Friday, October 2, 2009

The San Francisco Treat

One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to have all these amazing "Ah ha!" moments as we score more and more products at NuVal. This happened again last week when the scores for Rice were unveiled. But before I go into that, let me just confess right now: I have been feeding my kids some nutritionally-delinquent food. Yesterday, while out at a Price Chopper store for a television shoot, I had a great chance to walk the aisles and see tons of NuVal scores on the shelf. It was then that I saw it: Knorr Rice Sides Rice Pilaf with a score of (brace yourself!) 3! Three!!! And that score is for the dry mix. It gets a 3 before you put butter or oil in it. I have put a couple bags of that rice in my shopping cart every week for the past few years. They're always on sale, 10 for $10. My kids call it "our favorite yellow rice." I am awash in Mommy Guilt.

Of course, I never expected the Knorr Rice Pilaf to be a nutritional juggernaut. But a 3?! Why did I do it? I blame it on my mother (who I hope will find that humorous when she reads this post). Please see disclaimer below. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, my mom made Rice A Roni (the San Francisco treat, sing it!) a lot. With so many mothers headed into the workforce at that time (mine went to nursing school and then worked as a nurse) convenience foods became all the rage. I loved Rice A Roni and so as a mom, I was resorting to Knorr Rice Pilaf which cooks in 7 minutes and does not require the pan-browning that Rice A Roni does.

Last week, I attended a webinar that Annette Maggi, MS, RD, NuVal's Director of Nutrition, facilitated. During the session, she unveiled rice scores which, she explained, are a commodity (just like produce or meat). An apple is an apple no matter what color sticker is on it and it scores a 96 (unless you put caramel on it). So the commodity rice scores are:

Wild Rice 91
Brown Rice 82
White Enriched Rice 57
White Un-enriched Rice 48
White Parboiled Rice (enriched and un-enriched) 82

That last one is a shocker, isn't it? And what is parboiled white rice? I had never noticed it in the grocery store. According to Wikipedia, parboiled rice is rice that has been boiled in the husk. Parboiling makes rice easier to process by hand, improves its nutritional profile, and changes its texture. Wikipedia also explains that parboiling rice drives nutrients, especially thiamine, from the bran into the grain, so that parboiled white rice is 80% nutritionally similar to brown rice. Who knew?

Well, I did know that it was time to stop serving my kids Knorr Rice Pilaf and start moving them to parboiled rice. I found it at my local Stop & Shop in a ginormous bag that cost about $8. But it is huge and well worth it. I made it this week, served it with chicken and fresh green beans, and voila, shiny, happy children at my dinner table. And yes, I did top it with a little butter, but it's still gotta be better than what we were eating. Brown rice is going to be a stretch for my kids, but it is great to know that I can give them the same nutrition in a version that looks, feels and tastes like white rice.

Oh, and for those who are wondering, Rice A Roni Chicken flavor (the one my mom used to make) scores an 11. Rice A Roni offers a lower sodium alternative, but it only gives it a couple point jump, to a 13.

Disclaimer: Other than the nutritionally-lacking rice side dish my mother cooked for me as a child, she was an incredibly healthy and progressive Mom. We had no chips or soda in the house - ever. We made our own yogurt. Kids in the first grade called me Carrot Head because I always had fresh cut up vegetables for a snack. The smell of vitamin and/or health stores reminds me of my childhood to this day. She did a great job!


  1. Knorr's Rice Pilaf is(or was) a staple in my house too. When I opened your blog and saw the picture I thougth, wow, an item I buy that my kids love being focused on a nutrition blog. Then, as I read your blog, I hung my head in shame. I will definilty try the parboiled rice in leu of the Knorr's. Your blog is great--very entertaining and tons of helpful tips.

  2. I never would have guessed that! Thanks for the info!

  3. What a wonderful post! That is CRAZY how low the scores are for Knorr rices -- and scary! Also, I'm surprised to see wild rich scoring higher than brown rice...maybe I'll pick up wild rice next trip to the grocery store! Thanks for keeping us informed of NuVal scores, I love it!

  4. I so love white parboiled. I'm happy to see it's not the crime I thought it was!

    And now I know what parboiled actually means!

  5. I rarely make rice but thanks to you I am craving it. I love Lundberg wild rice. I'm crossing my fingers that it comes with a wildly high NuVal score. ;-)

  6. I've noticed that minute brown rice is made with paraboiled rice. Other than that, I haven't noticed any rice specifically labeled paraboiled. I'll have to start looking for it. This is great info, so thanks for sharing it!