Whole-Grain Challenge

When it comes to breakfast, oatmeal is huge; other grains, not so much.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

There are foodservice operators who have incorporated a variety of exotic grains into their menus, in vegetarian items and on salad bars, and customers have embraced them. But when it comes to breakfast, customers’ love of grains doesn’t go much past oatmeal and whole wheat.

Oatmeal is hot: “Oatmeal is huge with our students,” says Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “We have a build-your-own oatmeal station, where students can add a variety of toppings. Fruit is popular, and we offer fresh and dried cranberries, blueberries, apples, apricots, even mango.”

DiStefano adds that Dining Services also is adding more whole grains to the muffins and other breakfast breads that bakers Simon Stevenson and Pam Adams whip up.
Penn State University’s main and branch campuses also have experienced the growing popularity of oatmeal.

“Oatmeal is really taking off, both regular and steel-cut,” says Bill Laychur, executive chef for the Penn State system. “We offer several different flavors of oatmeal on a regular basis: apple-cinnamon, honey-apricot, cherry vanilla, orange-cranberry, blueberry, banana-walnut and cinnamon-raisin.”

However, aside from oatmeal and, perhaps, Cream of Wheat or grits, grains aren’t finding their way onto many breakfast menus—at least as hot cereals. DiStefano says no exotic grains are offered in the residence halls. Penn State’s main campus did serve up a hot quinoa cereal when it operated a healthy dining venue a few years back, but it was short-lived.

“Quinoa didn’t go over so well,” Laychur says. “Maybe it was just too soon. If we wait another two or three years, we may bring it back and it might work.”

Penn State does, however, offer a hot five-grain blend from Bob’s Red Mill as an occasional specialty item.

Other operators echo these sentiments.

“We offer housemade granola and oatmeal made to order,” says Susan Anderson, director of Food Services & Catering at the University of Wis-
consin-Baraboo/Sauk County campus. “Most of our grain variations show up at lunch.”

Eurest Dining Services, a division of Compass Group North America that services B&I accounts, reports some success in getting customers to experiment with unusual grains at the morning meal. Michelle Sadlowski, R.D., regional wellness director for Eurest with Johnson & Johnson, has worked with the Whole Grains Council to promote the use of exotic grains.

“Most of our guests enjoy brown rice, oats, whole wheat and barley because they are easily recognizable whole grains,” says Sadlowski, who adds that Eurest has developed a healthy breakfast program with several recipes using whole grains.

“Quinoa did not go over well at first but has become very popular recently after receiving a lot of press as a high-protein grain. At some of our locations it is still hard to sell, but we continue to offer it in new ways and more and more people like it.”

Samples and mixing: One grain Sadlowski believes has potential is farro. “Farro has a firm, chewy texture with a nutty flavor and is a good stand-in for rice and barley,” she explains. “Over time I believe farro will become quite popular.”

Sadlowski adds that frequent sampling is one way Eurest tries to promote unfamiliar grains.

“We have sample cups at all of our café stations to encourage our guests to try before they buy,” she says.

“In October, we highlighted whole grains as the monthly super food. Our customers appreciated the ability to sample whole grains and then take the recipe home with them to make for their families.”

In the Columbia Heights (Minn.) School District, Food Service Director Rynetta Renford encourages students to eat more whole grains by blending them with yogurt in a parfait. She uses Indian Harvest Sunrise Blend with Quinoa Flakes and yogurt, combined with various fruits like grated apple, banana slices and halved grapes.

“I think it works because [the grain is] with the yogurt,” says Renford. “To the students, it’s just like mixing  granola in.” 


Consider These Grains

Here’s the lowdown on five unusual breakfast grains.

Amaranth kernels are tiny and when cooked resemble brown caviar. Amaranth is a “pseudo-grain,” like quinoa and buckwheat, but is listed with grains because its nutritional profile and uses are similar to “true” cereal grains. It has a lively, peppery taste.

Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains. Hulled barley retains more of the whole-grain nutrients but is very slow-cooking. New varieties of hull-less barley are starting to become available.

Buckwheat goes beyond the pancake mixes we associate with it. Japan’s soba noodles, Brittany’s crêpes and Russia’s kasha are all made with buckwheat. Buckwheat is not technically a grain, nor is it a kind of wheat. But its nutrients, nutty flavor and appearance have led to its ready adoption into the family of grains.
Millet is the leading staple grain in India and is commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. Millet has a mild flavor and is often mixed with other grains or toasted before cooking to bring out the full extent of its delicate flavor.

Quinoa comes to us from the Andes, where it has long been cultivated by the Incas. Quinoa is a small, light-colored round grain, similar in appearance to sesame seeds. Quinoa is also available in other colors, including red, purple and black. It cooks in about 10 to 12 minutes, creating a light, fluffy side dish or cereal. Commercially, quinoa is now appearing in cereal flakes and other processed foods. 

Source: Whole Grains Council