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MM-9: Are They Whole Grains?

MM-9: Are They Whole Grains?


Some food companies recognize the appeal of whole grains to sell a product. However, the only way to tell if a food is whole grain is by reading the label.


  • Eight food labels with whole grains, wheat, or grain in the title
  • Six envelopes
  • Six index cards per group
  • One Are They Whole Grains? worksheet for each pair of children (provided)


  1. Pass out the Are They Whole Grains? worksheet. Review with children the ingredient words that mean sugar included on the worksheet. Give them a few minutes to complete the bottom portion of the worksheet, working in pairs, or as a group.
  2. Show children a whole grain food package and ask them if they know how to find out if the label is telling the truth by reading the ingredient list (see Key Talking Points below).
  3. One thing that whole grains have that refined grains don’t is fiber. A serving of whole grain bread or crackers should provide more than 5% of the DV of fiber for the day.
  4. Explain that reading the food label is one way to tell real whole grain foods from foods that just have brown coloring added. Point out that some food labels might even list wheat but unless they see the words whole grain the labels are misleading.
  5. Place the six food packages around the room at different stations. Tape one envelope under each food package.
  6. Explain to children that they will now look at foods in groups, they will decide if the food is a whole grain or not. Then they will write yes or no on their index card and place it in the envelope.
  7. Organize children into groups of two or three and give index cards to each group. Allow groups to go to each station, look at the food packages, and decide as a group if the food is whole grain or partly whole grain or refined.
  8. When all groups are finished, have children (one for each product) volunteer to remove the cards from the envelopes and count the votes. Discuss the results.
  9. Explain that some food manufacturers recognize the health benefits of whole grains and use the word grain and wheat to sell foods. These foods can be part of a healthy diet, but real whole grains should be eaten every day.


  1. Grains are at the base of the Food Pyramid, and comprise the largest part of a healthy diet.
  2. Whole grains are grains that have all the parts of the grain/seed. Refined grains have had parts of the grain/seed removed, meaning that some of the nutrients have also been removed. Removed nutrients include fiber, as well as some vitamins and minerals.
  3. Many food companies use words like grain or wheat on the labels of their foods and color them dark brown so people will think they are healthy whole grains.
  4. The only way to be sure a food is a whole grain is to read the ingredients list and find the word whole in one of the first three ingredients (whole wheat, whole oats, etc.).
  5. A whole grain food should contain at least 5% DV of Dietary Fiber as indicated in the Nutrition Facts panel. DV stands for Daily Value. This is the amount of that nutrient that should be included in a healthy diet for an average size person.


Identify whole grain foods.


  1. You may want to do other whole grain activities, such as HE-10: Great Grain Obstacle or HE-11: Feeling Fibrous.
  2. Send home Family Outreach Tip Sheet TS-11: What’s In It? Advertisements and package designs may be misleading and encourage children to choose foods and drinks that are not very healthy. This tip sheet explains how to read Nutrition Facts on food labels, and recommends ways and reasons to make healthier choices!


Boston Medical Center, Nutrition and Fitness for Life Program, 2010