Our Real Food Guidelines

A few years ago I was exhausted and unmotivated.  My mental health was suffering.  I had two small children and couldn't find enough energy to make it through the day without caffeine fixes and sugar highs.  Then I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen and I knew that I needed to make changes immediately.  Before reading his food manifesto I had never read an ingredient label on the food I was consuming.  I had never considered finding out where my food was grown or how long it took to get to my grocery store.  I didn't even realize that what we were eating on a regular basis wasn't even FOOD.  

We were eating a lot of processed food and I had no idea where to begin so I adopted Pollen's Five Ingredient Rule from his book Food Rules: "Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.  The specific number you adopt is arbitrary, but the more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is."

There is a ton of information out there about what to eat and why to adopt a particular diet (Keto, Paleo, Whole30, etc...) but I've found the most help from Michael Pollen's Five Ingredient Rule and by applying this quote from Jillian Michaels, "If it didn't  come from the ground or the ocean or have a mother- don't eat it.  Think about it.  Twinkies and Cheetos- what the hell are these?  There's no Twinkie tree, and I'm pretty positive that nothing ever gave birth to a Cheeto."

As we've adapted to the real food life, I've added a few more personal guidelines to my food choices to help us feel our best. When you are setting up your own guidelines you will want to keep your personal budget and diet preferences in mind,

When I am grocery shopping, I ask myself these questions:

1.  Does this item meet the standards of the Five Ingredient Rule?  (Bonus points if the item is in its purest form and doesn't need a label!  Example: apple, carrot, brown rice)

2.  Did this item come from the ground or ocean?  Did it have a mother?

3, Does this item include refined white sugar?  (We prefer to use coconut sugar, honey, or maple syrup for our sweeteners)

4.  Does this item include refined white flour?  (We prefer to use Einkorn flour or organic oat flour).

5.  Is the meat grass fed and local?

6.  Are the eggs organic and cage free?

7.  How processed is the dairy?  (Milk isn't bright orange when it comes out of the cow, so why is the cheese?)

8.  Are the fruits and vegetables organic if they fall on the Dirty Dozen list?

We have tried a variety of things in my home for various reasons (dairy free, gluten free, Paleo, etc...) but the one thing that has been consistent has been defaulting to the Five Ingredient Rule and finding food in its purest form.  

I am happy to report that I am no longer the exhausted and unmotivated mother I was a few years ago.  When we started consuming nutritious food, my energy levels came back and our bodies and minds were nourished.  My brain fog is gone. My hormones have balanced out.  My husband's skin has cleared up.  And my kids have improved digestion.  We are enjoying the meals we are preparing together in the kitchen and we know our bodies will thank us in the long run.

I know that I said mean things about Cheetos and Twinkies.  And I don't want to lead you astray and believe that we never have a treat.  We tend to follow the 90/10 rule.  90% of the time we follow our Real Food Guidelines.  And 10% of the time we have treats.  We enjoy a big slice of birthday cake on family birthdays.  And we love ice cream on a hot day.  I want my kiddos to have a healthy relationship with food.  I want them to recognize that some foods make us feel icky if we eat them all of the time but occasionally as a treat they are enjoyable! 

How do you determine the Food Guidelines for your family?

How to Read Labels on Produce

That little sticker on your produce can tell you a lot about the item you are about to put in your cart.  The sticker not only provides the bar code to scan at the checkout counter, but it will also tell you where your produce was grown, and HOW it was grown!

Have you ever wondered what the numbers on the sticker mean?  
The next time you are at the grocery store, look at the numbers on the sticker.  

Most of our fruit and vegetables contain a four digit code that begins with a 3 or a 4.  If you see a 3 or a 4 at the beginning of the code, you know that this item was conventionally grown and most likely sprayed with pesticides.  (See this post if you want to see how pesticide exposure is impacting our bodies).

If the code is five digits and begins with a 9, this item was grown organically.  Easy peasy!

How to Limit Exposure to Pesticides on Food

It is just the norm now to walk into the grocery store and expect our food to be covered with something.  Grapes are among the top pesticide containing foods. They have been on the Dirty Dozen list for years!   

Because grapes, apples, strawberries, spinach, and kale are so popular, they are finding ways to mass produce them and they are making them resilient by spraying them with poison. 

We can't be ok with this!  Our food contains neurotoxic pesticides that can harm the brain of a developing fetus and pesticides that are classified as probable human carcinogens.  (A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer). 

A recent study actually found a surprising association between the consumption of foods high in pesticide residue and fertility problems in the participants.  (Source) 

How can we limit our exposure to pesticides?

1.  Avoid produce on the Dirty Dozen list and shop from the Clean Fifteen.

The Dirty Dozen list is a helpful guide of the top 12 fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticides.  If you want to start somewhere, these are the foods you should try to purchase in the Organic section of the store if it is possible with your budget.  


  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9.  Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The Clean Fifteen is a list of the fruits and veggies that contain the least amount of pesticides, so these would be fine to purchase from the conventional list if Organic isn't in your budget! 


  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

2.  Grow your own food or shop locally at a Farmer's Market.
It is so cost effective to grow your own produce and if you don't have a large plot of land you can easily do it in a pot on the patio!  It's actually soothing for the soul if you spend a little time in the dirt every day.  If you don't have the time (or patience) to grow your own food, check out your local Farmer's Market.  Many of the local gardeners limit their use of pesticides and you can find locally grown Organic produce for a reasonable price!  Shopping locally will also ensure that your vegetables have a wonderful nutritional profile because they have been picked at the peak of perfection instead of being picked prematurely to be shipped from another country. 

3.  Wash ALL of your produce- even if it is Organic.
Washing produce can greatly reduce our exposure to pesticides.  Parasites and bacteria also live in the soil where our produce is grown so by washing it you are reducing your exposure to unwanted critters. My favorite fruit & veggie soak contains a powerful essential oil blend that targets the crud. Organic produce is grown without being sprayed by as many toxins, but it can definitely become contaminated during transit so it should be washed as well.

What is your system for washing produce?  Do you do it right when you get home?  Right before you use it?