Does this sound familiar? You just picked up your kids from school and are off to soccer practice. After that you will be helping your kids with math and science homework. You are tempted to call your spouse to pick up something for dinner on the way home. Dinner from a fast food restaurant sounds convenient, however, there are whole grains that deliver multiple vitamins and minerals and easily four grams of fiber per serving that can be cooked in 15 minutes or less. That is food that’s super fast and super convenient.
Whole grains give you three layers created by mother nature and full-body flavors, some nutty and some delicate. Whole grains also keep you feeling full much longer than a French fry. They give you steady energy that lasts for a few hours, not a spike and roller coaster for your blood sugars that refined carbohydrates often do. Whole grains are a great fit for a heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory plant-focused diet.
Teresa Pangan, a Cardiopulmonary Dietitian for UnityPoint Health - Trinity, shares five recipes using whole grains that are easy and healthy. These are tips on cooking whole grains that can be on your table in 15 minutes or less. The first two whole grains below can be given your own personal touch by switching the water in which you cook the grain to no-added sodium stock or broth (chicken or vegetable). Don't be afraid to try adding in your own spices and fresh herbs to the water too. A bay leaf is an easy way to add a slight woodsy-herbal flavor. Thyme and oregano are excellent to add for an Italian or French dish. Herbs and seasonings add depth to the grain. Also consider cooking double what you need and refrigerate for meals later in the week. The first two whole grains will keep refrigerated for four days easily.
1. Brown Rice
Use parboiled brown rice without any seasonings added in the product when you are in a hurry. Make sure the box says 100% whole grain brown rice and no additional ingredients. Brands that carry parboiled brown rice without anything extra added are Minute®, Uncle Ben's® and Success®. Parboiled products are also called instant, avoid "ready to serve" products. "Ready to serve" often has additional ingredients including sodium and oil.
Both Minute® and Uncle Ben's® carry instant brown rice products that are great for preparing an easy and fast whole grain. To make instant brown rice, bring the water and rice to a boil in a saucepan, cover and lower to a simmer for 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Success® or Uncle Ben's® boil-in-a-bag parboiled brown rice come in a plastic bag with little holes in the bag. To cook, you add the bag with the rice in it to a saucepan with a water level that completely covers the bag and bring to a boil. Then boil uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes. To serve, remove the bag from the water. It will have absorbed a lot of the water. Then cut the bag open and empty into serving dish. The last step for both preparation methods is fluffing the rice with a fork.
2. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)
For quick prep you can use boil-in-a-bag or a stove-top method using raw quinoa. Both are quick. These products are usually found in the grocery store near the rice products or the health food section. Quinoa is one of the quickest to prep from start to finish whole grain. Boil-in-a-bag by Success® takes 10 minutes. See cooking instructions above under cooking boil-in-a-bag brown rice instructions.
Stove-top using raw whole grain quinoa takes 15 minutes after bringing water to boil. Any raw quinoa works for the stove-top method. Rinse quinoa using a fine mesh sieve until water runs clear. Rinsing removes a safe, but bitter tasting outer layer the quinoa plant produces to ward off insects. Add water, double the amount of raw quinoa you are cooking to saucepan with quinoa. Bring water to a boil, keep uncovered and reduce to a simmer until water is absorbed. This takes about 10-15 minutes depending on how much you are making. Then remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes covered. During this time the quinoa steams and pops open. Remove the cover and fluff with a fork. Raw quinoa grows to triple the amount once cooked (1 cup raw makes 3 cups cooked).
Whole grain oats are proven to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar. Oatmeal for breakfast is an easy way several times a week to work in whole grain oats even if you are in a rush to get out the door. You can use rolled oats, also called old fashioned oatmeal, or 100% whole grain quick 1-minute oats (also called quick cooking oats). Both of these have all three of mother nature's whole grain layers. The difference is the 1-minute oats kernel is cut into smaller pieces before being rolled when manufactured. This process makes it easier for the oats to absorb water and cook in a shorter time. This is why they take less time to cook in your kitchen.
To cook rolled oats, bring to boil in water amount that’s double the amount of raw rolled oats on stove-top or in microwave. Cook for 5 minutes on stove-top or in microwave for 2 1/2 - 3 minutes. Let sit a minute or two before eating. For quick oats, cook on stove-top 1 minute and if cooking in the microwave cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Oats is a simple and guaranteed healthy way to start your day with a whole grain. Add in blueberries, walnuts or other nut, and low or non-fat milk for a full delicious meal ready in 5 minutes or less.
4. Whole-Grain Pasta
There are several options for pasta these days. For traditional flour pasta, make sure the first ingredient listed is 100% whole-grain durum or whole grain durum wheat flour. Watch out for getting duped with just whole durum wheat flour listed. It is better than white pasta, but it is not whole grain with all three layers of the grain.
If you aren’t crazy about whole grain pastas, there are other options now that are full of fiber and other great nutrients. Technically, they aren’t a whole-grain, but still easily part of a healthy eating lifestyle. Beans, yes beans, now can be ground into a flour-like ingredient and formed into pasta. They are a great option if you love pasta and want a healthy option. Look on the ingredient list to check that the first ingredient listed is the name of a bean. It may have “flour” after the bean name. For example, a bean pasta might be yellow lentil flour, or listed as chickpeas. It is fine if you see tapioca, pea protein or xanthan gum in the ingredient list after the bean name. These ingredients help hold the bean flour together in pasta-like shapes.
For cooking pastas, bring water in medium saucepan to boil and add pasta. The thicker the pasta, the longer it will take to cook. Most pastas cook in 7–10 minutes. Cook until fork tender done. Bean pastas typically take a little less time than whole grain flour pasta to cook. Drain water and run cool water over to stop the cooking and prevent over cooking.
Yes, popcorn is a whole grain. The best way to prepare popcorn to preserve the nutrients in it is to pop the kernels in a brown paper bag. The easiest method is in the microwave. Put 1/4 - 1/3 cup unpopped corn kernels in a paper bag. Roll the top of the paper bag down a time or two and set it in the microwave standing up. The exact length of time will depend on the wattage of your microwave. Start at 1 minute 25 seconds and listen for the popping sound. Once the popping sound is just beyond 3 seconds between sounds, stop the microwave. You can add seasoning by using non-stick canola spray sprayed over the popcorn and then shake lightly on Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast or a very light layer of salt.
If you want more ideas and help with cooking healthy and delicious dishes, check-out our next cooking class series, Cooking with Heart
. It is a fun and interactive six-week cooking series where you get to sample food every week, watch it being prepared, then try it at home and come back with questions the next week. By the end of the six weeks, participants have made multiple delicious recipes at home and redesigned their kitchens and make healthy eating doable in their busy lives. Find more details at unitypoint.org/cookingwithheart