Whole grains are healthier than their refined counterparts. But not every food that contains whole grains is necessarily an inherently healthy choice. Some whole grain items (like some muffins, granola bars, and kettle popcorn, for example) can be full of sugar! It's important to check the labels to get the whole picture – and we can help explain what to look for.
When looking for healthier snacks, check the ingredient list first. Whole grain as the first ingredient is a good start. Then check the Nutrition Facts Panel for added sugars. Sugars are often broken up into multiple terms (think sugar, molasses, honey, cane syrup, corn syrup, etc.) scattered throughout the ingredient list – but add them all together and sweeteners could actually be the primary ingredient. Excess sugars can wipe out the health advantages of whole grains! You’ll also want to avoid saturated fats and trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils).
An easy way to bypass all that label checking is to make your own healthier whole grain snacks at home. By making your own, you’ll know exactly what goes into the products you’re eating or serving your kids.
One of the easiest and most satisfying snacks is popcorn. There are countless brands of ready-to-eat and microwavable popcorn in the grocery store, but it’s hard to beat making your own from whole kernels. A bag of popcorn kernels is relatively cheap, and a small amount of oil, a stove, and a pan with a lid is all that is required to create a perfect anytime snack. The process can also be a fun activity for kids!
Another winning homemade snack option is this Cranberry-Orange Chex Mix recipe. With three different kinds of whole grains combined with nuts and dried fruit, this easy snack mix is sure to be a hit with friends and family. After baking for just 30 minutes, it will have your home smelling incredible, and you’ll have an easy and accessible snack at the ready.
If you’re in the mood for a sweeter treat, a cookie might be just right. The Whole Grain Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center at Boston University are 100% whole grain and unbelievably delicious. The switch to whole-wheat flour and oats, with the addition of peanut butter and chopped nuts, kicks this classic cookie up a notch. This recipe cuts the salt and sugar by half, compared to standard cookies, and uses peanut butter in place of butter to make this a healthier, but no less delicious, alternative.
Delicious any time, these homemade snacks are especially great for the back to school transition. They’re convenient, tasty, and best of all healthy! Whether you are cooking up your own or making informed decisions about supermarket products, whole grains can be a good nutritious option for snack-time.
These and other whole grain delights also provide endless opportunities to engage in our "Share the Goodness of Whole Grains" contest for Whole Grains Month in September. Go to wholegrainscouncil.org to learn more about how you can share your favorite whole grains for the chance to win exciting prizes! -- by Harley Songin / Stamp Program Manager