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Cooking Healthy Grains

Grains are some of the healthiest foods you can eat, but many people don’t know how to prepare them. Here’s everything you need to know about cooking healthy grains.

how to cook whole grains

We all know that we need to eat more grains because they are packed with fiber, complex carbohydrates, and can help control our weight.  But many people feel they don’t know how to cook healthy whole grains and are intimidated by the process.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • barley
  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur (which is cracked wheat)
  • farro
  • millet
  • oatmeal
  • popcorn
  • whole-wheat bread and pasta

Whole grains definition

A grain is considered to be a whole grain as long as all three original parts — the bran, germ, and endosperm — are still present in the same proportions as when the grain was growing in the fields.

The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.

The germ is the embryo which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.

The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, which provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients, and send sprouts up for sunlight’s photosynthesizing power. The endosperm is by far the largest portion of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.—WholeGrainCouncil.org

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Cooking grains is easy, and they are good for us

The truth is that there are some easy ways to add grains to your diet, and most whole grains are very simple to cook, just like rice. You can even prepare them in a slow cooker if you like.

But, don’t carbs make us fat?

For those concerned that complex carbs like those found in grains will cause weight gain, you will be happy to learn that the opposite is actually true. The thinnest people on the planet get about 80% of their calories from complex carbohydrates.

Asian countries with their rice and rural African populations with sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables and grains are just a couple of examples.

Carbohydrates are what fuel our bodies and keep us running smoothly, like gas in an automobile. Complex carbs even help protect against heart disease

Grains also help control our weight by keeping us full for longer.

cooked bulgur in pan on wooden table

Grain cooking chart for barley, bulgur, buckwheat, farro, and more

The following chart of cooking techniques is from Whole Grains CouncilNote: Rinse and drain grains before cooking. The grains will roughly triple in volume once cooked.

For the stove top, simply put the dry grain in a stock pot or saucepan with water or vegetable broth amounts listed below. Bring it to a boil, then simmer until the liquid is absorbed.

Grain Cooking Chart

Cooking times can vary

Grains can sometimes vary in cooking times.  Some of the variables depend on the age of the grain, the variety, and the pan being used for cooking. If the grain is not as tender as you like when the cooking time is up, simply add more water and continue cooking.

On the other hand, if it is tender and everything looks good before the liquid is all absorbed, simply drain the excess and serve.

Slower cooker instructions

hearty barley vegetable soup with cornbread

Most of these whole grains will cook perfectly in water or vegetable broth added to a slow cooker in about 8 hours. Just add half a cup or more of grain to your favorite slow cooker stew and soup recipes. Hearty Barley Vegetable Soup is one of our favorites!

Another option is to cook just the grain in the slow cooker overnight or throughout the day on a low setting. Add 4 cups water per cup of whole kernel grains.

Making a batch of grain and then freezing leftovers is a great way to have them on-hand and ready to toss into salads or other dishes.

Crock Pot Bulgur Chili is a delicious recipe that includes the wheat grain bulgur.  Bulgur is one of my favorite grains.

I like to make a big batch of bulgur and store in the freezer to use in recipes like tacos and spaghetti because bulgur adds a ground beef texture and soaks up flavors of the dish you are preparing.

Shortcut cooking method

Grains can be cooked more quickly by letting them sit in the allotted amount of water or broth for a few hours before cooking. Shortly before dinnertime, add extra water if needed, then cook. You will find that cooking time is much shorter with a little pre-soaking.

Whole grains can also be cooked in big batches. They keep 5-7 days in the refrigerator and take only minutes to warm up with a little added water or broth.

The leftovers can be used for cold grain salads like Kale Quinoa Salad, or just toss a few handfuls into some soup.

kale salad with quinoa and orange slices in white bowl
Kale Quinoa Salad is a terrific recipe for adding healthy quinoa.

Whole grains can be used as an alternative to pasta in salads, stuffing, and casseroles. They can be added to soups and stews.

Since grains provide a healthy boost of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, get creative in adding them to many of your favorite recipes!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.

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stock pots
This is the pot that I use and highly recommend. Click to view on Amazon. MAKER Homeware 12 Quart Stockpot with Nonstick Ceramic Coating. Affiliate link.

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