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“FIVE:” A simple game for a healthier life

ingredients grocery store

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, cooking vegan.

Up until just a few months ago, my fuel was fast food, eating takeout, 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.     *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! — Jessica Houk 

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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15 Responses to “FIVE:” A simple game for a healthier life

  1. Popo Joy January 23, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    This might sound terrible…but my 8 year old used to get to eat ice cream every night after he finished his dinner. He had a pretty bad chest cold over the holidays, so no dairy products during those couple weeks. To our amazement, he was weaned off the ice cream, and now doesn’t expect it or ask for it anymore. I got his cold a couple weeks later, so now I’m weaned too. Not to say we won’t be eating ice cream anymore, but there are still two quarts of some of the best ice cream to be had (Rosalani), in our freezer that I purchased more than a month ago! Progress 🙂

    • familysponge January 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

      Roselani ice cream is the best! It’s amazing to watch what happens to our bodies when we eliminate certain foods from our diets – even if just for a short time. 🙂 -Jadah

  2. Jackie January 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    I’ve been doing this somewhat for quite some time I’m happy to say. However, all articles that mention kids eating healthy never say anything about the really stubborn kids who put up such a fight about anything green etc… I do read labels and I am trying to cook more and don’t buy anything that has ingredients you have no idea what they are or can’t pronounce (this is something Jamie Oliver recommends as well). I think we’ll go find a pretzel recipe now.

    • familysponge January 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Jackie, thanks for sharing. I am trying to be more conscious and cook more too. Yes there are the battles against the greens. I have found the green smoothies to be a life saver for me and my child. http://familysponge.com/blending-smoothies/ I also find it challenging to go to the grocery store with my daughter. She always wants to pick out the cereal that’s obviously marketed to her and loaded with sugar. What kind of cereals do you purchase? I find it so hard to find a cereal with low sugar grams. If they are “healthy” and high in fiber, they seem to add even more sugar. And organic does not mean they won’t add lots of sugar. -Jadah

  3. Shauna B January 23, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    I love, love, love the article(s)! After watching an infomercial on “natural cures” while i was pregnant with my first, I went strictly organic. Trader joes became my best friend and you never found me in a mass market (sorry, Safeway!)

    Fast forward four and a half years, I’m the “picky” mom at the grocery store grabbing the freshest ingredients, checking labels/dates, telling my 4 year old, “that has too much sugar” or ingredients a human body is not meant to eat (ie MSG). While I don’t consume organic everything 100% of the time (mainly due to my ever rising monthly grocery bill), I really found that eating a ton of different things, whether being fruits, veggies, grains, pastas, cereals, meats, you don’t necessarily always have to consume organic everything to be healthy. I stay away from EWG’s “dirty dozen” always and buy organic meat and dairy 99% of the time as they really have the least amount of pesticides and harmful chemicals in them. (We truly have no idea the long term effects of these chemicals food companies put in the food most Americans consume on a daily basis.)

    My husband is a fruit loop and frosted flake man that will buy anything in the meat dept that has a great price. My battle with this is getting him to realize that what he likes, eats, buys, my 4 year old mirrors to the T so we have to choose healthy. Bottom line. How we’ve come to the middle ground is that I let my husband buy his candy and sugar laced cereal BUT he keeps it on the top shelf in the pantry and cannot eat it around my son. Kids are constantly going to find ways to eat sugar (um, hello preschool birthday parties) so the least we could do at home is keep the junk food to a bare minimum.

    I have frozen waffles in the freezer as well as meatballs for those non cooking nights but they are made with organic meat and grains and I can’t tell you the last time I bought store bought marinara sauce. How hard is it to open an inexpensive can of crushed tomatoes, cook with tons of veggies and seasonings, give a quick whirr in the blender and you’ve got the most amazing, quick and healthy meal any mother would be proud to serve. (The blender works wonders for those picky eaters in your families.) Great if you can use organic veggies, great if you can’t. The main points are you’re feeding your kids tons of healthy foods and you know exactly what’s in the meal. No crazy spelling ingredients, just wholesome (and easy) goodness.

    Buon appetite everyone!

    And by the way, I also make my 7 month olds baby food from scratch. Pick a veggie or fruit, peel, chop, steam and mash. Freeze in ice cube trays. Have you ever looked in a jar of baby food and said “what the h@@l is this?” You would never say that about my baby food. And he loves it!

    Keep the articles coming Jadah and team! You all inspire me!!!!!!

    • familysponge January 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Shauna, thank you for sharing! You are really taking charge of what your family eats and I love it. I know as parents we really have to model what we want our kids to do: “Monkey see, monkey do.” And I made baby food from scratch with a magic bullet, and I felt like such a good mommy. I’d love to hear what veggies you throw into your marinara sauce. -Jadah

  4. Judith Crotts January 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    This is really helpful. I have six kids and have been trying to get us into a healthier way of eating, but finding ways to feed them well and stay in budget is driving me nuts! I appreciate the suggestions.

    • familysponge January 25, 2012 at 1:04 am #

      Judith, I find it hard to stay within a budget and eat healthy too. Do you have the space to grow your own herbs, fruits and veggies where you live? I find when kids get to participate in growing their own food and preparing it,they are more willing to try healthier foods. I will be on the hunt to look for more ideas on saving money and eating healthy.

      • Judith Crotts January 25, 2012 at 10:49 am #

        I live in Alaska – we can grow things in the summertime, and have some great farmer’s markets then. I think we need to start with a little garden this year and maybe we can develop the concept of eating “real” food with the kids. That’s how I grew up – a huge garden, canning and freezing our stuff for winter. I’d love to do that with my own family, at least on some level. I love the recipes and ideas on your blog!

        • familysponge January 26, 2012 at 10:50 am #

          I never thought of freezing summer vegetables for the winter time. What a great idea! Would you be interested in sharing pictures of Alaska in a neighborhood tour on Family Sponge? I have never been– I hear it’s beautiful there.

          • Judith Crotts January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

            I’d love to share some pictures. How would you want to go about doing a “neighborhood tour”?

          • Jadah Sellner January 31, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

            That would be wonderful. Is it okay for me to email you the details about the simple submission process? I would have you send me some photos and ask you a few questions.Thanks Judith!

  5. Judith Crotts February 4, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    That would be great!

  6. Stephanie Kindley November 3, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    Hello guys, I’m a new mother and I’m desperately to get my four month baby to sleep longer during night. Currently I am fortunate to have three hours sleep each night. Bless

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