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April 5, 2016

Perfect Pairing: Ruby Roth + Moby


Photo Credit: Robert Richmond

Editors' Notes

Ruby Roth, author of The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids, seated inside Moby's Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.

Photo courtesy of Little Pine

Editors' Notes

Inside Moby's Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.

Photo courtesy of Little Pine

Editors' Notes

Inside Moby's Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.

Photo courtesy of Little Pine

Editors' Notes

Inside Moby's Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.

Photo courtesy of Ruby Roth

Editors' Notes

Ruby Roth, author of The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids.

Photo courtesy of Ruby Roth

Editors' Notes

Ruby Roth, author of The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids.

Photo Credit: Robert Richmond

Editors' Notes

Ruby Roth, author of The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids, and Moby inside the musician's Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.

Why try to disguise fruits and vegetables when they add vibrant color, texture, and unique flavors to a dish? That’s the premise of author Ruby Roth’s newest work, The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids (Andrews McMeel). The author, a former elementary school art teacher turned author and illustrator of vegan and vegetarian picture books, has now created a cookbook, out this month, to highlight the rainbow of plant-based healthy and tasty dishes kids can whip up for themselves (with a dose of adult supervision, of course). Inside are ideas for dips (cashew cream cheese), snacks (tea sandwiches), meals (nori rolls), and desserts (Moondrop sesame almond cookies) using simple whole foods. And the drinks Roth devises are great low-sugar options for entertaining that will inspire mixologists of any age. Here, the Los Angeles-based author chats with Moby, the musician and owner of the Silver Lake vegan restaurant Little Pine, about greens, proteins, and kitchen experiments.

M: Is Help Yourself a cookbook created for vegan families? RR: This book is created for all kids in all families. The recipes just happen to be plant-based—because what parent in the world doesn’t want their kids to eat more fruits and veggies, right? Everything about Help Yourself is designed to give the next generation an early start on the most nutritionally-dense ingredients and superfoods—things we have great access to now.

M: In your experience, are kids typically averse to healthy food? RR: They’re absolutely not naturally averse. Taste is a learned phenomenon, and kids will eat whatever we put effort into feeding them. If it’s cotton candy, they’ll crave cotton candy. If we eat avocado, we crave avocado. Of course, eating junk food breeds a taste for more junk food. The standard American diet, being chemically over-flavored and saturated with addictive fillers, makes it tougher to transition kids onto unadulterated food if they haven’t been eating that way. But in my experience, when we engage kids in the beauty, fun, and logic behind healthy eating, they naturally start to get on board and even notice how different foods makes them feel. It’s important to remember that there is no universal “kid food.” Around the world, kids learn to like vastly varying flavors and ingredients.

M: I could not agree more. I see kids in here all of the time, happily eating their veggies. What are your thoughts on the approach of hiding the veggies in kids’ dishes? Do you feel like the media sometimes teaches kids that green foods are “yucky”? RR: Hiding or sneaking healthy ingredients is the worst, most counter-intuitive idea! It just reinforces picky eating and the myth of “kid food”—that dumbed-down ingredients are the only things kids like. At what point this way does a kid choose healthy ingredients on their own? When you announce you’ve been tricking them? Maybe never. The philosophy behind all my books is that we build all-around stronger, smarter, more capable kids by engaging them with information instead of avoiding it. 

M: What gave you the idea to make a plant-based cookbook for kids? RR: I’d like the next generation to understand how to eat in the context of our era. The rates of chronic disease are rising across the nation in all age groups. More than 75% of Americans now use pharmaceutical medications for one thing or another—the average person’s overall physical and mental health has deteriorated. At the same time, having worked in the vegan movement for over 10 years, I also see adults and kids experiencing superior health and wellbeing, more than ever possible before, maybe in all of history. We have access to everything we need to live well in an increasingly toxic, polluted world—and to eat in a way that actually shifts the global path in a positive, sustainable direction. I think it’s crucial that kids know how and why to help themselves.

M: What are your favorite ingredients and protein sources? RR: Dark leafy greens, lentils, garbanzos, hemp seeds, chia, avocados, mint, parsley, basil, great olive oils, raw chocolate, quinoa, sprouted grain tortillas, cucumbers, nut and seed cheeses, almonds and cashews, seaweed, mushrooms, sesame seeds, citrus, apples, spirulina, nutritional yeast, and other raw superfood powders, coconut yogurts. There’s sufficient protein, not to mention crucial macro- and micro-nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidant, in all of these foods—in the perfect amounts, too. They keep me light and sustain my energy.

M: What would you say to parents who have strayed away from cooking at home because they say they just don’t have time? RR: The people with the least amount of time are usually the ones who really need to prioritize healthy eating to sustain their energy and neural health! Making healthy meals from scratch doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

M: I think your cookbook proves that! The recipes are fairly simple but so appealing. RR: Thank you! You go to the grocery store regardless of how busy you are, right? If you start stocking your pantry with staple single ingredients as a matter of habit (and there’s a shopping list in the back of Help Yourself), then satisfying and nutritious meals can be put together in minutes, even using five or less ingredients, sometimes two! Help Yourself also includes tips like getting a salad spinner. You wash a big batch of greens once and you have it there to grab at for days—perfect for busy people.

M: I think the aesthetic appeals to adults as much as it does to kids— did you create it this way on purpose? Is this book created for kids to cook from or adults—or both? RR: It’s written to kids, but I also say it’s a great gift for lazy or busy adults because it truly is what I, myself, eat—simple, whole, natural-ingredient recipes that are quick to make. I created a book that I would want to look at and read at any age—with conversational language, full-color photos and illustrations, color palettes I love. In my research phase, I was grossed out by the kids’ cookbooks I came across. There would be kids on the cover, but the directions were clearly written to adults; or they were full of “kid food”—bread, white meat, and noodles mostly, hardly any greens or veggies; and they all used plastic dishware—usually a mish-mash of multi-colored polka dots and stripes. I think kids can appreciate good design, color harmony, and the beauty of whole foods just like anyone else can.

M: Yes, society doesn’t give kids much credit there. What makes your recipes appealing to kids and appealing to adults? RR: The ingredients are accessible and the recipes are just so simple really tasty! And because Help Yourself is written to directly to kids—very conversationally—they feel it’s meant for them. Regardless of age, when I feed friends and family something they love—like the “Crowd-Pleaser Kale Salad” in Help Yourself—and they ask how to make it, I love telling them it’s just three main ingredients. I know they can handle incorporating this nutritionally-dense dish into their diets.

M: How do you suggest getting kids interested in cooking? RR: Start building an association between the kitchen and fun, between food and celebration. The farmer’s market is a great place to start—so much eye candy. Your kids should also see you having a great time prepping food—sipping on a drink, chopping, blasting music, singing, dancing. Call them in and ask them to do something for you because you need their help—whether it’s pressing the button on a blender, stirring a soup, washing lettuce. Little by little, they’re joining the fun, and as a result, engaged in experiential learning.

M; When your first books came out, the media found veganism for kids highly controversial. Have you seen a shift with the new cookbook? RR: There has been a huge shift since I started in 2009. Back then, I had to fight the publishers to put the word “vegan” in my subtitle! As you know, we vegans have a rep for oversharing, but in the end, we’ve been effective in changing habits, mainstream and even medical understanding about vegan nutrients, and the economy.

M: Eating vegan has become much more mainstream, don’t you think? RR: Well, vegan food is the fastest growing category in the food market because the personal and planetary benefits have finally begun to get some attention. People know that plant-based options are healthy choices and there are so many more resources for families raising vegan kids now. I see big brands all the time at natural food conferences looking to vegan companies to learn what’s next. The information trickles up and benefits everyone. There’s a reason why Subway now calls avocado a superfood and Applebee’s is suddenly serving quinoa. Interests in health are shifting.

M: Do you typically cook from cookbooks or do you experiment in the kitchen? Do you cook with your step-daughter? And what has cooking with her taught you? RR: I mostly experiment starting with a single ingredient I want to eat. I love cookbooks with photos, but I can’t deal with long lists of ingredients, so I often just look to a book for ideas and basic ingredients, then I play. Help Yourself is the kind of cookbook I wanted for our family—a collection of simple meal ideas that you can nearly make without a cookbook. I taught Akira early to make several things on her own, now she can pack her own lunch and she’s in charge of dinner salads for all of us—she makes a mean kale! Giving her a food education has built our trust. I know she makes good decisions on her own, and that filters into all areas of her life.

By Elizabeth Varnell

Pictured: Ruby Roth, author of The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids, seated inside Moby’s Little Pine restaurant in Silver Lake.
Photo by Robert Richmond

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Photo Credit: Robert Richmond
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