Weaning them off white pasta

My husband typically does our Costco shop once a month.  Although now that the kids are bigger, and our students eat at home much more (much healthier!), those Costco shops are up to twice a month, something that doesn’t bother him at all!

I make the list, and off he goes.  Typicaly, he gets what is on the list (I won’t go into the extras that sometimes come home as that is worthy of another post for another day!).  This time…

…He returns with the car loaded with items… He and my daughter bring them in, while my son and I put things away… 3 4L jugs of milk, feta cheese, fresh strawberries, frozen strawberries, low fat cheese, sprouted grain bread, laundry soap, toilet paper, white pasta, salsa, peppercorns…wait, white pasta??  I hold it up and give him a questioning  look over my glasses.  He huffs, “That was all they had, and the list just said “Pasta” ”

We have been together for almost 15 years.  We have been eating whole grain pasta for almost 15 years, not strictly, but mostly.  He loves tortellini and I have yet to find it made with whole grain flour, so it shows up on the table from time to time.  When we met, he virtually lived on pasta, jarred sauce and salad, oh and peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  At the time, I was fascinated by this man who ate salad every night, and only bought whole grain breads, and natural peanut butter, didn’t eat mayonnaise or margarine,  yet consumed such vast quantities of white pasta.  He was healthy and fit:  he walked or rode his bike to work everyday, swam at the YMCA pool twice a week, and at 5’10”, he weighed about 180lbs.

My mindset had always been if you could buy the whole grain version of something, why would you bother with the white?  I still often think, why even bother making the white version, if you can make a whole grain version?  Of course as an adult, I realise that for big companies, it isn’t about making what is best for people, it is about making what will make the most money.

I wasn’t raised eating whole grain pastas, or using whole grain flours.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, typically the pasta in our house was white.  Although my mother (who also preferred whole grain breads, and cereals, like oatmeal) always bought spinach noodles for her lasagne or for making pasta salads.  My stepmother always bought whole grain breads for herself and white bread for my father.  As children, the choice of bread was ours, so the option was always there.  I can tell you we never got to have Wonder Bread, even though we asked for it!  But the pasta was always white.  My Auntie, however, lived in Ottawa, and whenever we would go to visit her or stay with her, she would take us shopping at the Herb and Spice Grocery.  Shopping with her, always left me thinking, “I love this. When I am older and I do my own groceries, I am going to shop this way.”  As an older teenager, I learned that my uncle (brother of the Auntie in Ottawa) ground his own flour, and for the most part didn’t eat meat (except when he came to our house).  We ate well, home cooked meals, lots of vegetables and fruit, not a whole lot of processed stuff, but a long way from a whole grain diet.

When I moved out on my own, I lived in the city, and discovered that grocery shopping in the city gave way more options, than a suburban community.  I spent hours on Saturdays, poking around different neighbourhoods, finding all sorts of exciting ingredients.  I taught myself how to prepare dried beans, and learned that chili didn’t have to be ground beef and kidney beans.  I shopped in China town in Montreal, and tried different vegetables, and different types of noodles.  Soba noodles, rice noodles, Chinese egg noodles.  Every weekend was a different food adventure.  The girls I worked with were from different areas of the city, and different Nationalities.  On Friday nights on pay weeks, we would go out for supper together sometimes.  We went to a small Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English to us, but the food was incredible!  We ate Ethiopian food with our hands, sitting on cushions on the floor. We went to a Greek restaurant where one of the girls ordered everything for us and the evening (and the food) didn’t end until after midnight.  And this is how my love affair with food began.  It was also when eating whole grains truly became a way of life.

My husband has never balked at eating whole grains.  He has always eaten whatever I cook, with no complaints.  When our children came along, we fed them whole grains right from the start.  Brown and wild rices, whole grain pastas and breads, barley, spelt, and more recently quinoa.  I remember taking my (then) 10 month old daughter with me for a lunch date with a friend.  I had ordered Quesadillas, which came with a side order of rice.  I had brought vegetables for my daughter to eat, and thought I would give her some of the rice (she loved rice!).  It turned out she loved “brown rice”.  I laughed when she turned up her nose at the white rice, and spit it out.  And in reality, why would you eat plain white rice if you are used to the nutty taste of brown?

Check out some of these articles about whole grain pastas and making good choices for yourself and your family.

Why whole grain pasta is a better choice

Weaning off of white flour

Is Smart Pasta really “Smart” ?

However, if everyone in your house is used to white pasta and white rice, and white flour, it is hard to get them to switch! Why?  For the same reason my daughter wouldn’t eat white rice.  We “like” what our mouths and bodies are used to, we are creatures of habit.  So then, if you have made up your mind you want your family to eat a healthier diet, how do you get them to switch?  You are the one who make the meals, and does the grocery shopping, but if “They” won’t eat any of it, what do you do? It can get expensive to keep making healthy meals that no one wants to eat.  Ideally, the best thing to do, is have a family meeting, get everyone on board, clean out the pantry and start fresh.  Well, ideal maybe, but not always realistic!

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Go half and half for your pastas.  Mix up the rotini or the linguine.  Using a homemade sauce that everyone likes and is familiar with will take the pressure off the pasta.  Then over a couple of weeks, make it a greater amount whole grain to white, until your white pasta is depleted.  Then serve it up as just whole grain.  Try this easy kid friendly sauce with your next pasta meal.

2. Make it a side rather than the main meal.  Move away from making pasta the center of attention.  Make a pasta salad (toss leftover Greek salad with whole grain farfale) and serve it as a side dish.  Here is a great link for healthy pasta side dishes: Delish

3.Try something new together.  Find a new pasta recipe and try it together as a family.  This way everyone isn’t “expecting” the regular flavours of a known meal, but rather trying something new.  Here is a great idea for a new recipe: Stove Top Fideos.

4. Don’t give up.  Eventually they will be on board.  But don’t make a fuss about what is not eaten.  Just like when children were little, keep the rule of “this is what is for supper.  You don’t have to eat it, but the next meal is at breakfast time.”  Not as easy to do with teenagers, and adult males, as it is with little ones.  But for the most part, if you are making a strong effort to bring healthy whole grains into your kitchen, and you persevere, you will get there.  And they will eat the whole grain pastas (and flours and breads).  Remember how powerful your example is.  If your children see you eating healthy foods and making good choices, they will follow.  Here are some more great tips for helping your family to make healthy food choices.

And what to do with that package of white pasta?  My first instinct was to hand it to him and tell him to take it back.  However, instead I used the “half and half” guideline (although I think it was more of a 2/3:1/3 ratio) and I made sure to add lots of veggies to the sauce and salads!


Happy packing!