7 Easy Ways To Sneak Whole Grains Into Your Meals

Barley, brown rice and quinoa are simpler to eat and tastier than you might think.

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Whole grains are a great source of fiber, iron and B vitamins and regular consumption can lower your risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, so getting enough is important.

The amount of grains your body needs depends on your age, sex and activity level, but as a general rule, men should aim for six to eight ounces a day, while the target for women is a bit lower—five and six daily ounces. At least half of these grains should be whole grains, like oats, quinoa, brown and wild rice, barley and bulgur. And while it’s true, most Americans consume enough grains, too few are whole grains.

For effortless (and delicious) ways to incorporate whole grains into your diet, we spoke with Amy Buchanan, a registered dietitian with Trident Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. She recommends adding whole wheat flour to your baked treats, quinoa to your salads and so much more.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

Sprinkle quinoa on salads

2 / 8 Sprinkle quinoa on salads

This meal idea delivers the best of both worlds: whole grains and leafy greens. These salads are easy to build, too. Add a heaping spoonful of whole grains, like cooked quinoa, to your bed of kale, spinach or romaine. Quinoa makes a great addition to a Mediterranean-style salad with spinach, tomatoes, cucumber and Greek olives. Plus, it takes just 10 to 15 minutes to make a whole batch on the stovetop, so you can cook it once and enjoy throughout the week.

Quinoa is loaded with fiber, five grams per one-cup serving, which helps keep you feeling full. That’s not all. Quinoa is a great source of complete protein, about eight grams per cup, which also helps with satiety. “As far as protein goes, grains like quinoa and amaranth are considered complete proteins,” Buchanan says. “They have all the amino acids that we need,” she adds.

Quinoa also contains manganese, which helps the body form tissue, and magnesium, essential for blood and bone health.    

Pro tip: Give your quinoa a good rinse before cooking. This removes the bitter, but harmless, coating naturally found on the grain.

Whip whole wheat flour into baked goods

3 / 8 Whip whole wheat flour into baked goods

Brownies, cookie and cupcakes should hardly be a part of your regular diet, but there’s a time and a place for everything. And these sugar bombs don’t have to be entirely unhealthy. 

The next time you whip up a batch of brownies or bake a birthday cake, swap equal parts refined white flour with whole grain wheat flour. This simple substitution saves you a few calories and ups the fiber content by more than 10 grams per cup. The best part is that you won’t even taste the difference.

Stir wild rice in soups

4 / 8 Stir wild rice in soups

Forget noodles and incorporate wild rice into your next soup or stew instead.

Egg noodles may be tasty, but their nutrition is somewhat lackluster. One cooked cup of this yellow-hued pasta contains more fat and calories than the same serving of wild rice, with fewer grams of fiber.

Brown is another great addition to your favorite soup. Like many other grains, brown rice contains loads of digestion-friendly fiber, protein and manganese, which the body's connective tissue relies on. It's also low in artery-clogging fats.

Many supermarkets also sell this grain pre-cooked and frozen, which makes adding it to your meals, like a steaming pot of veggie soup, effortless.

Pro tip: “Buying in bulk is a good way to make whole grains a little less expensive,” Buchanan says.

Pack whole oats into hamburger patties

5 / 8 Pack whole oats into hamburger patties

Hamburgers are a quick and easy weeknight dinner option, and cooking them at home on the grill makes it much less expensive than eating out. There’s another benefit to building your own burgers—you can add anything you’d like!

Stick to the traditional ground beef base or opt for lower-fat ground turkey, which saves you up to 50 calories and four grams of fat per four-ounce serving. Amplify the healthiness of your burger patty by adding fresh veggies, your favorite spices and whole graisn to the mix.

“You can add whole grains like barley, bulgur or oats to things like meatloaf or hamburgers,” Buchanan says. “They can be used as a binding agent and increases whole grain intake,” she adds.

Bake barley into casseroles

6 / 8 Bake barley into casseroles

Casseroles make for wholesome side dishes or hearty main courses any night of the week. Your typical dish may include any fresh veggies you have on hand, lean protein and a sprinkle of reduced-fat cheese, but don’t be so quick to pop your pan into the oven.

First, toss your favorite whole grain, like barley, into the mix. Barley is loaded with fiber, protein and nutrients like iron, manganese and selenium. Protein is vital to the health and maintenance of your entire body. Fiber helps maintain bowel health and regulate your body’s blood sugar levels and, along with protein, keeps you feeling full and satisfied. 

Iron is essential to the health of hemoglobin, the substance in blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Manganese promotes the health of our connective tissue, bones and sex hormones. Selenium is no slacker either—this mineral is important for fertility and thyroid function.

Pro tip: Save time by prepping your grains in large quantities. “You can freeze cooked whole grains for up to six months, and they’ll keep in the refrigerator for three to five days,” Buchanan says.

Craft spiced-up sides

7 / 8 Craft spiced-up sides

Whole grains make a great addition to a wide variety of entrees, side dishes and even desserts, but a sprinkle of spices or a dash of herbs can turn grains into the star of the show. Before you toss in your grains, season your cooking water with black pepper, cumin, curry or a bouillon cube.

Buchanan shares her favorite way to cook grains: “Usually when I'm cooking with whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, I like to do it in vegetable or chicken broth to add some flavor,” she says. Most supermarkets carry a variety of broths, but reach for low-fat and low-sodium varieties.

Cooking is just the first step in serving outstanding whole grain dishes. Next, fold in ripe veggies, fresh herbs, dried fruits and chopped nuts to create recipes like our bulgur bowl or whole grain salad.

Add grains to your morning oats

8 / 8 Add grains to your morning oats

Oats make a quick and filling morning meal, but there's one simple way to add even more whole grains to your bowl. Before cooking, substitute a few tablespoons of our traditional oats with dry quinoa. Simmer your grain mixture and liquid of choice, like almond milk or water, until tender.

Per dry cup, quinoa has more than two times the amount of protein as oats, so the swap punches up this meal's protein content. Combining grains also varies the texture of your breakfast. Another way to add flavor and texture? Top your oats with fruits, nuts, seeds and cinnamon. These additions not only add extra crunch and sweetness, they deliver their own nutrients, like heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

To help ensure you're giving the body the nutrients it needs, try tracking your meals. Record your eats in a handy notebook or download an app, like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android, and let the tracker do the work for you. It's as simple as grabbing your phone and tallying the size and quality of your meals and snacks.   

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