If you’re not already on the whole grain train, it’s time to step aboard. Why? Whole grains are good for your family and good for your budget. Studies show they play a role in reducing all kinds of evil disease (heart, cancer, diabetes, to name a few), improve bowel performance (like you ever really thought about this after the diaper phase and want to talk about it), and help with weight management. Whole grains are inexpensive, nutritious and filling. Best of all, they are delicious!

What exactly is a whole grain, anyway?

A whole grain is made up of all the edible parts of the grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Simply stated, the bran is rich in fiber and B Vitamin; the germ is also rich in B Vitamin, along with healthy non-saturated fats and antioxidants. And the endosperm is rich in complex carbohydrates and proteins. Most less-healthy refined grains are made only with endosperm (must be guys running the joints to cling to this part) and, in processing, can lose 25-90% of the nutrient content of the grain.

Don’t be tricked. 

When you’re shopping in the store, be wary.  You need to be smart and check the labels to verify that you are indeed buying 100% whole-grain products. You want labels to explicitly state “100% whole grain.” This is different from merely “whole wheat,” which means the product contains only some whole wheat.  Same goes for packages shouting out mutli-grain or stone-ground or rye or bran—all equally meaningless.  Remember, the first ingredient listed (usually found in fine print on the back) is the main ingredient.

Look for The “Whole Grain” label.

The  Whole Grains Council, formed by the non-profit Oldways foundation, established a “Whole Grain Stamp” that can be found on packaging of products that are indeed made from 100% whole grains—look for it when you buy. For more  information on everything whole grain, check out their website.

Make them yourself.

It’s one thing to be a smart consumer of packaged product, it’s another to be a smart meal provider. The latest USDA recommendation on healthy eating calls for one fourth of a balanced diet to be made up of grains. While their recommendation is that at least half be whole grains, we can’t help but wonder — why only half? Whole grains are simply better for you and your family.

Give these commonly found grains a try: amaranth, barley, corn*, quinoa*, millet*,oats, rice (brown, red, black…)*, rye, wheat, (einkort, farro, cracked wheat, wheat berries, Kamut ®…). We’re particularly big fans of farro and wheat berries, brown and red rice, bulgur and kasha. Over the next few months we’ll share some yummy, easy to make and sure to please the entire brood, recipes.

Farro with Lemon, Olive Oil, Parmesan and Garden Herbs

Watch for our forthcoming book (March, ’12), Smart Mama, Smart Money: Raising Happy Healthy Kids without Breaking the Bank, in it we devote an entire chapter to food and healthy eating. We give you the low-down on what to buy, where to get it and how to get healthy meals on the table for connected (un-plugged) family mealtimes.

*gluten free options