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FIVE: A simple game for a healthier life

ingredients grocery store

Written by Jessica Houk, teacher in Early Childhood Education in Portland, Maine.

All you need is five ingredients or less for healthy eating. Ever since I did the Master Cleanse for the first time, I have been researching ways to be more healthy. I have all kinds of questions about whole foods, being a vegetarian, raw meals, and cooking vegan.

Up until just a over a year ago, my fuel was fast food, eating takeout, and TV dinners. You would never see me in the kitchen longer than the 5 minutes it took to microwave something. Quick, efficient and easy.

But what is in all those boxes and bags of prepackaged food? What am I putting in my body? What am I putting in my child’s body?


I’m trying to be a more informed food consumer by watching movies like Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, and Super Size Me. I want to put good food into my body and model healthy eating for my daughter. But I’m not going to lie; it’s a challenge sometimes. When I asked my friend Jessica how she keeps her daughter on a no processed foods and no sugar added diet, this is what she shared with me…     *image via 

No more than five ingredients

After awhile, and after some reading, talking and research, I decided I’d see what happened if I stopped buying anything with more than five ingredients listed on the label, and with no ingredients I couldn’t define or whose names I couldn’t pronounce. This eliminated most commercially prepared convenience foods. So, in order that I should continue to eat the things I liked I had to learn to cook them. And I have. With happy success.

Over time I’ve made other decisions. I eat whole wheat, brown rice, and embrace tempeh. I eat very little refined sugar and have learned how to substitute honey or maple syrup in my baking recipes. As a consequence my palette has changed. I truly do not miss fast foods. I do not miss canned chili or bottled tomato sauce.

My body feels better for it, and I am ridiculously proud of how healthy my child is. I’m the mom with the really annoying arrogant smirk when my kid opens up her lunch and says, “Oh yummy! Rice and spinach!”

So here’s a couple things I’ve learned along the way:

1. It helps to get righteous. We really have been lied to by the food industry- over and over again. And we, as a culture, have been culpable in the hijacking of our food. So much of what is sold to us is so incredibly far removed from the food it was originally. Fish should not come frozen in a cardboard box wearing breadcrumbs. Produce should not come in a can. It does not have too. Your cereal does not have to contain seventeen ingredients to taste great. That is a lie. Get outraged and take back the food! Once you jump the ship, man, it’s a brave new world of culinary delight.

2. Start by playing a game called “FIVE” in the grocery store. If it has more than five ingredients, or contains any ingredients whose definitions you don’t know- don’t buy it. Look for an alternative. Then up the stakes- If it contains more than five grams of sugar don’t buy it. Look for an alternative. Or make it at home. Yogurt tastes just as good, or better, brought home plain from the store and with maple syrup or honey and berries added later. Replace Rice Crispies with organic puffed Kamut from Nature’s Gate. Add fresh fruit and vanilla soy milk. It’s delicious.

3. Good, simple cookbooks help a lot. I look for books containing recipes that have only a minimal number of ingredients that I can shop for at my regular grocery store and take less than an hour to prepare. Currently I’m liking Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks at Home, Veganomicon by Moskowitz and Romero, and Donna Hay’s Off The Shelf. I also still use a book I bought while pregnant called The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by Cathe Olson. It’s great and lists the nutritional information for each recipe.

4. Plan meals for the week and shop ahead for ingredients. I like to sit down with my cookbooks on Saturday or Sunday and make a menu for the week. It gets me excited about the food and I end up looking forward to cooking, even when I’m tired after work.

5. Keep some ingredients well stocked for the days you really don’t want to cook. I try to always have a couple cans of organic diced tomatoes, garlic and dried thyme for sauce and a package of whole wheat rigatoni. Pre-made pizza crust in the freezer is great, too. Keep it rolled out on a piece of cardboard wrapped in plastic wrap- just like store bought! Cover with sauce, spinach and cheese, bake it, and you’re good to go in less than thirty minutes.

6. Don’t be afraid to repeat your food. My daughter eats oatmeal with frozen blueberries for breakfast and brown rice, spinach and cheese for lunch. Everyday. Willingly. Cut up tofu on the side, a banana, rice crackers and a homemade granola bar to round it out. It’s easy and I have the routine down so well I can do it in my sleep- which I think I do sometimes at six in the morning while it’s still dark out in January. It is no harder to put a banana in a child’s lunch box than it is to put a bag of Doritos. (Or google a recipe kale chips. Seriously good.)

And believe me, your child will follow your lead. There will be a transition period of course, maybe with whining and foot-stomping, but young children are inclined to follow what is modeled for them. It’s the power of unity- harness it for the greater good!

Speak your mind…

What’s been your relationship with food and the grocery store? Do you read the labels? Do you cook from scratch or go for prepared food? Any tips you’ve learned along the way, I would love to hear.

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  1. Melanie

    December 8th, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Thank you !!!!!

  2. SGS Rawkstar Amanda

    August 3rd, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you so much for blendin’ with us, Melanie!

  3. Karen Wiedmeier

    July 12th, 2018 at 9:29 am

    OMG, what GREAT ADVICE!!! I’m striving to eat far less packaged food, and these ideas are simple and fantastic…thank you for posting!

  4. SGS Rawkstar Amanda

    August 3rd, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Karen,

    YAY! So happy you found this article helpful. Cheers to less packages food + more fresh foods! 🙂

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