5 Flavorful Whole Grain Swaps

Flavorful Whole Grain Swaps

When Wonder Bread was “just a little slice of America,” and pasta was just … pasta, whole grains were something left to the crunchiest of folks with a penchant for patchouli. But these days, we care more about the nutrition and science of how whole grains treat our bodies better than their refined counterparts.

According to the USDA, eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease, promote good bowel functions and encourage a healthy nervous system. Filled with nutrients including fiber, B vitamins and more, whole grains can also help you feel fuller faster.

So, ditch the white rice and forget the bread crumbs: here’s how to swap in more flavorful whole grains in your favorite dishes.

Fried Rice: Swap in Freekeh

Love fried rice? Whether you crave the classic pork fried rice or prefer yours loaded with veggies, shrimp or whatever, making it at home is so easy with a skillet and a few ingredients. And while you’re at it, why not give it some whole grain customization by swapping a whole grain like freekeh for the rice? Freekeh has a smoky, earthy flavor and a nutty texture, which adds great dimension to dishes that are typically made with rice. With 6.43 grams of protein and 6.4 grams of fiber in a 1 ½ ounce (dry) portion, freekeh is a whole grain that cooks relatively quickly (it’s ready in about 20-25 minutes) and can be made in bigger batches for use later.

Risotto: Swap in Farro

The process of making risotto requires intense patience, but the reward is a luxurious dish that’s like silk on the palate. Liquid is stirred into rice and cooked down in controlled additions, again and again, until it’s rendered tender and creamy. But although risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice, other grains can be slowly cooked into that same creamy bliss. Try using dry farro instead of rice the next time you make it. This grain has 5.74 grams of protein and 4.4 grams of fiber in a 1 ½ ounce portion.

Another option? Barley works too. Try it with this recipe: Barley Risotto with Caramelized Onions, Sauteed Mushrooms and Roasted Red Peppers

Tabbouleh: Swap in Quinoa

Tabbouleh, a refreshing Levantine salad, is already made with a whole grain: bulgur wheat. But for those with gluten-sensitivities and allergies, that makes this salad off limits. However, by swapping in the whole grain quinoa, which is a firm grain with a similar size and shape to bulgur wheat, everyone can enjoy. Quinoa has more protein than bulgur wheat (6.35 grams versus 5.53 grams in a 1 ½ ounce (dry) serving) but doesn’t have as much fiber (3.2 grams versus 8.2 grams per serving), but it’s still a good whole grain.

Caprese Salad: Add Wheat Berries

In summertime, caprese salad — that combination of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto or fresh basil — is a seasonal favorite. Turn up the volume on yours with one of my favorite recipes from my book, Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains: Simply chop your fresh mozzarella cheese and summer tomatoes, mix with cooked wheat berries and toss with pesto. It turns this side dish into something you can enjoy as a nutritious lunch. And since wheat berries pack 6.7 grams of protein and 5.74 grains of fiber in a 1 ½ ounce (dry) serving, there’s a lot of good nutrition with this one too.

Meatballs: Swap Breadcrumbs for Oats

Mixing up meatballs? Skip breadcrumbs in favor of an unexpected whole grain: oats! Not only are they gluten-free (be sure to look for certified gluten-free oats like Bob’s Red Mill — not all are), but they will bind your balls together with precision. Be sure to go all out with your seasoning though, since you can’t cheat with an Italian seasoned version like you might with breadcrumbs. As for the health factor? A half cup of oats (that’s how much I’d use per pound of ground meat) has about 8.5 grams of dietary fiber and 13 grams of protein.


Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is editor of Bangor Metro magazine and senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News. She is the author of "The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook," (Sept. 2018, Rockridge Press) and the co-author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains" (March 2015, DK). Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, Glamour.com and more. She also writes about food at www.sarahscucinabella.com.