For the first in our series of interviews with inspirational women we're thrilled to welcome Calgary Avansino to the Little Green Home blog. A former contributing editor at British Vogue, her enthusiasm in wellness led the Mum of 3 to set up her own website devoted to living better as well as penning a cookbook, Keep It Real, that has been a permanent fixture in our kitchens since its release. We're thrilled to have her sit down with us to discuss her healthy eating tips for you and your little ones.
Can you tell us a bit about where your interest in healthy eating and wellness came from? And how it ended up being the focus of your career?
I was raised by very health-conscious parents, who taught me from an early age that food is fuel, both physically and emotionally. If you choose the right things to put in your body, it makes a difference. But they didn’t force it down my throat – literally – it was just how things were in our house and I think that is the best approach with kids. They absorb more by osmosis – preaching never works! My mom was a busy lady but she still cooked us dinner every night and we sat as a family around the table, which of course I didn’t appreciate at the time, but the value of healthy food and togetherness soaked in.
Many Mums find it difficult to get their children eating healthily, especially in terms of vegetables- any handy hints for helping little fussy eaters to love their veg?!
The most important thing to remember is that YOU are in charge and it is your responsibility to feed your kids good food. If you have picky eaters, change won’t happen overnight but don’t give in to their complaints immediately. Keep trying, keep offering new foods and keep sticking to the plan. You owe it to your kids’ future health and wellbeing to educate them about what real food is and encourage them to fuel their bodies with good stuff.
First things first, don’t have anything in your kitchen or pantry that you know will be a battle or that you don’t want your children to eat. If it’s not in the house then they can’t beg for it. Next up, lead by example. You can’t eat a packet of crisps in front of your children and expect them to eat carrot sticks. This is a healthy journey for the whole family and as every parent knows, kids do what you do, not what you say to do.
And finally, don’t make a big deal about introducing new foods. The more you say “this is a new thing and it’s super healthy” the more they will say “no way!” Just place it on the table, don’t give alternative options and see what happens.
What are your top tips for busy Mum’s who want to make easy to prepare but nutritious meals for their whole family?
I like to keep things ridiculously simple – which all the recipes in my book are! I can’t be bothered with complicated recipes that take hours to prepare and feature tons of ingredients. If I can make it in one pan, even better – less is more for me. I do have three words though that I’d say are my key top tips for busy mums who want to eat well with their family but are time-strapped (and who isn’t?): PREP, LEFTOVERS and FREEZER!
First, spending an hour (or even 15 minutes) prepping for the week ahead makes a world of difference - I encourage people to wash their greens, lettuces and veggies, chop ingredients, bake savoury muffins, make a soup or a stew or prepare a pasta sauce. Life is so much less stressful when you always have something prepped when time is short. And when is time not short?
Second, embrace leftovers. Always make extra when you cook something delicious for dinner and take it to work the next day for lunch. Or use an ingredient in multiple ways – for example, when you make lentil soup, double the lentils and use the leftovers to make a lentil salad or lentil burgers for dinner the next night.
Lastly, use your freezer wisely – i.e. pack it full of good stuff. There’s a whole chapter in my book Keep It Real about all the amazing things you can freeze easily and how to add them into your weekly meal plan. Your freezer really can be a lifesaver, make it your friend.
In your book ‘Keep It Real’ you strongly advocate the anti-diet approach to food but many women feel pressured into dieting, especially after giving birth, what would be your advice to those women who are looking to shed some weight?
After all three of my children, I lost the baby weight gradually by staying as active as possible and eating frequently and well; but I didn’t push myself or do anything radically different or extreme. I threw on my baby sling as often as I could and went for a walk at the park or to the shops, and slowly, slowly, slowly, it came off. I don’t believe in dieting, full stop, but especially after giving birth. You have just spent nine months growing a human being inside your body – be kind to yourself. It won’t be the same as it was before in the blink of an eye, but that’s okay. When you’re breast-feeding, my top tip is to have healthy snacks nearby instead of processed convenience food. You will inevitably get hungry during these times and it is very helpful to have chopped carrot sticks and hummus, some almonds and cashews, or sliced apple and nut butter to hand with a glass of water, rather than a packet of crisps, chocolate bar and can of soda. But most importantly; be kind, patient and loving to yourself – you’ve done an amazing and difficult thing, remember that!
What are the 3 key changes you would urge everyone to make in order to improve their health and wellbeing?
Cut out sugar – it has no nutritional benefit, is just empty calories and it sends us on a rollercoaster of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. Most worryingly, it is impacting global health and is linked with increases in obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Cutting out sugar isn’t always easy, but it is most definitely worth it. Start by reading packaging labels, having a huge cupboard clear out, cutting out processed foods, making us much as you can yourself, and keeping an eye out for all the places sugar is hidden, especially in seemingly ‘healthy’ food products such as tomato sauce, soup, fruit yoghurt, green juices and snack bars. Also be aware of manufacturers using other words to describe it – i.e. sucrose, cane juice crystals, blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, date sugar, fructose, etc.
Eat real food – Food is not just something we put in our mouths to satiate hunger; it is the fuel our bodies use to stay healthy and function well. We need to start eating more and more real food – fresh, nutritious, unprocessed food from the earth, trees and bushes. Plants, plants, plants! Ditch processed food!
Give up on diets – forever – Plant-based living is a fulfilling, satisfying, permanent lifestyle, not a punishing, painful period of deprivation. As I touched upon earlier, diets do nothing for us other than fill us with guilt. We need to stop punishing our bodies and start loving ourselves, filling our plates with nourishing foods in a consistent and sustainable way.
Like a lot of Mum’s you’re juggling the demands of your career and family, what do you do to keep yourself balanced and ensure you’re taking care of you as well?
I have the headspace app downloaded to my phone, which is brilliant. Whether I am at home, in a taxi or on the train, I can just plug in my headphones and ‘take ten’, practising mindful thinking (or unthinking, really!) and deep breathing. Also I try to attack my stress by accomplishing one thing at a time and crossing it off my “list”. This always makes me feel less overwhelmed. And if all else fails, my foolproof stress-reliever is turning on some fun, loud music with my kids and having a dance party.
How important is it to you to choose organic or non-toxic products for yourself, your family and your home?
Very important! If you care about what you put in your body, then why not care what you put on and around your body? Given that our skin - the largest organ in our body - is estimated to absorb up to 60% of the products that we apply to it, it’s important to be conscious and educate yourself. Unlike food, which first has to be metabolised by the liver before fully entering our body, the products we apply to our skin have direct entry to the bloodstream. Therefore, it’s not just “you are what you eat” but also, “you are what you put on your skin.”
I do my best to use as many non-toxic products as possible. I use vinegar to clean most surfaces and non-toxic brands for laundry, washing dishes and tougher scrubbing. I choose my kids products very carefully and try to find brands that are transparent about the ingredients they are using.
What are the key products that you have chosen to make the switch from conventional to natural or non-toxic?
I can’t say I’m 100% with my make-up and skincare yet but I try my best. I use non-toxic lipstick, nail polishes, body cream, bath products, sunscreen, baby products and nappies. Every little bit helps.
What is your mantra to live by?
My mantras are the same things I say to my kids:
Treat people as you want to be treated - and work your hardest, always.
Calgary Avansino, Contributing Editor – British Vogue and author of Keep It Real – (http://amzn.to/1ZpmnL4). @calgaryavansino