Oatmeal is a tried-and-true breakfast staple and a fabulous way to get a healthy whole grain into your diet. But here’s the truth: Oats aren’t the ONLY grain worth eating if you’re looking to rise and shine in the morning.
Plenty of other fabulous grains get harvested from fields around the world, says registered dietitians Beth Czerwony, RD, and Laura Jeffers, RD. They just don’t get the same level of attention as the mighty oat.
“It can be pretty intimidating when you start looking at using some of these ancient grains,” says Czerwony. “But it’s good to mix things up and be a little adventurous. Try something different. You might like it.”
So, if you’re open to experimenting, these seven grains are a good place to start.
Pronounced “keen-wah,” this nutty-tasting ancient superseed is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. “A lot of time, people don’t think quinoa can be cooked into hot cereal, but it’s actually very popular,” notes Czerwony.
- How to prepare it: Rinse 1 cup of quinoa. Place in a small saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serves two.
- Why give it a try: With 8 grams of protein per cup, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. (Fast fact: Quinoa is one of the few plants that contain a complete protein). This grain is also gluten-free and is a good source of iron.
We’re cheating a bit here because this “pseudocereal” is technically a seed as opposed to a true grain. But it was a staple food of the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs.
- How to prepare it: Mix a 1/2 cup of amaranth and 1 1/2 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Serves two.
- Why give it a try: This tiny seed contains all essential amino acids, making it a plant source of complete protein. It’s also gluten-free.
Cornmeal mush? Yes, please! Polenta is what the Italian, French and Swiss call a simple boiled cornmeal. It’s a versatile dish, too. It can be eaten hot or left to cool and then sliced, baked or grilled.
- How to prepare it: Polenta has a reputation for being high maintenance. Try this method. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup polenta and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. Add more water if it dries out. Serves two.
- Why give it a try: Polenta made from organic corn is a good source of vitamin C and a pair of antioxidant carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin). And it’s yet another gluten-free option!
Legend has it that this ancient grain was found in Egyptian tombs. Made from Khorasan wheat, the grains are pretty hefty (at least for grains) and twice the size of a basic wheat kernel. (Kamut® is actually the brand name.)
- How to prepare it: Soak 1/2 cup of Kamut overnight in 1 cup of water. Drain, rinse and put in a small pot. Cover with an inch of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 25 minutes until water is absorbed.
- Why give it a try: This ancient wheat is higher in protein, selenium, zinc and magnesium than modern wheat.
Wait a second … isn’t millet birdseed? Yes, it is — but it’s people-approved, too. In Ancient Rome, it was actually used for porridge, while it was traditionally ground and used in flatbreads in India and Ethiopia. It’s worth a try today, too.
- How to prepare it: Lightly toast 1/2 cup of millet in a small saucepan for two to three minutes (or until fragrant). Add 1 1/2 cups water or orange juice and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Serves two.
- Why give it a try: Millet is high in fiber, iron, B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium, while also being gluten-free.
Another not-true-grain, buckwheat is a triangular seed related to rhubarb. Its roasted groats (kasha) are an Eastern European staple enjoyed with milk or sautéed mushrooms and onions.
- How to prepare it: Rinse 1 cup of buckwheat groats in hot water. Place in a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. Serves two.
- Why give it a try: You’ll get all nine essential amino acids, including lysine and arginine. Plus, it’s a very good source of manganese, while also packing ample amounts of copper, magnesium, fiber and phosphorus. And despite “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is actually wheat-free and gluten-free!
Brown rice is an inexpensive staple that so many of us have in our pantry but tend to forget about. (Don’t let it slip your mind for too long, though: Brown rice spoils faster than other types of rice due to its high oil content.)
- How to prepare it: Place 1 cup of cooked brown rice and 1 cup of water in a small pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 7 to 8 minutes until thickened. Then add in … well, whatever sounds good. Brown rice for breakfast is great for using up leftovers!
- Why give it a try: Brown rice is a solid source of manganese, as well as selenium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium and niacin.
Adding tasty, healthy toppings
Want to add a little something extra to your breakfast grains? The options are endless! To give you some ideas, mix and match any of the following and you’ll never complain about a dull breakfast bowl!
- Milk. Spill in some low-fat milk or go the nondairy route with almond, coconut or soy milk.
- Fruits. Blueberries? Perfect. Raspberries? Those will work, too. Blackberries, mango, banana, strawberries, raisins, dates or figs? All good! Basically, use your favorite fruit and enjoy.
- Nuts. If you’re feeling nutty, drop in some pecans, walnuts, almonds or whatever else might excite your taste buds. Nut butters work, too.
- Spices. Open up that spice cupboard and make good use of your cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice or vanilla.
“Be creative,” recommends Czerwony. “You can definitely make your breakfast interesting, tasty and healthy.”