raw food nation

the end of the home-cooked meal

The raw food movement has continued to attract attention over the last decade, proving to be more than just a passing fad. With increased attention from the mainstream, more and more people are seeking better health benefits from the foods they eat, and understanding the raw food diet satisfies the need for balanced nutrition. Enthusiasts of the “raw deal” point to the advantages of a typical diet rich with organic fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts; it improves the immune system, provides much needed energy and increases mental clarity. And with 70 percent of nutrients and enzymes of whole, live foods getting lost in the cooking process, we can see that the real goods are actually in the raw goods!

As the raw food diet moves beyond fringe acceptance, more parents are now looking into the benefits of alternative nutrition plans for their families. Children depend on nutrients and enzymes for growth and have a lot to gain from eating meals that contain raw foods. Chef and author Ani Phyo dispels the stigma surrounding the raw food lifestyle by highlighting its feasibility””even in the midst of our busy lives. “When parents learn how to set up the kitchen and make things flow,” she says, “it’s easy to maintain.”

To make your transition to a raw lifestyle flow smoothly, Ani advises having a few key ingredients on hand. For the sweet tooth, she recommends a pound of nuts, medjool dates, bananas, peaches and berries. For the savory side of things, she recommends lettuce, kale, cabbage, fresh cilantro and parsley, dried seasonings and sea salt. With these ingredients at your disposal, you will be able to get creative in expanding your cooking repertoire. Ani says of her own favorite staple, “I make nut milk, mix it with vanilla or carob and use it for smoothies and to pour over granola.” She uses a gallon of milk, blends it with one cup of nuts, one-half cup of dates, a pinch of sea salt and six cups of water.

Another benefit of putting kids on raw food diets is they are more stabilized and able to avoid the sugar spike-then-crash change in energy. The fiber and fat found in raw diets time-release sugar into the blood stream, keeping energy levels steady. Ani explains that the high amount of fiber and water kids will consume by eating raw foods can have a detoxifying effect. Ani also offers a trick for parents who find it difficult to entice their children to eat their veggies: “When I make smoothies for kids, I make them with 60 percent fruit (especially berries) to cover the green color, then I sneak some greens in there. They don’t even realize they are eating vegetables and instead just think they’re having a delicious snack.”

Rod Rotoni, founder and executive chef of Los Angeles-based Leaf Cuisine Restaurants, has a five-year-old daughter, Lilli, who exclusively eats raw foods. “We started with simple things like bananas and avocados, and now she likes all kinds of foods, especially if they’re green,” says Rod. “She even steals kale right off my plate!”

Instead of blocks, Lilli plays with wooden fruits and vegetables. Her favorite foods are buckwheat porridge and wakame seaweed. Rod says Lilli is a very healthy, well-coordinated child, without the addiction to sugar that most children her age have already acquired. “When you give your kids a start to life without food addictions, this greatly affects their behavior and lowers the potential for addictions to other things in life,” says Rod. “The raw food kids I know are a lot more easy-going, they cry less and are less jaggy.” Another reason why giving children the foods that nature intended is that it is one of the best things we can do for them.

Rod believes if parents talk to their children about healthy eating and set a good example by integrating healthful nutrition into their own diets, children will follow suit. He suggests having optimal foods around the kitchen for kids to grab, such as fruits, nuts and pure water. Rod is passionate about the raw food movement, not just for the health of his family, but as a response to the country’s overall health and economic issues. “We empower the companies we buy from,” he says, “so when we buy from organic farms, we’re putting money into that industry.” Just as “every vote counts” in politics, “every bite counts” for health.

As parents assess the pros and cons of embracing a raw food diet for their families, a little upfront work can lead to profound health benefits. With the wealth of cookbooks, resources and support available for families looking to jump into a raw lifestyle, taking the next step is more than a feasible option; it’s a healthy and delicious one as well.Rod teaches raw food preparation courses in Los Angeles.