When people ask me to list my favorite healthy foods, quinoa always tops the list. And not just because the National Restaurant Association named it the hottest trend in side dishes in 2010.
My boys think I like quinoa because when it was first discovered it was named “the mother grain.” Yes, I am proud to be a mother myself, but check out all the real reasons I love quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”).
1. It has a higher nutritional profile and cooks faster than all grains. (Technically, quinoa isn’t a grain, though it is almost always included in the whole grain category because its nutrient profile is similar and because it is enjoyed the same way.)
2. It contains all eight essential amino acids to make it a complete protein (as much as milk!).
3. It is high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and Vitamin E.
4. It is gluten-free.
Kids often love it because it has a very nutty yet neutral flavor. My younger son begs for it, and I started feeding it to my baby when she was 7 months old. If your children are not yet hip to this trend, here are a few ideas to encourage them to eat quinoa:
Call it names. When I began adding quinoa into our family meals, I called it “pirate’s gold.” I let my boys wear all their pirate gear to dinner and told them a story about how the Inca pirates in South America considered it gold because it was so nutritious and gave them so much energy. You could name it anything that would get your child’s attention. I know some pasta-loving kids who happily gobbled it when their moms called it “baby pasta.”
Make quinoa sundaes for dinner. Each person in the family gets a bowl of quinoa and the opportunity to add whichever healthy toppings they prefer, kind of like topping an ice cream sundae. Lay out bowls of dried fruits, nuts, cut veggies and beans. Fresh fruit such as apples and pears taste great in quinoa. Encourage your children to make their bowls as colorful as possible. Kids love to be in control of what they eat, and this meal lets them do just that.
Have a quinoa history night. Share these fun facts from the Whole Grains Council.
- Inca warriors ate balls of quinoa and fat to keep them going on long marches and in battle.
- NASA has proposed quinoa as an ideal food for long-duration spaceflights.
- It has the nickname “goose foot” because the leaves of the plant resemble the webbed foot of a goose.
- It has been grown and consumed for about 8,000 years on the high plains of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Incas were able to run such long distances at such a high altitude because of this powerful food.
- In 1532, the Spanish burned all of the quinoa fields in what is now Bolivia to win a war because the food was so sacred and was the most important part of the Incan diet.
- It grows well in drought and has been designated a “super crop” by the United Nations for its potential to feed the hungry poor.
Explain how health-giving it is, in age-appropriate language, of course. If you have children on the sports fields, explain how the protein and carbohydrates will give them the energy they need for their games. Tell your kids that the potassium in quinoa helps the heart beat regularly by triggering the heart to squeeze, and that its B vitamins can support their happy moods.
Start simple. Toss with a little olive oil and sea salt, or a dollop of butter from grass-fed cows, and serve. Once your kids are sold, add vegetables and other ingredients.
In 1955, a food researcher named Philip White said, “While no single food can supply all the essential life-sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other.” That’s why it is invariably one of my favorite healthy foods. Oh, and because it cooks in 15 minutes. What mother wouldn’t love that?
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 24, 2013.