April 29, 2011 09:00 AM

Dave Allocca/Startraks

Little girls may be made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but that won’t stop them from turning a kitchen into a warzone.

It’s a lesson Jennifer Garner learned firsthand when daughters Violet, 5, and Seraphina, 2, celebrated Easter in their Sunday best last weekend.

“We had them in these sweet Easter dresses. We dyed eggs, they had chocolate, they painted things and they were just a complete and total disaster,” Garner, 39, told PEOPLE Tuesday at the Frigidaire Stain Games in Glendale.

“I thought, ‘Oops! I should have changed them, put on a smock, covered them up.’ That was not the smartest move on my part.”

Fortunately the mom of two daughters with Ben Affleck has a lax philosophy on just how dirty her girls should get. “I would rather them feel free to be messy … Kids should be empowered to be as messy as they want to be,” she explains.

It’s a message Garner holds especially close to her heart as the ambassador of Frigidaire Goes To Bat For Save The Children.

“It’s so important that we remind ourselves to get up and out with our kids and run them around,” she says. “I have to remind myself [too]. Just yesterday, I realized we’d been sitting inside all day on a gorgeous day. I thought, ‘I just have to get outside. Just go and get to the park. Go out in the dirt and muck and be outside and get fresh air and run around.'”

In addition to keeping her girls healthy through physical activity, the actress promotes healthy eating habits by shopping organic at local farmer’s markets, often with Violet and Seraphina in tow.

“The best way to lead is by example, so I like to eat locally grown foods that are organic,” she says. “I think it’s important that they grow up seeing their parents trying at least to take care of themselves.”

Garner, who says she loves the fun atmosphere of farmer’s markets, also encourages her daughters’ love of healthy foods by getting them involved in the shopping process.

“I feel like kids are more likely to eat [fruits and vegetables] if they have a say in what goes into the basket,” she says. “And there’s nothing better than letting them munch on something raw while they’re walking around the farmer’s market.”

In spite of the inherent mess that comes with being a mom, the job is something Garner takes joy in every day. The best part? “Just having these little people in your life to hang out with,” she says.

— Jessica Wedemeyer

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