According to Nutrition Society of Malaysia’s MyBreakfast Study – a nationwide dietary survey on 5,165 primary school children and 2,947 secondary school adolescents – nine out of 10 children were not consuming enough whole grains in their diet.
At least half of your child’s intake of grains should be in the form of whole grains, according to the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents by the Health Ministry.
Some examples of whole grains are rice, wheat, corn or oats. A grain is considered a “whole grain” if the three parts that form its core is still intact, as per its natural state, while it is harvested. Rich in important nutrients, the three parts of a whole grain are:
Bran: The outermost skin that contains antioxidants, B-vitamins and dietary fibre.
Germ: Part of the grain seed that is able to sprout into a new plant. It is high in B vitamins, minerals, some protein and healthy fats.
Endosperm: The largest part of the grain, it provides energy mainly in the form of carbohydrates and some protein. It also has a small amount of vitamins and minerals.
When food manufacturers remove the bran and the germ parts of the whole grain, they create what is known as a refined grain. Common examples are white rice, white flour, and mee hoon and koay teow noodles.
A refined grain has lesser nutrition compared to the whole grain because much of the fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found within the bran and germ layers are now gone.
Brown rice, wheat, oats, corn and barley are some common examples of whole grains. These whole grains are used to make all kinds of grain-based foods, such as noodles, pasta, crackers, breads and cereals. You will notice many of these whole grain items in the grocery store.
The important nutrients found in whole grains are beneficial for your child’s health and wellbeing.
It is the reason the World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages people to eat more whole grains, as part of its public health recommendation, to prevent the risk of obesity, cardiovascular heart disease and diabetes.
All these health conditions are affected by our lifestyle, showing that how and what we eat daily has lasting consequences.
Whole grains also provide lasting energy for active, growing children. They contribute more vitamins and minerals to your child’s daily diet, compared to foods made from refined grains only. It also provides more dietary fibre, which is essential for good digestive health and the prevention of constipation.
For the mums and dads out there, now that you know your kids are not eating enough whole grains, it is time to balance their diets. Nutrition is a living skill children learn and follow from those closest to them, and as parents this is where your role is the most important.
It’s never too early to start guiding your children, as healthy eating habits encouraged during childhood will have a lasting, positive impact on their health as they blossom into adults.
Most people hold a common misconception that children will not like whole grains but truth be told, children form a liking for foods they are exposed to and are most familiar with.
Thus, if they are always given foods made from whole grains, they will become accustomed to the taste.
How can you encourage your child to eat more whole grains? Here are some delicious suggestions:
> Instead of only white rice, mix half white rice and brown rice and cook as usual in the rice cooker. Use brown rice to make nasi goreng or casseroles.
> Instead of refined noodles, use whole grain noodles or pasta in your child’s favourite noodles or pasta dish.
> Instead of refined breads, swap white bread with whole grain bread, wraps or buns for sandwiches and home made burgers. Use whole grain pita bread as a base to make homemade pizza and substitute white flour with whole grain flour in your favourite pancake, waffle, muffin and bread recipes.
> Instead of refined cereals, serve whole grain breakfast cereals with fresh milk and cut fruits for a quick, convenient breakfast. Finely crushed whole grain cereal can be used as a crumb coating for chicken or fish fillets or make healthy smoothies by blending milk, fresh fruit and oats.
> Instead of tidbits and snack foods, snack on corn-on-the-cob or homemade air-popped popcorn. Serve whole grain crackers with cheese or a dip, or crush whole grain cereal as a topping for yoghurt.