How to Make Whole Grain Salads

6 simple tricks for making whole grains more delicious – and more palatable for kids – and the husband.

How to Make Whole Grain Salads

It was rare that a whole grain salad would make it onto my meal table.

Part of that reason is that whole grains – like wheat berries, unhulled barley and farro can be hard for younger children to chew. And quinoa can be bitter. So that that leads to my kids pushing it away on their plate – and not the most pleasurable eating by adults.

But I know we should all: Eat more whole grains for better health.

So I set out to make a few versions of whole grain salads and sides that my kids – and husband – would actually eat. They needed to be easy-to-make-options too.

In the process, I discovered whole grain salads are the perfect dish to bring to a potluck or picnic; because they are totally delicious served chilled or at room temp. (But, for food safety reasons do not keep them out of the fridge more than 2 hours.)

Here’s my formula for healthy whole grain salads and sides people will actually eat:

  1. Make grains softer: To make grains easier to chew, when cooking, add 1/2 – 1 cup of water MORE to the pot than called for in the directions. And cook at least 10 minutes longer than stated.
  2. Stir in sweet: When making salad dressing, I go a bit heavy handed on the honey, agave, maple syrup and other sweeteners in dressings. It makes every bite more palatable to palates young and old.
  3. More sweet fruit: Dried fruit goes really well with wheat berries and farro. And if all else fails, at least my kids will pick out and eat the dried apricots, raisins, chopped dried plums and cranberries …and they will likely (almost unknowingly) eat a few whole grains too. This leads to kids becoming more familiar with the ‘new’ grains, and then NEXT time grains are served, they’re more likely to be eaten.
  4. Cheese makes everything better: I don’t always add it, but salty cheese helps bump up the nutrition and likability of most of the salads I make.
  5. Lots of likable veggies: Some of my first salads were unsuccessful because the amount of grains to veggies were too high. Too many grains + lots of big chunks of crunchy veggies meant I was chewing forever. So I added softer veggies – like tomatoes, grilled zucchini and olives. Try a ratio of 2:1. For example 2 cups shredded carrots to 1 cup cooked grains.
  6. Add nuts: Almonds, toasted walnuts, brightly colored pistachios and sunflower seeds please.

How to Make Whole Grain Salads

I’ve tried several flavor combos. Here are our favorite:

6 simple tricks for making whole grains more delicious via @tspcurry Click To Tweet Print

Cheddar and Barley Salad with Walnuts

How to Make Whole Grain Salads

Tips on making whole grain salads delicious – and not too chewy!

  • Author: by Serena Ball, RD
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x


  • 1/2 cup unhulled barley (Pearled barley isn’t a whole grain – but a delicious and high fiber substitute)
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) crumbled Cheddar cheese (I used Cabot Sharp Cheddar)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 7 stems asparagus
  • 5 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon corn or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1/81/4 teaspoon salt (1/8 teaspoon was plenty for us)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Cover barley with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; turn down heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside for 1 hour. Check at 1 hour. If not soft enough to your liking, add 1/2 cup water and cook for another 5 minutes and set aside until soft. Drain if there is excess water.
  2. Meanwhile, to cook asparagus, chop stems into 1/2 inch pieces. Place in microwave-safe bowl; add 1/4 cup water. Cook on HIGH for 1 minute until tender crisp.
  3. To make dressing, combine lemon juice, honey, oil, mustard and salt; mix well.
  4. In a serving bowl, combine cooked grains, asparagus, celery, radishes; pour dressing over salad and mix well. Top with walnuts, cheese and more fresh-ground black pepper.

Did you make this recipe?

Share a photo and tag us — we can't wait to see what you've made!

How to you make whole grains salads or slides yummy? What are your favorite picnic dishes?


We’re Serena & Deanna, two dietitians who love food as much as you do!  

We're also moms and business owners who share our family recipes, healthy kitchen hacks and nutrition adventures while keeping it real in the kitchen with you.

We’re so glad you’ve stopped by!

Hungry for More?

Don’t miss a single delicious, nutritious, food-lovers recipe! For exclusive Healthy Kitchen Hacks and incentives provided only to our subscribers, sign up here to receive our weekly e-newsletter.


Sign up with your email address to receive news and updates.
Type your custom success message here...