Zoe Bingley-Pullin On Motherhood And Nutrition


Banana and passionfruit pancakes, salmon vegetable quinoa risotto and date, apricot and oat energy balls: the menu at Only About Children (Oac) is so impressive, it’s hard not to want to book in yourself. The early learning and preschool/kindergarten for children 0-6 years with campuses throughout Melbourne and Sydney, has just announced they’ve appointed the incredibly dynamic and motivated nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin as their new nutrition ambassador. We caught up with the co-host of Channel Ten’s Good Chef Bad Chef at home to find out how becoming a mother to Emily, 16 months, has changed her life and how nutrition and wellbeing assist learning in small children…

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Having a baby wasn’t easy for me…
“I found out when I was about 30 that I couldn’t have children. We went through six cycles of IVF and from start to finish, I was 35 by the time I had a child. It was a very, very long time. There was a lot of shame around it for me personally to begin with. I used to think ‘I’m so healthy, I’ll fall pregnant straight away’. Motherhood has most definitely taught me to celebrate every little win. Every little thing that you do or your child does, celebrate it! There are so many circumstances that can knock you down. Or distractions that will take you out of being in that moment with your child. My level of appreciation is far greater than if I had I not gone through IVF.

I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore…
I was laughing with my girlfriend the other day about how I made Emily this fabulous meal and she basically got her hand and tipped it everywhere. The old me would have been stressed out, but I just thought, you know what, it’s not the end of the world. You learn to just take a deep breath.

I am a lot more effective with my time since Emily arrived…
I also have what I try and call ‘on and off’ times. I really try and be 100% present when I am with Emily. I also put the correct support around me. I work from home and one thing I learnt a little bit later on was: it’s not always good to be at home if you work from home and you’re raising your children at home. The lines are very blurred about what kind of environment you’re actually in. I will regularly go up to the local library and hire the local meeting rooms and spend hours in there getting my work done completely undistracted. I am very stimulated in that environment. I love libraries and always have. My dad and I used to always go to library when I was a kid. They have lot of positive memories around them.

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Emily is changing everyday…
When Emily comes back from a day at Oac, I really notice she’s more outgoing. There has been a marked difference in her language and the words she’s trying to use now. I love looking at the Oac app and seeing what they’ve done. At the end of the day, they post photos of what your child has done and give you a summary of what’s happening in relation to the Oac Grow Curriculum. I am also going to be answering some questions parent’s ask about nutrition. We’re just building that into the app now. I love the way we can use technology to feel closer to our children. They’re really encouraging as much connection as possible.

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I had put Emily’s name down at Oac before I was even approached to be an ambassador…
I knew what they stood for. What they’re doing with nutrition is amazing. We believe that good nutrition plays a vital role in children’s physical and mental development in early childhood. Research supports the fact that it is directly linked to all aspects of their growth and development. I love that Oac embraces a holistic approach to a child’s learning in the belief that education, health and wellbeing go hand in hand. It’s a perfect match for me. Oac also supports partnerships with parents, so I will be hosting a series of workshops and webinars around nutrition for them too.

We have created a four-week rotating seasonal menu…
The exploration of food is key – you need to get kids trying different things. When we seat kids in a group environment, they’re watching each other and learning. So it’s really exciting for them to be trying new foods and looking around to see other children reacting to a new food. If the other children like it, they’re more likely to enjoy it themselves. With the food plan, we basically encourage a wholefood diet. It’s all about nutrient density and good tasty food. If it’s not tasty, you’re not going to get a child to eat it. They want something that’s fun, colourful and texturally nice.

I work with a lot of superfoods…
I’ll use buckwheat for blueberry pancakes, quinoa for chicken paddies or risotto. At Oac, we stick to low allergenic foods with a really high nutritional value and focus on low GI carbohydrates, good quality vegetables and fruits and LOTS of variety. We always take allergies and cultural needs into account as well. Each week the children will learn about food. One of the topics, for example, is ‘garden patch’ which is all about teaching kids how to cook with vegetables/herbs/fruits from the garden. They’ll learn how picking from the garden to cook is not only lots of fun but ensures produce is fresh and therefore more nutritious. Or ‘paddock to plate’, which teaches kids about where our meat comes from and about the role of our farmers. The idea is that if children understand where meat comes from and how the animals are treated, it’s a great way to make the right choices for health.

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I love outcome based exercise…
I like to walk to a café to have lunch with a girlfriend. All that incidental exercise is so important. It’s what keeps you toned! The brain needs consistent movement. The more the body moves, the more stimulated the brain is. So we need physical movement not just mental moment to keep our brain fresh and clear and reducing disease. It’s so important.

I love cooking and creating…
I’m quite intuitive when it comes to food – I’ll try different things and see what the outcome is. I’ve tried all types of diets: I’ve been pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan. Over and above for me, it’s about listening to my body. At no point will your body require the same thing so it’s important to have some flexibility in your diet. I love eating out and these are the types of things that I’m never going to substitute. It’s really important that you’ve got a strong foundation and eat lots of good quality wholefoods everyday. Then the impact of indulgence such as the occasional burger or chips, doesn’t have that much of a detrimental impact. I really always believe it’s about creating your ‘food foundation’. I’ve just launched an online program, an 8-week program, called ‘Falling In Love With Food’. It’s everything from cooking lessons to mindful lessons to what I call your ‘make lesson’ and your ‘mind lesson’ so just really educating people on the fundamentals of label reading.

If you’re craving something…
It means there is something imbalanced in your body. You need to identify what the imbalance is. But if you like something, then there’s nothing wrong with having it. Take the small amount, enjoy it, savour it, and then move on.
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I am a big believer in probiotics for adults and children…
I’ll take a probiotic everyday. It’s great for fighting sickness, especially when your child is at daycare. I’ll then have lemon and water and a cold pressed juice.

Emily and I have the same breakfast…
We had chia porridge this morning with banana and cinnamon. I also love semi boiled eggs with sourdough and avocado or fruit salad, yoghurt and nuts on top. Morning snacks are on the run – a piece of fruit with a cup of coffee or tea and lots of water. For lunch, I can’t go past Bill’s corn fritters with poached eggs. My diet is always very wholefood based, so it’ll be some lean protein and salad. I’m not anti-carbs at all. If I feel like quinoa or bread, I’ll always include it in my diet. I just don’t have a large amount of it. In the afternoon, things tends to get a little bit crazy. If I have a big lunch, I might save some of it and have it at 3 or 4pm. Or else fruit, nuts, a piece of toast with some almond butter or sometimes another veggie juice.

We eat dinner quite early…
I’m lucky that Michael gets home around 6pm, so I’ll have dinner on the table and we try and eat with Emily. I think it’s the best education a child can have on how to eat food, the community aspect of family, how we eat, what we eat, mimicking, it’s just so important.

My health is the reason for my success…
You get that edge. I have such quality sleep because I am not loading up on coffee and I don’t drink a lot of alcohol. When I sleep, I am really rejuvenating and replenishing, so when I’m awake I am ready to go. I eat well, I eat consistently, I do lots of exercise, I hang out with friends, I have fun. I get stressed and pissed off like everyone else – I’m not immune to those things – but I have a good coping mechanism.

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My job is wonderfully rewarding…
I think because of struggling at school with dyslexia, I feel so grateful for the career I’ve got. Other than my parents, I don’t think anyone expected me to have a somewhat successful career. I am so lucky to have a beautiful daughter, a great relationship with my husband. Every now and then I get a bit nervous and my confidence gets a bit shattered. I think can I do this? Launching this new online program 'Falling in love with food' is one of the more challenging things I’ve done in a while. I keep reassuring myself that I am doing something that is positive and I’m doing it with the best intention and hopefully that will be obvious and clear to the people who participate."

Zoe’s favourite recipes for OAC:

Garden treasure quinoa salad
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
500g pumpkin, cut into small cubes
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, chopped in quarters
1 yellow/red capsicum, diced
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
2 ½ cups vegetable stock (salt reduced)
2 cups quinoa (or couscous)
2 avocados, diced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sultanas, optional
300g feta cheese (salt reduced), crumbled

Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees
2. Place pumpkin on a lined baking tray tossed in oil and roast until soft
3. In a saucepan, place quinoa and stock, bring to the boil and simmer until stock is absorbed, approx. 20 minutes, add extra stock if needed, take quinoa off the heat once cooked
4. In a large bowl, combine roasted pumpkin, quinoa, capsicum, parsley, sultanas, avocado, feta cheese and drizzle with 1tbsp olive oil
5. NB: for 0-2, mash 1 cup roasted pumpkin with ½ diced avocado and ¼ cup feta cheese and serve with cooked quinoa

Salmon vegetable quinoa risotto
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
400g Atlantic salmon (or any non-farmed fish), chopped into small ½ cm cubes (omit for vegetarian) 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
500g pumpkin, finely diced
1 cup carrot, finely chopped
1 cup baby spinach or chopped kale
750ml (salt reduced) vegetable stock
1 cup quinoa or arborio rice
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Method
1. Heat oil in a saucepan, add the pumpkin and carrot and cook for 5 minutes
2. Add the rice to the pumpkin and stir well
3. Ladle in enough stock to cover the rice, simmer for approx. 15 minutes, keep slowly adding stock until rice is tender
4. Add the salmon, frozen peas and baby spinach, cook for 5 minutes.
5. Remove from heat, stir through the cheese
6. NB: for 0-2 blend to desired consistency

Date, apricot and oat energy balls
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
¾ cup rolled oats or flaked quinoa for gluten-free option
1 cup shredded coconut + extra for rolling
A quarter cup extra virgin coconut oil
½ cup chopped dates (sulphur-free)
¼ cup chopped apricots  (sulphur-free)
½ cup sunflower seeds (optional)
1/3 cup orange juice, more if required

Method
1. Place all ingredients except orange juice into a food processor/blender and pulse until mixture is well combined
2. Add orange juice gradually until mixture comes together
3. Roll mixture into individual balls and roll into extra coconut
4. Place the balls into a refrigerator to set

Bone boosting coconut & fig smoothie
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
2 frozen bananas
4 dried figs (soaked in water for 4+ hours) (sulphur-free)
1 ½ tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
½ tsp cinnamon, ground
2 cups milk
2 tbsp yoghurt
2 tbsp oats or flaked quinoa for gluten-free option
8 ice cubes

Method
1. Remove figs from soaking water
2. Place all ingredients into a food processor/blender and blend until smooth, add extra milk for a more fluid consistency
3. Pour into individual serving glasses

Banana and passionfruit pancakes
For 10 mini pancakes

Ingredients
Pancake batter
1 cup of flour (e.g. buckwheat or whole meal)
A quarter tsp baking powder
1 cup milk (dairy or alternative e.g. coconut or almond)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 large banana (preferably ripe)
1 tbsp. butter or oil of choice (eg coconut) for cooking

Topping
1 cup natural yoghurt
4 passion fruit

Method
1. Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl and mix well
2. Add the mashed banana, milk and vanilla extract. Mix into a batter consistency
3. Melt butter or coconut oil over medium heat, spoon batter in pan and flip pancakes once one side is cooked
4. Top pancakes with combined yoghurt and passion fruit

Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo Words: Georgie Abay Hair and makeup: TBC

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