Dietitian Tips: Putting Together Balanced Meals with Whole Grains (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this series on whole grains, Registered Dietitian Lisa Henderson dives into how to put together healthy, balanced meals with the right proportion of whole grains.

In this episode, she provides many examples of balanced meals and snacks that include a variety of whole grains, including one that will really surprise you! She also gives her tips for shopping for bread at the grocery store to determine if the bread you’re buying is actually whole grain.

Blog: Meal and Snack Ideas with Whole Grains

Let’s start to put into practice what you’ve learned about whole grains. To help you visualize how this would come together in a meal, here are several ideas for meal planning with whole grains. We’ll start with breakfast ideas.

  • For breakfast: if you like___________ in the morning…
    • Oatmeal: 1 cup cooked plain oatmeal – which would be 2 servings of whole grains (so that fits into the formula of 1 or 2 whole grain servings per meal); mixing into the oatmeal some cinnamon for flavor, 1 cup of chopped strawberries, a handful of chopped nuts, a splash of milk or nondairy milk and perhaps a teaspoon of real maple syrup or honey to sweeten it
    • Quinoa: What, quinoa? In the morning? Yes! I want to get you thinking outside the box about whole grains, so another idea for breakfast which you might not have expected is a breakfast quinoa, which is essentially the same recipe as I just gave you for oatmeal, but using cooked quinoa instead of oats. It’s a quick way to start off your day right and a good way to use up leftover quinoa when you’ve made a large batch of it. There’s no good reason to only think about having quinoa at dinner. All whole grains are fairly mild-tasting and fit in well at any meal or any time of day, and they can be made more savory or more sweet by the ingredients you add to them. I’m currently playing with quinoa in my own kitchen, trying out different recipes, so stay tuned to this website because I will be posting a quinoa recipe or two in the next couple of weeks.
    • Eggs #1: (Southwest or Mexican flair): 2 eggs on top of 1 whole wheat tortilla with some salsa and 1 cup of melon on the side. You could make it huevos rancheros by adding ½ cup cooked black beans on the side.
    • Eggs #2: 2 scrambled eggs cooked with baby spinach, 1 or 2 vegetarian sausage links, 1 slice of whole wheat toast with a pat of butter and a few berries on the side
    • Granola: 1 cup of low-sugar granola (look for a granola or muesli that’s low in sugar and has oats and nuts or seeds in it). You could serve it with either a 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt or with milk or a plant-based milk alternative and mix in a cup of berries.
    • Yogurt variation: If you like more yogurt and less granola, you could mix it up by increasing the plain yogurt to 1 cup and decreasing the granola to a ½ cup portion. And, you could experiment with what types of fruit you like mixed in – to see what you like best. You could also think about mixing in a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds for healthy fats. 
    • Pancakes: 1 or 2 pancakes made with buckwheat flour; spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on the pancakes, top that with ½ cup of chopped apple and drizzle 1 or 2 teaspoons of maple syrup over the top. This makes a really yummy (and healthy) weekend breakfast!
    • Toast: 1 or 2 slices of whole grain bread or sprouted wheat bread or a toasted whole grain English muffin with peanut butter or sunflower butter and 1 cup of chopped fruit or berries. Myself, I have this breakfast most days of the week because it’s super easy and I love peanut butter! It also gives me a great source of fiber in the morning.
  • Getting whole grains with lunch: (meal ideas)
    • If you’re making your lunch at home – either to eat at home or if you’re packing a lunch to bring with you…
    • Sandwich with sprouted wheat bread or a dark rye bread, tuna salad or turkey breast, lettuce, cucumber slices with 1 cup of low-sodium tomato soup
    • Veggie burger: if you want to veg out, you could have a veggie burger with a whole grain burger bun (sprouted wheat bun or a whole wheat bun), lettuce, tomato, pickles, whatever veggie toppings that you like on your burger and some apple slices on the side
    • Grain bowl made from leftover whole grains:
      • 1 cup of cooked quinoa or brown rice or wild rice with 4 ounces of chicken (grilled, baked, lightly sauteed), avocado slices and slices of red bell pepper and cherry tomatoes and mix it with 2 tablespoons of a vinaigrette or a tahini dressing
    • Low-sodium soup: lentil, minestrone or split pea soup with chopped baby spinach mixed in; serve it with 5-10 whole wheat crackers (such as Triscuits). For some healthy fats, you could have some kalamata olives or anchovies with the crackers.
    • Middle Eastern: whole wheat pita with falafel, diced cucumber, tomatoes, chopped lettuce, kalamata olives with a tahini sauce

Dinner ideas (home cooking):

  • Mediterranean/Italian: 1 cup of cooked whole wheat pasta or farro with sardines, veggies and marinara sauce
  • Asian/Chinese: 1 cup of cooked black “forbidden rice” with tofu and stir-fried veggies
  • Indian: 1 cup of brown basmati rice with a curry sauce, lentils and vegetables
  • Sushi/Japanese: Vegetarian or salmon/tuna sushi made with brown rice, avocado, cucumber, nori
  • Burger: made with extra-lean ground beef (extra points for grass-fed!) or a turkey burger or veggie burger with a whole wheat bun and colorful veggies on the side
  • Chili: made with beans and/or extra-lean ground beef, diced onions and veggies, spices and hearty whole grains like barley


  • Popcorn (3-6 cups popped; seasoned with a little bit of salt and have it plain or with a little bit of real, melted butter)
  • 5 or 6 whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, hummus or smashed anchovies or sardines
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter or another natural nut butter like almond or cashew butter
  • Breakfast cookie: (for breakfast or for a snack): 1 homemade quinoa breakfast cookie or 1 oatmeal cookie that’s made with a recipe that has no added sugar or flour and is sweetened with mashed banana or applesauce. This would be a good option for an on-the-run breakfast or snack, and really portable to bring with you on a road trip or a hike.

Enjoy being creative with different whole grains this summer! And, stay tuned for Part 3 of this series on whole grains (dining out with whole grains) which is being released next week.

Author: Lisa Henderson, MS, RDN