Skip to main content

Move Over White Rice: Quinoa's in the House!

Photo by Harold Walker / Stocksy United
Photo by Harold Walker / Stocksy United

Sure, rice is nice, but other grains (or seeds that masquerade as grains) are groovy, too! Alternatives like quinoa, amaranth, and barley can add healthy diversity to your child’s diet, and your own.

Get on the whole-grain train with our super kid-friendly Mediterranean-inspired salad, starring quinoa: This gluten-free seed is packed with protein, fiber, and key nutrients for growing bodies like potassium and iron. When cooked, it’s soft and fluffy, with a mild, slightly nutty flavor. Feel free to make this recipe your own by changing up the veggies, cheese, and beans to suit your tot’s tastes. We also love a Latin take with black beans, corn, diced oranges, avocado, and shredded cheddar; or you can try a sweet combo like strawberries, spinach, and feta.

Easy Quinoa Salad Move over white rice: We got New Grains in the House!


  • 1 cup red or white quinoa (yields about 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups broth or water (we vote broth!)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
  • 1 tub (8 oz) mini bocconcini (otherwise known as small balls of fresh mozzarella)
  • 1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 12-24 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced fine
  • 1 cucumber, diced fine
  • Chopped olives (optional)
  • Chopped basil (optional)


1. Rinse your quinoa—and repeat.

Quinoa has a natural coating, called saponin, which can make the seeds bitter when cooked. Luckily, all your quinoa needs is a little rinsing to remove the coating. Here’s how to do it: Before cooking, pour your quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and run cold water over it until the water is clear, about a minute. Swish the quinoa around and rub it with your hands a little during this process. If you don’t have a strainer, put the quinoa and water in a pot, swirl it around and rub it a bit, pour the water off slowly, and then repeat the process at least once. And yes—even quinoa that is “pre-rinsed” would benefit from a quick shower.

2. Get toasty.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and then add the rinsed quinoa and toast it, stirring, for a minute or two. Toasting quinoa isn’t necessary, but we find it enhances both flavor and texture.

3. Cook your quinoa.

Add the liquid, salt, and smashed garlic and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover your pot, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the pot sit another 5 minutes with the lid on—no peeking! When the time is up, you can remove the lid and check to see if it’s done: all the water should be gone and curly spirals (the germ) will have separated from the seeds. If there’s still liquid in the pot, simply return the pot to the stove and cook on low until all the liquid is absorbed. When done, give it a gentle fluffing!

4. Mix up your salad.

We think this salad is great warm, but you can certainly let your quinoa cool down a bit if you’d prefer. When you’re ready, simply put the bocconcini, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, chopped olives, and basil in a large bowl. Add as much of your quinoa as you’d like and give it a stir to mix everything together. Serve and enjoy!

***We don’t think this salad requires a dressing, but you can certainly add a splash of your favorite bottled variety or whip up your own with ½ cup olive oil, 3 Tbs balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbs lemon juice, 1 Tbs Dijon mustard, and a pinch of brown sugar.

More Easy Ways to Amp Up Your Grain Game

  • Move over oatmeal! Instead, start your day with this delicious amaranth and roasted sweet potato porridge from Food52. This ancient pseudo-cereal (yup—it’s another grain-like imposter) is packed with protein, calcium, and iron, and is naturally gluten-free.
  • A frequent flier in beef or vegetarian mushroom soups, fiber-rich barley’s delightful chew also lends itself well to a take on risotto, like this simple, dreamy version from Food & Wine. It would also be delicious with the addition of fresh veggies and herbs, and real or meatless sausage.
  • A hard wheat that’s harvested when the plant is still young and green, and then roasted for a nutty, almost smoky flavor, freekeh makes for fabulous faux meatballs. We love the Middle Eastern direction of Herbivoracious’ pomegranate-glazed kofte, and Dr. Oz’s classic Italian take.
  • A popular staple around the world with a mild, corn-like flavor, millet (a name given to a group of small, bird-seed-like grains rather than just one) is a powerhouse when it comes to antioxidants and B vitamins. It’s very versatile, but we bet your littles will love Weelicious’ millet cakes: Consider using them as a substitute for burgers!

Find a KinderCare Center

Find a Center Nearby

Looking for a great learning center? We're here to help.
Get Started