Real Food Defined (The Rules)

Below are the rules we followed during our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge. If you are taking the 10-Day pledge you will follow these same rules.

100 Days of Real Food Rules

What you CAN eat:

  1. Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
  2. Lots of fruits and vegetables (we recommend that you shop for these at your local farmers’ market)
  3. Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  4. 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains (find a local bakery for approved sandwich bread and check the Understanding Grains post for more info)
  5. Seafood (wild caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
  6. Only locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)
  7. Beverages limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
  8. Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
  9. All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation
  10. Also check out the Recipes & Resources page for a more detailed list of meal options including links to recipes

What you CANNOT eat:

  1. No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
  2. No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
  3. Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label
  4. No deep fried foods
  5. No “fast foods”

Please leave a reply below if you have any questions about what is okay to eat during your pledge.


How to Avoid Processed Food in General

If you feel that you have the will, but not the skill to do the 10 Days of Real Food pledge then here are some general lifestyle changes to consider instead…

  1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. For years, if I even looked at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you may want to reconsider before buying.
  2. Increase your consumption of whole foods especially vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you that it couldn’t be more true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.
  3. Buy your bread from a local bakery. I actually used to eat white bread, but what I bought for my husband from the grocery store was what I thought was whole-wheat bread. When we finally checked the ingredients and found 40 different items on the list, including white flour and sugar, we decided it was time for a change. Why would there be so many on the list if it only takes a handful of ingredients to make bread? We since started buying our bread from Great Harvest Bread Company. Not only do they grind their own wheat every morning, but their honey whole-wheat loaf only has five ingredients – whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and honey.
  4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box.  Read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.
  5. Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients” according to Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.
  6. Don’t order off the kids’ menu. The next time your family is out to dinner try to avoid the kids menu. Those selections are most often things like pre-made chicken nuggets, fries, and pasta made with white flour, among other things. Instead try assembling some sort of side item plate (like baked potatoes and whatever else your kid will tolerate) and/or try sharing some of your meal.
  7. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. According to Michael Pollan not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious”, but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce, which travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate.
  8. Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries then you might not eat them very often. Only eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods as often as you are willing to make them yourself will automatically ensure the frequency is appropriate.
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  1. Maggie Sanders |

    oh wow I just read the rules…I get to keep wine…now I know I can do it….maggie

  2. Stephanie |

    Do you have a recommendation for oatmeal? My 16-month-old son and I both love oatmeal for breakfast and have been eating Kashi oatmeal. There are definitely more than 5 ingredients on the label…

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      Hey Stephanie! Oatmeal is a great option for breakfast. You just want to make sure you are buying plain oats (with nothing added). Our supermarket has a store-brand labeled as “Organic Old Fashioned Oats”, and I have also seen a similar option by Bob’s Red Mill, a national brand. There only needs to be one ingredient which is oats. You can provide your own flavoring by adding a little honey, dried fruit, cinnamon and/or nuts. Anytime you buy a product that already has flavoring added (oatmeal and yogurt are two prime examples), chances are the food company has added much more sweeteners and other ingredients than necessary! So with most anything you are better off buying plain and flavoring it yourself. That way you can control exactly what you are consuming, and after a while you will probably end up preferring the flavor of the homemade variety anyway. I hope that helps!

      • Dawn |

        Stephanie, Just a reminder for the baby, no honey until he is over 2 years. His digestional system is not equipped to handle the bacteria in it. Stevia or maple syrup are good options for either one of you.

      • Erin |

        Hello, which oils are/are not ok during the pledge? Thank you!

    • Sara |

      Try some of the recipes out at – my 2 year old and I love some of the made-from-scratch recipes we can tweek to make organic!

    • amanda |

      However, Kashi is a natural food. Sometimes, there is more than 5 ingrediants, but they are HEALTHY ingredients! Whole grains, no weird sweeteners, and as much protein as an egg! We also do an oatmeal I’m in LOVE with.

      1/3 c steel cut oats
      3/4 c water
      1 pkt stevia powder
      5 dark chocolate chips
      sprinkle of organic coconut shreds
      1 TB coconut oil
      microwave for 9 minutes on medium power and add vanilla almond milk.

  3. Rupel |

    I’m getting excited to start! Have you looked into Indian style Lentils/Chickpeas. They are very tasty, loaded with various spices (cumin, turmeric, coriander, etc) and protein! :)

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      I love the idea of trying some Indian dishes. If you have any family recipes you could send my way that would be wonderful!

  4. Elizabeth |

    Hey Lisa, Are wine and beer considered whole foods? I’ve never looked at an ingredient label, but I can’t imagine they have a lot of other stuff in them – grapes or barley and hops. Just curious what makes them “legal”. Do you buy organic or locally made?

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      Well, it is not that we necessarily think wine and beer are whole foods – we basically just made an exception. Although, I will say that they don’t break any of our rules. Both wine and beer typically have less than 5 ingredients with no sweeteners added. Also, Michael Pollan does say that drinking alcohol “moderately and regularly” (especially red wine) can actually “reduce the risk of heart disease” and to reap this benefit “most experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for men, one for women.” Based on that information we honestly just thought it would be okay as an exception and that our 100 days would be much more pleasurable since we both enjoy drinking socially!

  5. Ginny Carroll |

    Hi! This sounds like what I have been looking for! I’m so excited to try this. I was recently introduced to quinoa which is kinda like a grain and naturally packed full of protein and amino acids. It comes in a box (or loose in the bulk foods section on Whole Foods) and I was wondering if this is considered processed? Quinoa grows with a bitter coating that is removed before eating. It is usually sold dried and ready to eat. It’s really yummy. I guess I’m still trying to figure out what exactly falls under processed and what doesn’t.

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      I am so glad you found us! I did some research on Quinoa and my opinion is it is okay as long as what you are buying is the whole “grain” – meaning nothing other than the bitter outside coating has been removed. There is research that says that the removal of that coating does not affect the mineral content of the seed. I would imagine that what Whole Foods is selling out of the bulk bins would be the whole grain, and hopefully anything about of a box would disclose that detail. I hope that helps! And thanks for the suggestion…I think we will have to try some too now.

      • Joan P |

        Hi! I read about quinoa in one of my health magazines. You can find Ancient Harvest Quinoa (Wheat-free, gluten-free/organic) at Harris Teeter on 160. It’s not cheap, but it’s good. Ingredients listed: “Organic whole grain quinoa.”
        Country of origin: Bolivia

        What about chicken? Does organic chicken from Harris Teeter qualify as whole food?

        • 100 Days of Real Food |

          I actually bought some quinoa, but hate to admit I have yet to use it! I will try to fit it into one of our meals soon because we are anxious to try it. Also, in regards to chicken we believe that you have a higher chance of getting chicken that has been fed and raised properly if they are local and you can talk to farmer yourself. Organic chicken from the grocery store is certainly better than conventional, but it could be that those chickens are just fed organic corn. While chickens can eat corn they are healthiest if fed more of a variety including some greens. As Michael Pollan said “you are what you eat eats too”…I wrote a little post about it here:

          • Darci |

            My husband and I love quinoa. I recommend cooking it in organic or homemade chicken or vegetable stock to season. We like it plain, but I have also added fresh spinach and roasted vegetables to it as well. You’ll know it’s done when the little white husks start coming off the grain. I tried to cook it using the “energey efficient” method (instructions on box of the Ancient Harvetst), it was very chewey and likely undercooked, not so goood. I hope you enjoy it!

          • 100 Days of Real Food |

            Sounds good! How long do you usually cook it (for whenever I get around to making ours!)?

          • W Smith |

            We love quinoa!! I just cook it about 20 min. One other tip I read in Cooking Light: Take your rinsed and drained quinoa and put it in a nonstick skillet and lightly toast it a bit before cooking. So I do that and then add my water (or chicken broth or half of each) to the skillet (and toss in some onion and cranberries). Bring to a boil then lower to simmer for that 20 (ish) min. Soooo good. Lightly salt usually too.

          • W Smith |

            BTW, you probably assumed, but that should be dried cranberries.

    • amanda |

      Yes, Quinoa is considered a “whole” food. It is natural, unprocessed, and 1 ingredient! It is luckly, also highly nutritional. You can find it by the rice/couscous isle at Walmart, or Kroger etc…

    • David |

      Its said to be packed with protein. It depends how much of it you swallow.

  6. |

    I’m IN! Have basically been eating only real food for awhile now, but will be checking the labels on my condiments and either making my own, or doing without. My pledge is to keep this up beyond 10 days — I’m going until day after Labor Day!

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      Great!! Also, if you are interested you can officially make your pledge at to help us keep track of everyone. And if you are going to do it until after Labor Day you will be right there with us at almost 100 days…good luck!

  7. electicdeb |

    This sounds like something I can get behind, especially during the summer when my 16 year old is away with his father.

    We’re already pretty close — though I may have some problems getting locally sourced meats. And I’m on a “no-knead” bread kick (yummy), not sure how it will turn out with 100% whole wheat flour. I will have to experiment. I’m hoping Brown Rice is not against the rules?

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      Brown rice is definitely acceptable. In the case of meat…what city do you live in (I can do a little research and see if I can find some options for you)?

  8. Heidi |

    Quinoa [pronounced KEEN-wah] is fantastic. Very nutritious, gluten free, versatile. I could eat it every day! You can use it in place of oatmeal for breakfast or as a side dish (in place of rice) or mixed with veggies into a salad (in place of pasta, for instance) as a whole meal. The Whole Foods website also has a recipe for a “Quinoa Loaf” (as a vegetarian alternative to meat loaf).

    • 100 Days of Real Food |

      We will definitely try it…I love when readers give me new ideas. Thank you!!

    • steph |

      Since I have discovered quinoa, I love it and its hard to go back to other grains. Some dishes I make include a black bean, corn, tri color peppers salad with cooked and cooled quinoa. Then dress it up with jalepeno, cilantro, lime juice, cumin and S&P. Its a great southwestern side dish. I also like to mix in some soft cheese to a pot of warm quinoa and make a healthy version of mac and cheese. Heidi on 101 Cookbooks has some great cooking tips too. Best of luck with your quinoa recipes!

      • David |

        Its good for your skin . Just rub it over your face in small amounts.

  9. |

    The amazing little blueberry has emerged as nature’s number one source of antioxidants among fresh fruits and vegetables.

  10. 100 Days of Real Food |

    Thanks for the comment!

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