Beautiful, extremely passionate, feisty—and busy. These would be the adjectives that best describe 27-year-old Lauren Von Der Pool. She's a cookbook author and personal chef to tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams, and somewhere in there she also finds time to crisscross the country teaching kids how to make healthy choices as part of her work for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign.
But the glitter that accompanies tennis superstardom and White House prestige is a planet away from where she began: "I grew up in a food desert," says Von Der Pool, a native of Washington, D.C. Each morning, she ate chips for breakfast, and so did her classmates. At 16, however, an epiphany came. "I realized that what my friends and I were eating was horrible. If no one else was going to do anything about it, I was, and I was going to start with myself."
She bought a dehydrator, juicer, and blender from a thrift store and started experimenting with a raw food diet (eating mainly plant-based foods that are typically unprocessed and uncooked). "My family thought I was crazy at first, but my brothers were tasting my recipes and liking them, so I thought, 'If these two guys are eating it, I'm onto something,' " she says. Von Der Pool bought a cart and started selling her goods on the sidewalks of nearby Howard University. By 18, she had a successful business.
These days, Von Der Pool describes her diet as about 80% raw and always packed with produce. Spreading the word about healthy eating is what drives her, but doing it with tremendous flavor is what makes her case.
LAUREN'S TOP 3 PRODUCE TIPS
- Drink your produce. "Fruit smoothies and green drinks [juices or smoothies with added spinach or greens] are a fantastic way to start your day with a healthy punch," Lauren says. One of her favorite combinations includes spinach, ginger, lemon, and apple. "Get creative, and add fruits you love," she says.
- Dress up greens. "Think about flavors you really love, and incorporate them into your dressings. Venus normally hates spinach, but I make a sesame spinach salad that she loves. I use ingredients like sesame oil and mix in different flavors—plum vinegars, curries. Food that's flavored beautifully won't be a chore to eat."
- Whatever it is, add veggies. "Sandwiches are an easy place to pack in vegetables. I make a killer roasted vegetable sandwich. And I'll double up on my veggies by adding greens and peppers to a wrap. Soups are another great dish for throwing in greens. Wait until the end, and drop in some spinach or arugula."