Raw food lifestyle with a family (and a budget)... help!
October 12, 2010 10:27 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I have decided we'd like to make some fairly big changes to our eating habits. We eat relatively healthy as it is, but we'd like to set a goal of eating at least 51% "raw foods". We're a bit overwhelmed and would love some recommendations for recipe books, meal planning, grocery shopping, etc.

I should mention that we're parents of three young kids (4, 6, and 8) and are subsequently very busy with all the requisite activities. I love to cook but we are a bit short on time during this season of our lives. Also, FWIW, we're not interested in vegetarianism, but we would like meat to take a bit more of a backseat.

So here's the thing motivating my question. Is it even possible to eat like this when you're running around like chickens with their heads cut off? We're not going to have time for meals that take hours (or even an hour, most days). Also, what kinds of things can we do for our kids so they don't hate us (we're particularly stumped when it comes to school lunches)? I'd love to hear from anyone who's done this with a family.

Secondly, we life in the midwest and health-food stores are few and far between. Back in SoCal we actually spent less money when we started shopping at health food stores. Now it would cost far - FAR - more, so it's not really an option. We'll buy locally from farmer's markets when possible, but they're seasonal so that won't always be an option. Off season we're basically stuck with the regular old grocery store.

Any advice on how to best implement this change given our circumstances is welcome! Just plain encouragement would be nice too as we're both a bit daunted by the task... :-)
posted by jluce50 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Where in the Midwest are you? What city?
posted by Slinga at 10:30 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in OKC.
posted by jluce50 at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: You don't really detail why you want to make this change, although you suggest that it's for health reasons. Given the obvious effort that such a change will take, you might be interested in this recent question about the science behind raw foodism. Since there's an obvious cost-benefit analysis that goes into something like this, you might find that the benefits aren't actually worth it.
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: Not raw food specific, but overall advice for making a diet change.

Most people eat the same foods over and over again. If you look at your grocery receipts for the last few months, it'll be mostly the same items. When people are trying to change their diet they generally get a bit over eager and try to come up with an abundance of food choices. That's really difficult because it's a change in both the type of food and the complexity of daily preparation.

Instead focus on finding 10 or 12 foods you can enjoy. Pick 2 or 3 meals that you can repeat over and over. For that first month, don't pressure yourself to branch out beyond this safety zone of meals.
posted by 26.2 at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Keep a lot of fruit in your house and eat one piece with every meal + use it for snacks. Also vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, tomatos, celery, etc. can be eaten raw with minimal to no preparation.

Make one of your main meals of the day a salad, and not an apologetic little salad that got bullied for being lame and icebergy - I mean a salad that would result if a twister ripped through a greengrocer's shop.

I think that olive oil should count as raw - in any case it's good for you, with that and balsamic vinegar you can make pretty good salads.

I don't know how this will do you in terms of 51% of your calories, but it should get along the way.
posted by atrazine at 11:05 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did a diet overhaul a few months ago which I have stuck with and the biological results are pleasing me greatly. The one item from my overhaul I have to offer you is this: big sacks frozen vegetables. I buy 5 kinds: string beans, peas, corn, mix broccoli & cauliflower, mix lima beans, carrots, corn, peas, string beans.

It takes three minutes to prepare. It is very tasty. It is pure healthful nutrition. Unless you are a gourmand, these frozen vegetables taste very very very close to as good as fresh without any issues of spoilage-freshness-management.

One of these dishes represents the single largest food serving that I consume daily. Deciding which of the five sacks to pour from today is one of the funnest things I do regularly.
posted by bukvich at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2010

You may want to check out the Oklahoma Food Co-op as you can get a lot of good local foods that are not heavily processed. I'm not sure if it fits in with your budget but it's worth checking out. Also Whole Foods is supposed to be opening a store in the Lake Hefner area in about a year, so that may give you some more options.
posted by crapmatic at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2010

Other options are Nutritional Food Center or Akins.
posted by Slinga at 11:41 AM on October 12, 2010

I'm not a strict raw foodist, but as a kid I pretty much hated all my vegetables cooked and have carried that into adulthood partly because I'm actually pretty lazy. There are many fruits and vegetables that are easy to grab and eat as is (apples, carrots, grapes, bananas). Unsalted, unroasted nuts are also an easy, lazy snack that go good in school lunches.

I don't know about the whole soaking/sprouting part of the food movement, but basic fruits and veggies might be an easy way to start and I don't think your kids will complain. Try experimenting with new/unusual fruits when they go on sale (usually means they're in season and it will go bad less quickly) for your kids to try. That stuff is like dessert and easy to prepare, which might get them into the idea and keep things exciting while mom and dad play with the food plan.
posted by vienaragis at 11:45 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: @OmieWise: Thanks, that's interesting stuff. I remain skeptical of many of the raw foodies' claims, to be honest. I tend to think that common sense will win the day. I think less meat, more fruits and veggies, and healthy preparation is a worthy goal and I have no plans to take it to extremes. I guess I wouldn't call that a "raw food" diet, but I had to call it something... :-)

@Slinga: Thanks. Unfortunately, most everything tends to be in the North OKC or Edmond and I'm in far SE OKC. There's one place on the Southside but it's prohibitively expensive and has a miserable produce selection.
posted by jluce50 at 12:10 PM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: @crapmatic: We've looked into that. At this point it's just hard to believe that it would be cost effective. At the very least we'll need to invest in a chest freezer first.

Thanks to everyone else for their suggestions as well. Good stuff...
posted by jluce50 at 12:11 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: I ate nearly 100% raw for awhile just to check it out and because I have always preferred vegetables and fish over grains and other food categories. I experienced many positive results - more energy, lost stubborn pounds, delicious, etc.

51% raw = 51% fruits and vegetables, which is great! I would not worry about raw food zealots or claims or getting too caught up in the raw frenzy, you are simply adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, that is a good thing.

On a similar note, you will get the most bang for your buck if you DON'T get caught up in the frenzy. There are a lot of raw food cookbooks and websites that have heated discussions about raw tahini (versus roasted) and truly raw vinegars and dehydrating foods at 103 degrees versus 115 degrees, etc.. These pantry foods are all very expensive, and, in my opinion, not necessary. A tablespoon of expensive raw cacao to make a sauce for fruit is not as beneficial, cost or health-wise, than the fruit itself! So first, forget about all the pantry foods and dehydrated foods and just focus on veggies and fruit. A drizzle of sauce made from *gasp* a teaspoon of regular cocoa powder is just as fine, especially since 100% all raw vegan is not your goal. I hope this makes sense.

A fun and inexpensive kid-friendly activity is to grow your own sprouts! It is easy and you can get about 5 cups of fresh sprouts for salads with about $0.50 worth of seeds. The kids can help keep them rinsed and watch them grow, then eat them on a salad or in a wrap.

As a kid I always loved finger foods served with a dip. You could make a zucchini hummus (just sub zucchini for the garbanzo beans), pesto, and tomato sauce and serve with carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, etc. Maybe for family appetizer time?

Jicama is filling and inexpensive. There is a "potato salad" recipe of Alissa Cohen's in her book Living on Live Food that is amazing. It is basically diced jicama, avocado, raw corn cut from the cob, bell peppers, celery, dill, cumin, garlic, and a creamy lemon tahini dressing. I can try to dig up the exact recipe... it is great and lasts for days and gets better the longer it sits.

I also loved making "ice cream" out of frozen bananas. There are lots of recipes and instructions online for this. Bananas are cheap!

Big marinated raw kale salads were another favorite of mine. Wash and chop kale, discard tough stems. Then make a dressing of your choice and work it into the kale with your hands while you sort of massage the kale. Give it a few minutes and it will wilt and take on what I think is a great texture.

Some blogs I like:
The Sunny Raw Kitchen (she has more desserts than I personally like but her savory recipes are really good)
Sweetly Raw
Rawmazing (more recipe sections on left side bar)

I have a ton of bookmarked recipes but I am in a rush and this post is long so you can private message me if you want and I can send more links to you.

posted by click at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

big sacks frozen vegetables

For the record, vegetables are generally blanched before freezing, making them not-raw. They are a fabulous way to get more vegetables in your diet, however.

Actually-raw suggestion: green smoothies. Blend up whatever you'd usually put in a smoothie (fruit, milk, ice), and add a big handful of spinach or kale. The greens don't affect the flavor much, but do change the color.
posted by momus_window at 2:18 PM on October 12, 2010

The book Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets is written by two registered dieticians and gives extensive citations for what they say, mostly to peer-reviewed research. (A few of the references are to interviews, histories, etc.) Lots of good information about nutrition and food safety, discussion of some of the controversies in the raw food world (enzyme theory, coconut, should you eat raw mushrooms, are seaweeds safe) and some recipes.

For an online source of information, the blog Choosing Raw is written by a certified clinical nutritionist and seems pretty level-headed (no talk about "moving to a higher vibrational energy" or anything like that).

Once you start reading about eating raw, it becomes pretty easy (IMO) to get a sense of what a particular person's attitudes and quirks are. This person believes in food combining, which I think is irrelevant, so I won't pay much attention to that aspect of what they write. This other person thinks colonics are essential for health... but they have some tasty-sounding recipes, so I'll make a note of those and not follow the recommendations for "cleansing". Person C believes in alkaline water and aura spectrometry... maybe I'll just back away from this one.

I've been eating with a mostly-raw orientation for a couple of months now and have been really finding it beneficial. I think it helps that, like you, I'm not trying to identify with "I'm 100% raw" or anything like that. It's been very useful as a focus to help me move towards the dietary changes I've been wanting to make and working towards already: less or no meat, less or no dairy, less sugar in all its forms, fewer refined grains, more fruits, and more vegetables. "I'm eating more raw" feels like a positive goal to work towards, instead of "I shouldn't be eating meat/dairy/sugar", which feels like a negative goal that's harder to avoid.

If you find yourself with too much time on your hands, here's a comprehensive-ish list of online sources for raw food recipes I've been compiling as I click around looking for ideas.
posted by Lexica at 3:09 PM on October 12, 2010

My husband and I are trying to (slowly) improve our eating habits. We started a few weeks ago following the advice of Dr. Gott and dropped all processed sugar and flour from our diet. The results have been great, we feel so much better. We're also losing a couple of pounds a week. This one small change has not been easy though, and the only reason I'm chiming in is that we've been forced to eat much more fruit and vegetables and this might be a great way for you to start. It will take a week or so to lose the sugar cravings, but it will be worth it, I promise.
posted by raisingsand at 4:00 PM on October 12, 2010

Not to throw more complication into the mix, but I guess I'm throwing more complication into the mix:

In conventional (non-organic) farming in the US, there are regulations to the amounts of pesticides and herbicides that can be used on American produce. These levels are tested, and the USDA stands by their safety for consumptions for average adults. (And I don't disagree with them.)

If you're going to be eating of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit all winter through, likely most of them won't be from the US, and won't have the same regulations. This study on children and conventional diets and organic diets shows a large increase in pesticide consumption in winter.

I trust USDA pesticide regulation, but if you're making the choice to eat non-domestic raw vegetables over say, american frozen and blanched peas, for some kind of alleged raw enzyme thingie, be aware that you're likely choosing a diet with much more pesticides.

Effective washing and peeling of fresh produce can reduce the pesticides you actually eat. (so can cooking) This comes at the cost of more of your time spent preparing food. And organic is another option of course, though it obviously will cost much more money.

So I guess what I'm saying is: yay more vegetables, but why raw in winter? Squash can be grown in lots of the US during winter, but I don't think its physically possible to eat it raw for the most part.

There are likely other parts of your diet that are more important to look at. Whats 50% raw veggies, if another 50% is chicken nuggets and refined carbs?
posted by fontophilic at 4:59 PM on October 12, 2010

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