Spot the Super Grains

Rice is nice, but your kid will also benefit from these nutritionally dense alternatives, says MICHELLE TCHEA. Here’s how to make them palatable for kids.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Rice is nice, but your kid will also benefit from these nutritionally dense alternatives, says MICHELLE TCHEA. Here’s how to make them palatable for kids.
My Reading Room

QUINOA Quinoa (say KEEN-wah) is known as the mother of all grains – although technically, it’s a seed.

A staple food of the people in the Andes region in South America, it has all the essential amino acids and contains vitamins like thiamin, niacin and riboflavin – essential for brain and muscle development. It’s also loaded recipes with minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, and fibre. Rich in antioxidants, quinoa fights free radicals in the body, too.

COOK IT Quinoa’s unusual flavour takes some getting used to, so start your kids early on it – mix it up with other delicious ingredients that they love. It can be incorporated into purees for babies aged 10 months and up; for older children, fold them into pancake mix or, my favourite, granola bars.

Lightly toast 1 cup each of oats and quinoa, add your favourite amount of chopped nuts and dried fruit, before stirring in melted peanut butter (about ½ cup) and honey (about 3 heaped tablespoons). 

Stir to combine ingredients, while adding a little butter (or extra honey) if necessary. Bake at 170 deg C for about 20 minutes, until heated through. Break up into pieces and serve. TIP Try combining small amounts into potato salads for an extra crunch. You can also put it into baked goods, or add it to hamburgers.

To avoid mushy and bitter quinoa, make sure you rinse the tiny grains in cold running water and wash away the bitter coating. A fail-proof technique is to bring 1 cup of quinoa to the boil in 2 cups of water or stock.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook on a low flame for 15 minutes, or until the kernels unravel. Fluff with a fork before serving.


Couscous (say KOOS-koos) is a great alternative to rice. These tiny pearls of semolina made from durum wheat offer an abundance of health benefits. One of the most important is selenium, which is diffi cult to find in many food sources. A powerful antioxidant, selenium also helps maintain good heart health – particularly important in fighting childhood cholesterol, which has been linked to heart problems in adulthood.

What’s even better: Selenium stimulates the regeneration of vitamins C and E, which play an important role in the body’s defence.

COOK IT Be creative! Northern African countries – where it originated – tend to eat it as a rice or porridge and serve it with stews.

Or lightly toss grilled vegetables with steamed couscous (follow package instructions) to make a warm salad. On its own, it lacks a distinctive taste and takes on the flavours of the ingredients it’s cooked with.

Kids will enjoy making couscous patties and moulding them into fun shapes. Add lightly beaten eggs or even mashed sweet potato as a binder to avoid the patties falling apart, and grill as you would a hamburger. You can mix it into your regular meatball recipe, too.

TIP Couscous is a great way to get your child interested in exotic ingredients. Try inspiring them in the kitchen by having themed dinners like Moroccan night, and make a beef stew to pair with the grain.

It’s also a great breakfast idea – cook it and top with fresh or poached fruit and even yogurt for something a little different.

SPELT Often referred as the grandfather of wheat, this ancient European grain is high in protein and fibre. For sensitive tummies, spelt helps with digestion, as well as relieving constipation and other gastrointestinal issues. Its high levels of iron and copper are also important for red blood cells, which help with healing and boost energy levels to help your young one through long days at school. COOK IT

The best way is to use it as a flour, but if you want to a quick and easy recipe for spelt grains, try combining it with your white rice for dinner. This not only adds texture to help with your kid’s chewing skills, but also a nutty taste to the dish.

To cook spelt, lightly rinse the grains under cold water before simmering for about 25 minutes. Cook until tender and mix with your favourite vegetables, meat or even tofu. Or make a vegetable pilaf with it before rolling into rice balls, similar to Japanese rice balls.

TIP Try swopping regular white flour for spelt flour. Use it in any of your baked goods, like pancakes or even blueberry muffins. If you make your own bread at home, try using half white, half spelt flour for extra nutrients.

MILLET What do the cultures of Russia, China, India and Western Africa have in common? They all have traditional dishes that use millet.

A good alternative to rice cereal, this grain is easily digested, gluten-free and a non-allergenic grain. It has a mild yet nutty flavour with the same protein content as rice and wheat.

Millet is rich in magnesium, which has been linked to decreasing diabetes risks for kids, as well as decreasing the chances of childhood asthma, so be sure to add more millet to your diet for good health.

COOK IT Millet doesn’t need any soaking, but should be lightly rinsed under cold running water.

Simmer 1 cup of millet in 2 cups of liquid and cook for about 15 minutes. Put a lid on and let it sit as it absorbs any remaining liquid for at least 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork to get a pilaf-like consistency. You can then keep it in the fridge for at least two days and eat as a morning porridge with yogurt.

For something savoury, my favourite dish is a chicken casserole with millet. Lightly saute onions and carrots before lightly searing chicken thighs in the same pan.

Add in about 1 cup millet and top up with chicken stock – just enough to cover the chicken. Let the liquid reduce and be completely absorbed by the millet. Add more liquid if it is too dry. Cover with a lid until the chicken is cooked and millet is tender.

TIP Try using millet in all your baked goods or even toasting into a delicious, crunchy granola. They also make great millet croquettes.

My Reading Room

This relatively new super grain comes from Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa, where it’s a staple food. Its gluten-free composition makes it good for kids with allergies, and it’s also high in vitamin C. Teff looks a lot of like poppy seeds and tastes nutty, adding texture to your favourite dishes.

COOK IT Extremely versatile, teff can be eaten as a breakfast porridge – just use it as one of your kid’s cereal toppings.

A quick and easy way to prepare the grain: Add ½ cup teff grains to 2 cups of water. Simmer for at least 20 minutes until tender, then add it to your favourite dishes or stews.

For something fun, pour the cooked mixture into a loaf tin and leave it in the fridge until firm. Slice and lightly fry for fun teff chips on the go.

TIP The next time you make gingerbread cookies, replace plain flour with teff flour.


A staple food in Europe, and North and South America, cornmeal is often regarded as an energising food for marathon runners.

Often boiled into a creamy porridge known universally as polenta in Italy, this dish can be a great alternative to other grains. Corn or maize is a good source of vitamins (especially B complex), as well as folate, which helps maintain new cells and reduces the risk of anaemia.

COOK IT Cornmeal should be cooked with just the right amount of water or it will fall apart. For firmer polenta that you can cut and shape, add 1 cup polenta to 4 cups of water.

Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes, but if you are using a quickcooking polenta, then follow the package instructions. Add grated cheese or other flavours before pouring into a tray and chilling. Cut into sticks or other fun shapes, and lightly bake or fry before eating. recipes

TIP Whole corn flour, just like whole wheat flour or whole rice, is a better option when compared to refined flours, which don’t contain fibre and just add empty calories. Plus, the outer layer of fibre – the bran – contains all the vitamins and minerals.

Corn can induce allergic symptoms in babies, so be careful when feeding it for the first time. If your kid has a reaction, contact your paediatrician immediately.