Whole Grains Month kicks off tomorrow, so this is a good time to answer a key question: How can you add whole grains to a busy life, when you don’t have time to simmer brown rice or wheatberries for 45 minutes? Many of us have the impression that whole grains are tricky and time-consuming to cook, but in fact, there are many great easy options that take only minutes, like these:

Bulgur. Think of bulgur as the original Mediterranean fast food. Because it’s made from wheat kernels that have been pre-cooked then dried and broken into small pieces, you can have bulgur on the table in about 10 minutes. Just pour boiling water over the bulgur, cover, and let it become moist and fluffy while you fix the rest of your meal.

Quinoa. Quinoa’s tiny grains take just 12-15 minutes to cook. You can tell they’re done when you see that little tail (it’s actually the germ of the grain). Sauté your favorite vegetables in a little olive oil while the quinoa cooks, then pile the veggies on top for a great grain bowl.

Oatmeal. Even instant oatmeal is a whole grain! But if you like the texture of old-fashioned rolled oats, they take just five minutes. Sprinkle in your favorite nuts and dried fruit, or fresh fruit in summer, and you’ve got a breakfast that stays with you all morning.

Pasta. Whole grain pasta cooks in about 8 minutes, roughly the same amount of time as white pasta. Keep in mind that the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grain pasta pairs best with a flavorful or spicy sauce.

Pita pizza. At our house, it’s a Friday night ritual to make pita pizza, by topping rounds of whole-wheat pita bread with tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, plenty of vegetables (spinach, onions, mushrooms, peppers) and a little chicken sausage or olive tapenade. We pop them in a 375°F oven for about 20 minutes, then enjoy fresh homemade pizza. Let everyone in the family build their own!

Brown rice. Even brown rice has its shortcuts! Sprouted brown rice – which is healthier too – cooks in 30 minutes. Still too long on a busy weeknight? Look for 90-second brown rice on your grocery shelves; all you need to do is warm it in the microwave. While some grains do need a longer simmer of 45-60 minutes, it’s easy to make a big batch in the evening as you do the dishes and put the kids to bed.Grains keep fresh for about five days in the fridge – dish some out all week – or you can spread grains on a cookie sheet and freeze them, so you can easily throw some cooked whole grains in soups and make grain salads in minutes.

Quick whole grain choices go on and on. Popcorn… corn tortillas… brown rice crackers… whole wheat wraps… granola bars… Look for the Whole Grain Stamp to help you find whole grains to fit even the most hectic schedule. -- by Cynthia Harriman / Director of Food & Nutrition Strategies

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