Are you tired of your basic everyday grains and looking to change up your menu just a bit? Here are my favorite healthy whole grains that I use regularly for my meals and meal prep.
I know that nutrition still matters even when I am practicing Intuitive Eating. So when I am craving a healthy and nutritious meal, these are my go to grains
Usually I cook one or two before the start of my week. That way when I get ready to pack up my lunch or prepare a quick dinner, I have some cooked options on-hand. Some of these cook quickly, but others can take anywhere from 30-50 minutes to cook which for me, is sometimes too long during the week.
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Read more about my favorite picks below and pick one or two new ones to try out!
Bulgur is created when kernels of wheat are cleaned, boiled, dried and then ground. Since it has already been cooked, it only takes 10 minutes to cook which makes it perfect for quick and easy meals and also for meal prep.
Bulgur is most commonly known for it’s use in Tabbouleh Salad, a traditional Lebanese dish made with chopped parsley, tomato, mint, olive oil and lemon.
I am not a huge fan of tabbouleh, but I do I like to use this grain for pilafs and salads. And I frequently use it for meal prep such as in this Mediterranean Bulgur Bowl . I particularly enjoy the texture and nutty flavor of this whole grain and of course how quickly it cooks.
You can also use it as a substitute for rice in just about any pilaf recipe. Simply reduce the cooking time as the bulgur cooks in a fraction of the time.
Wheatberries are whole wheat kernels and take up to an hour to fully cook which means that cooking in advance is a good idea unless you know you have the time.
Despite the long cooking time, I like them. They have a chewy texture and a nutty, wheat flavor that works great for pilafs and salads. Cracked wheat kernels are also available and take less time to cook but are similar in terms of flavor.
Quinoa is actually a seed not a grain and comes from the Andes where it has been cultivated for centuries (since the Incas). Much quinoa still is grown in South American as it requires a cold environment and high altitude to grow.
It is available in a variety of colors but the most common are white, black and red. It cooks in less than 15 minutes which makes it great for weeknight meals and other times when you don’t have a ton of time to be in the kitchen. The white quinoa tends to cook up to a softer texture than the red and black which remain a bit intact and have a little bit of a “bite” to their texture. Personally, I prefer to cook with a blend of these varieties and you can even buy then in a tri-color version in the store.
Cooking with Quinoa
One cooking note about quinoa is that it has a bitter-flavor from the high amounts of saponins it contains. It is best to rinse quinoa thoroughly before cooking to remove this flavor. You will see the saponins in the water when you rinse the quinoa as it creates bubbles and looks “soapy”. My preference for cooking quinoa is to also cook it in broth or with a bit of seasoning in the water to add a bit more flavor.
Quinoa is perfect for many different preparations including entrees, side dishes, salads and pilafs. One of my favorite recipes with quinoa is Quinotto with Winter Squash and Greens. In this recipe, the quinoa is cooked similar to a risotto and the results are a hearty, creamy dish that is so satisfying.
From a nutrition standpoint, quinoa is great as an addition to vegetarian diets as a plant-based source of protein. It is considered to be a high-quality protein and a complete protein, meaning it contains ALL the essential amino acids our body is unable to make on its own.
Which brands to buy to support local growers
While quinoa crops have become much more industrial and commercial, there are still small farmers high up in the Andes tht are growing quinoa and the popularity of this grain has greatly improved their life. Consider choosing a brand that specifically sources from these small farmers to make sure you are helping them and not the larger, more industrial farms. A trick to identify products containing quinoa from these smaller farmers it to look for the works Quinoa Real or Royal Quinoa on the packaging. For sure there are cheaper brands of quinoa to purchase, but I personally like the idea of supporting the little guy!
Despite it’s name, buckwheat doesn’t contain wheat. And it is technically not a whole grain but its nutrition, flavor and appearance makes it fit in easily with other whole grains. I am most familiar with buckwheat pancakes and with soba noodles, a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat. My only experience is cooking with buckwheat flour but it makes super tasty pancakes and flatbreads! At this time I don’t have any recipes to share but hopefully soon!
Buckwheat is full of tons of nutrients and boasts high levels of protein and soluble fiber. It is also a gluten-free grain, meaning that if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, buckwheat is a great substitute for baked goods.
Soba noodles are perfect for meal prep, they cook quickly and will hold in the refrigerator for several days. They are perfect to use in making these Asian Salad Bowls.
Brown rice is pretty basic and less exotic than some of the other whole-grains but is essential in my collection. I cook with it at least once a week. And I must say that I rarely eat regular white rice except when dining out at a restaurant. I know that for some, making this transition to brown rice is impossible and that’s ok. But for me, I enjoy the chewier texture of brown rice of the standard white rice.
I like to cook the brown rice with a bit of sautéed garlic for some flavor. I start with a little bit of olive oil and then thrown in a few cloves of chopped garlic and let it cook for 30 seconds and then add the rice and water. Delicious!
For me brown rice is perfect paired with any type of cooked beans or stews and I even sometimes eat as pasta covered in a Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Oats of any kind are really perfect! They don’t actually vary tons in terms of their nutrition, but my favorite are steel-cut oats mainly because of their texture. They are a bit chewier than other forms of oats. The only downside is that they do take time to cook, up to 45 minutes. But for me, it’s worth it. You can prep it up ahead of time on the weekend and then use it throughout the week for breakfast, snacks or other meals.
Have you ever tried oats as a savory breakfast? They are amazing topped with a lightly fried egg and some greens! Try out this recipe for Savory breakfast bowl prepared with oats. Even better you can pretty much substitute any of these whole grains for the oats in creating this breakfast dish.
The Whole Grains A to Z list of whole grains is an excellent resource which I’d recommend you checking out for more information about these specific whole grains and others. I used this resource to put together this post as well.
Which of these grains are your favorites? Tell me in the comments!
Here are some other posts with my recommendations for ingredients and kitchen equipment!