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Next week, on November 15th, we’ll be celebrating International Whole Grain Day alongside colleagues in the EU, Australia, and Mexico. The theme of this year’s celebration centers on whole grains and children and the beneﬁts of introducing young palates to the ﬂavors and textures of whole grain foods.
Whole grain consumption is linked with a wide range of beneﬁts for children. Studies have shown that it’s associated with lower levels of serum insulin, which indicates healthier blood sugar management, less body fat and healthy BMI, lower systolic blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and even better reading ﬂuency and comprehension in students. Of course, the beneﬁts of whole grains are life-long, so getting the next generation hooked on whole grains helps instill long-term habits for good health.
We adults often overestimate how picky children are about their food and sometimes our own pickiness and assumptions can get in the way of children’s opportunities to try new things. Research shows it takes adults many more exposures to a new food before deciding they like it than it does for children. On average, preschoolers need 5-10 exposures and school-aged kids need 10-15 exposures before accepting a new food. Compare that to over 20 exposures for the average adult! Childhood is actually the best time to teach healthy eating habits and familiarize children with the ﬂavors and textures of whole grains. After all, we know that children who eat whole grains regularly tend to carry these habits into adulthood.
We recently spoke with Dr. Juliana Cohen, Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, who believes that schools can oﬀer students an environment that is quite favorable for introducing whole grains. Students beneﬁt from repeated exposures to new foods, like whole grains, and schools, unlike many households, can aﬀord to repeatedly oﬀer foods that may or may not be immediately accepted. Add to that the fact that in a cafeteria setting, students are modeling eating habits for each other. Those children who are more accustomed to whole grains can often help guide their peers toward whole grain acceptance. Dr. Cohen also points out that schools are a natural hub for learning – what better place to be given guidance on what a nourishing meal looks like!
Research published in 2020 shows the impact that the changes in school lunches have made on student health. The changes in meal requirements have raised the diet quality of children across socio-economic groups and for children living in poverty, the risk of obesity declined substantially each year after the new meal requirements went into eﬀect. In addition to improving overall health, the new school meal requirements have been shown to drive whole grain consumption in particular. The percentage of grains consumed as whole grains at school rose from a measly 4% in 1994 to 21.5% in 2014 with the introduction of whole grain-rich school meal standards. Children, on average, now eat more whole grains at school than at home.
If you want to learn more about children and whole grains, we invite you to join us next Wednesday, November 15th at 11am ET, as we explore this topic in our webinar, Whole Grains for Growing Minds: Nourishing the Next Generation, where we will be joined by both Dr. Cohen and dietitian Sharon Palmer. (Caroline)
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