Woman of Today

Model, mother and author Camila Alves McConaughey is inspiring a new generation of kids—and their parents—to make healthier food choices with her New York Times bestselling children’s book, Just Try One Bite, and her community-based website, Women of Today. Purist founder Cristina Cuomo gathers tips and tricks for motivating picky eaters from the Brazilian-born wife of actor and fellow author Matthew McConaughey.
A toast to health: Camila Alves McConaughey in her Austin kitchen. Photography by Matt Sayles

Cristina Cuomo: I’m so happy to be interviewing you about your bestselling children’s book, Just Try One Bite. It’s been very well received in my house. I have three kids, like you, so I know how hard it is to do anything with three kids, let alone start a business.

Camila Alves McConaughey: Thank you so much. I think it’s important to start this conversation by saying that the book is a reminder to parents about the conversations to have around food—where it comes from, what’s good, what’s not. We’re going to have a relationship with food for the rest of our lives, so the earlier we start on the right path, the easier the journey is going to be.

CC: Exactly.

CAM: I come from a family of farmers. My dad is still a farmer today. We have a farm together in Brazil. To make extra money in the summer, we used to work on the farm. The journey from seed to table, the process of growing, and all of that was always clear to me. But we never had the conversation about sugar. That is the one thing that I struggle with.

CC: It’s the most addictive thing, and almost impossible to wean yourself off. Do you cook with alternatives like coconut sugar or stevia, things that are lower on the glycemic index?

CAM: I do. And then if we’re going to have a dessert, we have a real dessert, a real cake, whether we get it from a bakery that is making it from scratch, or we make it ourselves. When I bake, instead of using processed sugar, I will do monk fruit.

CC: That’s a great natural sweetener.

CAM: Yes, it’s better than overprocessed sugars, but the way your body processes it is very similar. I do use substitutes, but I try to keep those in moderation, too.

CC: Just Try One Bite is actually quite hilarious. It’s kind of this role reversal where the parents are the perpetrators of eating too much sugar. It’s so important to educate kids about marketing gimmicks. What is it that’s giving you the energy in energy drinks? Vitamin water has a negligible amount of vitamins in it. Kids have to know that it’s important to read labels.

CAM: It’s very important to teach kids how to read labels because a lot of them—even my kids—would say, “Oh, it’s zero sugar and this many calories.” I’d tell them, “No, time out, stop. We don’t look at the calories. As kids you don’t need to be worried about that.” It’s just about looking for real ingredients.

The book was really an expression of me trying to inspire people to do better for themselves, their families, their community. My agent brought up [co-author] Adam Mansbach’s name, because he wrote Go The F**k to Sleep. It was really important that this book wasn’t preachy, that it wasn’t telling parents what to do. I wanted it to be fun, to have twists and turns. Adam really understood that.

CC: I know you came up with the ideas for the food choices as the mom who’s probably been through it with your own kids, struggling to get them to eat these healthier alternatives. But this writing is just so fun. ‘So, it’s straight off to bed and no stories tonight, or you could both try one tiny bite.’ How many times have we said that to our kids?

CAM: Right, exactly. It’s got a little bit of a rap vibe to it, but the fun part is that it’s the kids telling the parents. What I’m hearing a lot from parents, grandparents and friends that are reading to the kids in their lives, is that now the kids are trying new things. They’re also coming to the adults and saying, “I know you can do better.”

CC: It’s so important to invert that power dynamic. These kids, if you give them the right tools, will be empowered to educate their parents. Now, tell me a bit about Women of Today and the online community you’ve created. What was the evolution of this lifestyle, foodie, recipe Instagram community?

CAM: Women of Today is a website, an online community dedicated to doing better for themselves and their families. The idea of the website was really to create a community where we learn from each other. You see so many recipes on Women of Today because that’s what the community asks for. So, if you want to share something, you can send an email to info@womenoftoday.com. You can participate in our events, and communicate with us through Instagram and messages on Facebook.

Her wellness go-tos: morning tea and breathing exercises, which, she says, have given her “a whole different attitude.” Photography by Matt Sayles

CC: As the expert mom bringing nutrition to the dining table every day, what are some tips and tricks for the picky eaters you have at home?

CAM: My three kids are very different, their tastes are very different. My little one recently went through a stage where he would only eat black beans. That’s it, to the point where I was calling the doctor saying, “I don’t know if this kid is getting all the nutrition he needs.” I started to incorporate different colors on my son’s plate, telling him, “You have to try at least three colors.” I remember the first time that he grabbed red bell peppers and started eating them. I was looking across the table at my husband, going, “Don’t say a word. Don’t look.” Playing the game of eating your colors can really be helpful. If you are introducing new foods, introduce them one at a time, with things that your child already loves.

CC: Eat the rainbow.

CAM: Yes, exactly. And then the other important thing is to include the kids in the kitchen, but in a way that they can learn how the cooking process works. My first experience I had with my kids in the kitchen was with breakfast, making scrambled eggs and avocado toast. It’s so easy for a child to put together. It gets messy and fun, but all of a sudden they go, “Wow, I can actually cook a meal, and I understand where it came from. And now I’m going to sit down with my family and eat.”

CC: What is your favorite Brazilian recipe? Do they love pão de queijo? My 12-year-old daughter is obsessed with it.

CAM: They love pão de queijo. My brother has a company in Brazil that makes pão de queijo, so when he comes over to visit, he brings a big cooler to fill up the freezer.

CC: It’s gooey and delicious. It’s my favorite.

CAM: You know, pão de queijo comes from my state in Brazil.

CC: Oh, it does? What is your state?

CAM: Belo Horizonte, which is in Minas Gerais.

“Being on The New York Times’ bestseller list was a big surprise for me,” says Alves McConaughey, “but to find out that Matthew and I were both on the list the same week was a big deal. We were together when we found out.” Clothes by Veronica Beard Gold hoops available at christinacaruso.com

CC: What are some guiding principles you’ve used along the way as a mom, words of wisdom that perhaps your mother instilled in you?

CAM: Respect yourself, and you’ll respect others. Do to others what you want done to you. Always tell the truth. In Brazil we say, “mentiras tienen patas corta” (“lies have short legs”). And we talk about that a lot—you think you are getting away with something, but eventually it’s going to come out. I’m big on independence with the kids. I think it’s because I left home at an early age and I had to find my independence in a different country and fight for it and work really hard for it.

CC: You started this month on your Instagram by encouraging people to set a new goal, and your goal is to dance more often this month. Have you danced since you set that intention?

CAM: I have danced more. We just had our big charity event that we do in Austin, called Mack, Jack & McConaughey. It benefits kids and our Just Keep Livin Foundation. The second night, we danced and then had a fashion show. Stella McCartney was the designer.

CC: I saw that. That looked great.

CAM: Yeah, there was great music there. My goal now is to dance more around the house. Wake up with music. I used to wake up the kids with music and then start dancing throughout the morning and the day, and I kind of stopped it. I don’t know why. I’ve got to go back to it.

CC: My daughter loves an app called Calm—that’s how she gets to herself to sleep every night. Your husband narrates a lot of the books on the Calm app. He’s got a calm voice. I’m thinking he must be very proud of his wife right now. You reached the bestseller list, much like he did with his own insights-on-life book called Greenlights. So, how is that dynamic at home? You’re both bestselling authors now. You’re both parents. A lot of couples aren’t that committed to all the things around them. It’s really lovely to see how it all comes together.

CAM: Being on The New York Times’  bestseller list was a big surprise for me. When I first moved here, I spoke three sentences in English, and that was it. To have a book on a bookshelf in a store is surreal. But to find out that Matthew and I were both on the list in the same week was a big deal. We were together when we found out. Our oldest son was with us, but our two youngest were not, and we got to celebrate, the three of us, and then I told Matthew, “You know what? We’ve got to teach the kids to also give joy for every win that we have, no matter what it is.” And so he called the kids and talked to them, and they decorated the house and did a whole surprise when we came home, so that was really sweet. We got to celebrate properly. womenoftoday.com