Dedicated mother, healthy eating advocate, entrepreneur, and wife of Austin’s Minister of Culture, Matthew McConaughey, Camila Alves McConaughey needs no introduction. The Brazilian-born model, designer, and founder Women of Today, a lifestyle site and community powered by women around the globe, has long promoted the power of healthy eating for every member of the family. Now, she’s continuing that mission with a new children’s book, which has already landed on the New York Times best sellers list.
Just Try One Bite is a whimsical role reversal in which picky eater parents are confronted by their three kids, with hilarious results. Determined to get their parents to put down the ice cream, cake, and chicken fried steak to try just one bite of healthy whole foods, the kids face more than a few obstacles. Accompanied by illustrations from artist Mike Boldt, the story secured its New York Times bestseller status almost instantly.
Matthew McConaughey shared the announcement in an Instagram video on April 6, congratulating his wife for “crashing the party. Two McConaughey’s; husband, wife, friends, on the New York Times Bestseller List at the same time. I don’t know, somewhere in there, there’s a badass rhyme.”
“Maybe it’s just the tea we’re drinking,” says Alves McConaughey in the video, noting that the actor’s autobiographical Greenlights has been on the list for 65 weeks and counting.
CultureMap spoke to Alves about the inspiration behind her book and how she hopes the story will change the conversation around the family dinner table.
CultureMap: How did the idea for Just Try One Bite come about?
Camila Alves McConaughey: The whole mission of this book was how can I continue the conversation of inspiring people to do what’s better for you. If the conversation is not happening inside the household, the changes don’t happen on a bigger scale.
But I don’t want to be preachy, I want it to be fun and for people to really enjoy it. I’m not trying to tell parents what to feed their kids, but I am giving a reminder that the conversation around food, about what’s good and what’s not, and where does it come from is extremely important. And the earlier you have this conversation you set up your kids for a life of healthy habits. The reality is that we are going to have a relationship with food for the rest of our lives, and it should be fun and joyful.
CM: How has that conversation impacted your own life?
CAM: My dad is a farmer, and he is still farming today, so the relationship between where food came from was extremely clear to me growing up. But we never really talked about sugar, I could have as much sugar as I wanted, and I still struggle with that today. And I wanted to give my kids the best chance of not having that struggle, so I’ve tried to just make this part of our everyday routine as much as we could. It’s not always fun, but it’s something I’ve practiced since they were very little.
CM: So it sounds like the book is just the natural progression of the practices you already implement in your own family, is that true?
CAM: Absolutely. In the book, we talk about how you can have your dessert, you can have your ice cream sundaes, just not every day. And it’s the same in our household; we do really well a majority of the time, and then we have days where we have our treats where we enjoy that, too, without the guilt. So it’s always about that balance and the book is a representation of what we do in our household.
CM: What was the process of introducing that balance in your family?
CAM: We have a Friday free-for-all where the kids pick what treats they want on Friday night, and it started with them wanting candy. So I would say, okay, let’s go to the gas station and pick out candy. And we did that for a little bit, but I said, well if you’re going to have a treat, don’t want your favorite dessert? That thing you love so much? So then we started getting a real dessert, a cake or a cookie or something handmade.
And after we did that for a while, I would say, well do we really want to get in the car and go for a drive? Why don’t we make it at home? So, making those transitions and the better-for-you choices that you can do for the long term, those will be the ones that make the biggest changes in your life.
CM: What are some of your favorite Austin places for a sweet treat?
CAM: We love going to Bonjour Briagadeiro when we’re looking for Brazilian treats.
CM: And in the book, the parents are the picky eaters. Can you speak about that role reversal?
CAM: We just really wanted to make it fun and empower the kids. The majority of the time, it’s the kids hearing from the parents, saying “Just try one bite.” So kids are already hearing that a lot and we wanted to give them a different experience; we wanted to give them power to reverse the roles. And I’ve already been getting messages from parents that their child doesn’t feel like they are getting preached to and they are trying new things. And then they go to their parents and tell them to try one bite, too, so it becomes a little more of a game.
CM: Can you give a specific example of something your kids have come around to?
CAM: My kids were really averse to beets and kale, so I started making smoothies that actually had those things in it. I would make it a couple times with fruit and they would love it. Then, the third time, I would ask them to help me make it instead of hiding it, so when it was time to put the kale in, I would say “Well, you just had it and you had no idea it was in there.” I think when they make it themselves and realize they really like it, it gives them a sense of more acceptance; and when they see it on the dinner plate, they become more willing to try one bite.
And now they’re doing those smoothies on their own, so getting the kids involved in the kitchen is a big part of that relationship with food. And one thing I did with the kids is that their first experience in the kitchen was not baking. Their first experience was cooking a meal, like breakfast, which gave that lightbulb of understanding where ingredients come from and how empowering it can be to cook a whole meal versus just baking a treat. I feel like that got my kids cooking differently and involved in the kitchen differently.
CM: Is there any ingredient that you’ve had to come around to yourself?
CAM: I did not like mushrooms at all, and then I had this lightbulb when Kristen Kisch served me this dish that I absolutely loved and it was a vegetarian Bolognese. And I asked her what was in it and she said, “It’s mushrooms.” And I said, “You’re kidding me, I don’t like mushrooms,” but she said, “You just did!”
I brought that idea home when my daughter was not liking spinach. I made this pasta, and I just chopped the ingredients really fine and really quickly, and I presented it to her like this is “not that good, but it’s what we got. Help me out.” And she loved it! And I told her it was spinach, so I brought my experience to her and said it’s not that you don’t like spinach, it’s just that you just hadn’t had it prepared in the way that you liked it yet.
CM: Do you have any other tips and tricks for how to help kids through that process?
CAM: I think the key is presenting different foods in different ways, preparing it in different ways — and do it in small amounts because you don’t want to waste food. But the trick to presenting new things is to serve them with things they already love, and do it one at a time, paired together to make it less of a hurdle.
And I think the other thing is just making it fun. My kids started doing sports and would see other kids drinking huge gallons of sports drinks, and I said you can have some, but we’re not going to be carrying a gallon around. So I asked them to look at the ingredients, not just the front label. And I made a game out of it. I said, “Okay, so Red 40 and Yellow 5 — do we have that in our kitchen?” And I gave them until dinner to research those ingredients and said there would be a treat for the best research.
The result of that dinnertime conversation was that they got curious themselves; and it didn’t happen right away, they were still wanting that food coloring, of course, but after a while we were at a supermarket or a bakery and I would say, “Do you want a cupcake?” And their response was, “No way, look at that neon frosting!” It doesn’t happen right away, but the more you empower kids and encourage them to find the info, they will learn to make the good choices for themselves. And that’s the whole purpose of the book.
CM: Well your book does seem to be sparking that curiosity for other families as an instant New York Times bestseller. Where were you when you got the news?
CAM: I was actually with the LA Children’s Hospital. When I decided to do the book, it was the first place I wanted to donate it to, but when you launch a book, you can’t purchase your own book or the New York Times will red flag you. They’re very strict, and it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, so I wanted to be respectful of their process. But it was one of those universe things that I was there when I got the call, and maybe soon I can make the donation I wanted to make.
CM: And now there are two New York Times bestsellers in the McConaughey household. What has that been like?
CAM: Truth be told, Matthew’s been there for 65 weeks, and he’s sold over 3 million copies. He’s killing it and it’s great to see how much Greenlights has influenced and changed people’s lives. So the fact that Just Try One Bite made the list was a complete surprise. I knew three sentences in English when I moved to this country, so for me to have a book in a bookshop is already something I never thought I would have. But to make the list in the first week? I’m still processing that. How does that even happen? I think maybe it’s because we’re not preaching about being perfect: it’s meant to be fun and funny, so parents can have a way to start or continue the conversation and build from there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Published on March 22, 2022, Just Try One Bite is available for purchase here and at your local bookseller.