Camila Alves McConaughey has co-written a new children’s book about a group of picky eaters. Only in this case, the picky eaters are the adults.
“Just Try One Bite” (Penguin Random House) follows three children as they try to get their parents to ditch the ice cream, cake, and chicken fried steak and embrace healthy, whole foods. Really, all kids want is for adults to try just one bite of something healthy.
“It is not that the preaching is perfect. I know I am not. I know my home is not. We have a long way to go,” says the Brazilian model and entrepreneur. “It’s about making small changes.”
The book of rhymes, written with Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Mike Boldt, features well-meaning kids confronting their junk-food-loving parents (who look a bit like Alves and her husband, actor Matthew McConaughey) to give them the chance to try kale in a humorous reverse story.
“Oh dad, oh mom, please keep an open mind. You can’t say kale is gross if you don’t even taste it,” they plead in the book. “A well-balanced dinner really should be more than some fries they found on the floor of your car.”
A breakthrough occurs when the parents finally eat some cauliflower and like it. That opens the door to yams, linguine with clams and, as a reward, donut holes. Yes, treats are allowed, in moderation.
“One of the most important conversations about improving yourself is to have early on,” says Alves from his home in Texas. “If you start giving kids understanding and knowledge, all of a sudden you start to see them feel empowered and make better decisions for themselves.”
Alves, mother of Levi, 13, Vida, 12, and Livingston, 9, is candid about the challenges parents face with picky eaters, noting that siblings go through different stages at different times. Recently, her youngest son ate only beans, prompting her to call the doctor.
Boldt filled the book with big movements and expressive faces, saying he was paying homage to Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” which also has kids in charge and creating a bit of chaos. “It’s so much easier to draw something when the words are incredibly descriptive and visual, because that feeds your imagination,” he says.
He also has three children, but fortunately they are not so demanding. “Actually, they like a lot of vegetables and foods that he wasn’t sure they would like,” he laughs. “Things that I did not like when I was a child.”
Alves has some tips for parents of picky eaters beyond making dishes more fun by arranging food in the shape of faces. One way he keeps his family happy is by sticking to good dietary rules during the week before having a Friday off when everyone can eat whatever they want.
She also supports each child choosing a “vomit vegetable,” an item they can skip as long as they try all the others. (His vegetable to throw up would be okra, a slimy foe of all life, he says.) Another tip: encourage children to help cook so they can learn about the ingredients.
“My daughter would say, ‘I really don’t like onions.’ Once I get her to cook this gravy with me, she’ll be like, ‘Oh, I can’t eat that. You put onion’. And I’ll tell him, ‘I put onions in this every time I make it.’”
Alves grew up on a farm in Brazil and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. “The relationship with food and where it came from, from seed to table, was very vivid for me growing up,” he says.
It is something that he tries to replicate by adding many colors to his dishes: beets, beans, hearts of palm, tomatoes, roots and legumes. He prepares them simply, puts them in the middle of the table and lets his children and mother-in-law help themselves.
Growing up, her family never talked about cutting back on sugar, something she still struggles with. Her husband’s family did talk about it and she says he has a healthier relationship with sweets and desserts.
Alves advocates making small changes and accepting the idea that no one is perfect. He admits that his children have picked up on his addiction to chocolate and that he is starting to consume darker, less sweet versions. He says, “No matter what stage you’re in, there’s always room to do a little better.”