September 26, 2016 12:25 PM

After three kids, Camila Alves knows the secret to a healthy lifestyle.

Alves, 34, shares son Levi, 8, daughter Vida, 6, and son Livingston, 3, with her husband, actor Matthew McConaughey. The former model sat down with PEOPLE to talk about her post-baby body and motherhood.

“I never understood when people go, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so easy being pregnant,’ ” she says. “No, it’s hard. It’s the most beautiful thing, yes, but it’s hard.”

One difficult part of her three pregnancies was losing the weight she gained.

“My first one, lost the weight super easy,” she says of bouncing back after giving birth to Levi in 2008.

“The second one, a little bit harder. The third one, it just wasn’t going anywhere. So actually, [Livingston is] 3 years old and I stopped myself and went, ‘Camila, you’re still holding on to your baby weight and he’s 3 years old. That’s not okay.’ “

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Alves says she started her recovery with a cleanse.

“I full-on gave a reset,” she says. “And it wasn’t just about the weight. It was about feeling better. I wasn’t feeling healthy.”

Now, she’s found a great way to maintain her and her family’s health long-term.

“Really, the main thing I’m doing now that’s been helping me a lot is lots of vegetables and fruits, but also anything I get from the store, [I look for] clean labels,” she says. “I look at a label and if it has anything that I won’t have in my kitchen or I don’t know how to [pronounce], I’m not taking it home.”

For Alves, who started the frozen organic meals line Yummy Spoonfuls, introducing kids to a healthy lifestyle early on is key.

“How you start your baby, it’s what’s going to dictate what they like and what they don’t like,” she explains. “So you gotta make sure that you’re feeding them things that are organic, of course. So it could be, like, an adventure of flavors, right?”

Along with a balanced diet, Alves says she maintains a balance when parenting.

“I am a strict parent that also has fun,” she says. “A combination of both. I think it’s very important to teach kids manners, respect others … I can get very, very silly and I think that if you set the basis, then you can go and be free and have fun and go crazy, but they’re always going to remember that base core value that you taught them.”

Alves also talks about her hopes for her three children as they grow up.

“[I hope] that they never lose their kindness and they never lose their value for others,” she says. “Everything that we got going on now, everything we got going on in the world and all this craziness that we have, if we can raise kids that have kindness in their heart and understand the value of other people, I think that we can lose all the craziness that we have around us right now.”

And the only thing she really misses from her pre-baby life? Those extra zzz’s.

“It’s almost like I can’t even remember,” she says. “Once in a while, you go, ‘Oh, I wish I had more time for myself,’ ‘I wish I could sleep in more,’ ‘Gosh, my body’s not the same.’ “

She adds, “But they’re little [things] compared to the joy that you get from your kids. But if I would say something, it would be to just be able to sleep more. I could use a little more of it.”

— Blake Bakkila

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