California-born Calgary Avansino has worked at British Vogue for over thirteen years, and currently acts as contributing editor. Her passion for clothing and design is equal only to her commitment to feeding her family wholesome, healthy food. So, it’s no surprise that she has become a go-to resource for readers who hope to do the same. Now, the expert is developing a namesake wellbeing website and a line of enticing, nutritional snacks.
Here, Avansino shares her strategy for avoiding power struggles over sugar with children and sings the praises of homemade foods, asserting that a healthful diet is worth the time it takes:
Live The Process: Your overarching nutritional principle is to follow an almost totally vegan, gluten- and refined sugar-free diet 80% of the time, but to partake in less healthful foods in sparse moderation the other 20%. How did you develop this equation?
Calgary Avansino: There is absolutely nothing scientific about this ratio. I simply use it as an approachable way to visualize balance. Like it or not, a wholesome, nutrient-dense diet cannot be defined by a balance ratio of 50/50. You have to work harder than that! It is helpful for people—I know it is for me—to imagine a pie graph with 80% positive (meaning unprocessed, fresh and plant-based) foods and 20% food on the run, indulgences and mistakes. You can think about it at each meal: try to fill 80% of your plate with plants. Or you can think about your day as a whole and try to remember that 80% (nearly all) of what goes into your mouth should be vitality-packed fruits, vegetables, good grains and beneficial fats. It’s a reminder to make good decisions when hunger strikes, to fill your days with as many greens as possible and get clever about substituting empty calories with nutrient-rich ingredients.
LTP: What inspires you to share your nutritional philosophy and practices with the public?
CA: When people write to say I have inspired them to change their diets, that they have never felt or looked better, I beam with happiness while reading their emails over and over again—nothing tops that! I share my lifestyle because I want people to see that fueling your body with healthy foods doesn’t have to be intimidating, expensive or difficult. When that starts to make sense to someone, change happens. And watching people’s lives change for the better is a great thing.
LTP: Is there a processed food you have trouble resisting? Or a healthful one that you have never developed the taste for?
CA: My general rule of thumb is to avoid anything that is processed and packaged (or that my great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize, as Michael Pollan says). So, when I crave my favorite sweets like oatmeal raisin cookies or banana bread, I try to make them myself. Having said that, if I walk past a bakery and smell freshly baked bread, I definitely want some. And my favorite dessert is Baklava, so whenever we go to a Lebanese restaurant, I always save room for a few pieces. I love almost all vegetables, but, in an ideal world, I’d never eat another parsnip or turnip.
LTP: How can parents frame an organic and unprocessed diet for their children as one full of delicious foods, as opposed to representing a list of forbidden treats?
CA: I think this all comes down to what your children are accustomed to seeing in their home. If you fill your refrigerator and pantry with delicious, wholesome options, then your kids are going to choose from that selection happily. Children are driven by instant gratification, so they’re going to grab and enjoy a handful of trail mix, a piece of cheese or an apple, if that is what’s available. If you buy Oreos and Doritos and then try to limit the intake of those foods, I guarantee a battle will ensue. Just don’t buy them.
I try to educate my kids about why I buy the things I do and why we eat the way we do. It is important that they know why we choose quinoa instead of white rice or almond milk over cow’s milk, so they focus on all the good things we are putting in our bodies and not the foods we aren’t having. When we bake cookies, we use coconut oil and try different sugar substitutes whenever we can. The end result is absolutely no less delicious or sweet, and my kids are learning about healthy ingredient choices along the way. When they scan the sugar cereals at the grocery store, I show them what they are made of and tell them that they can find another “treat” that is more positive and still tastes delicious. They always find something that puts a smile both on their faces and mine. Mealtime should never be about deprivation: kids need exposure to a wide range of foods and to be taught the importance of balance. Make cooking fun, make eating educational and make meals delicious!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
CA: Three flashes of happiness spring to mind: The first is waking up to one of my sleeping daughters’ faces, breathing peacefully an inch away from mine. The second is sitting around a table with my extended family, enjoying a long, delicious (and of course healthy) meal we’ve all made together. Finally, I think of reaching the peak of a tough mountain hike.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
CA: The most important lesson in my life has been learning to slow down on a physical, mental and spiritual level. We miss so many magical moments in these crazy, multi-tasking lives we lead, and I’ve made it my personal mission to savor the small stuff. It’s stopping to chat with a friend on the street, playing “fairies” on the floor with my kids or trying to practice yoga without simultaneously constructing a mental to-do list for the rest of the day. Time passes too quickly as it is; being present, being genuine and being appreciative of every moment we have here together is what living the process means each day for me.