many refined grains, such as white bread, flour tortillas, white rice and plain bagels, etc.

According to the MyPlate guidelines, at least half of the grains that kids eat each day should be whole grains, such as 100% whole wheat bread.

Eating more whole grains isn't just a new fad though, eating more whole grains can help with weight management, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, reduce constipation, and eating grains fortified with folate, before and during pregnancy, can help reduce the risk that a baby will be born with neural tube defects.

Whole Grains

Once parents understand that whole grains have more fiber, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and magnesium, most would agree that their kids should be eating whole grains.

Refined grains are enriched or have added iron and B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, but that is mostly because these nutrients are removed when those grains are refined and have their kernal removed. Unfortunately, fiber is not added back, which many kids need because they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Whole grains also have many other nutrients that are missing from refined grains, such as phytoestrogens and antioxidants.

Whole Grain Foods

In addition to wheat bread, other whole grain foods include:

  • whole wheat bagels
  • whole grain breakfast cereals
  • whole wheat crackers
  • whole rye crackers
  • whole wheat English muffins
  • whole grain flatbread
  • whole wheat muffins
  • oatmeal
  • whole wheat pancakes
  • popcorn
  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • whole wheat pasta
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • whole grain corn tortillas

Other whole grains include whole rye, whole grain barley, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa and sorghum.

Eating More Whole Grains

In addition to substituting some of the whole grain foods above for refined grain foods, especially whole grain bread, pasta and breakfast cereals, you can help your kids eat more whole grains by:

  • cooking and baking with more whole wheat flour or oats, instead of white flour — perhaps substituting half or a third of these whole grains for white flour
  • looking for foods with whole grain ingredients, such as barley vegetable soup
  • serving whole grain snacks, such as baked tortilla chips
  • adding whole grains to bread stuffing, homemade soup, meatloaf, etc.
  • adding oats to yogurt
  • looking for recipes that use whole grains
  • eating whole grain foods in restaurants, although they likely won't be on the kids' menu

What You Need to Know

Like most new things, switching to whole grain foods can take time, as your kids have to get used to the new taste of foods made with whole grains.

This can be a good reason to start your kids on whole grain foods when they are infants and toddlers, instead of trying to switch them to these healthier foods when they are older.

Keep in mind that the new taste and texture of whole grain foods is different and not necessarily better or worse, so as with other things you try with your kids, have patience, keep trying and don't give up too soon. Other things to know about whole grain foods is that:

  • You can't tell if a food is made with whole grains simply by looking at it. For example, just because bread is brown doesn't mean that it is made with whole grains.
  • Look for ingredients such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat or 100% whole wheat to help you identify whole grain foods. These or the other whole grains listed above should be listed as the first ingredient if it is a whole grain food.
  • Foods labeled as "multi-grain," "stone ground," "seven grain" or "100% wheat bread" may not be whole grain but a mixed grain.
  • Whole grain white bread is a processed whole grain that is made with an albino variety of wheat. This type of bread, such as Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White Bread, is typically only about 30% whole grain, though.
  • A whole grain food that isn't labeled "100% whole grain" may be as little as 51% whole grain.
  • When choosing healthy whole grain foods, such as breakfast cereals, also look for foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar.
  • September is Whole Grains Month, a good time to raise awareness of the importance of eating whole grains.


Anderson J.W.: Whole grains protect against atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Proc Nutr Soc 62. 135-142.2003.

Edge MS - J Am Diet Assoc. A new life for whole grains. 01-DEC-2005; 105(12): 1856-60.

Slavin J.L.: Whole grains, refined grains and fortified grains: What's the difference?. Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr 9. (suppl S): S23-S27.2000.

United States Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate. Tips to help you eat whole grains.

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