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Welcome to Gemma’s kitchen, a place where food is fun and wonderful, and bright and colourful. JASMINE PHILLIPS finds out why that’s just as it should be

GEMS WHOLESOME KITCHEN PORTRAITS 28.1.19. (TIFFS) - James Bellorini Photography-9

For chef, author and mum-of-two Gemma Ogston
life is always about getting the balance right.
Sometimes, she says, that means cutting yourself
an extra slice of cake...

“Purple fruits and veg contain flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that can help improve memory. Blueberries can be added to smoothies or put on top of porridge.”
“These contain folate, iron and vitamin K, which are vital for healthy brains as well as helping to reduce tiredness. Most kids will eat broccoli, but I disguise leafy greens by putting them in a smoothie or whizzing into pesto.”
“Switching to brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholewheat pasta means kids will get a better dose of vitamins E and B, potassium and zinc. Wholegrains also release energy slowly, so will help them stay alert longer.”
“Selenium is thought to reduce anxiety – brazil and walnuts are particularly high in it, but you can find it in seeds and oats too. Dip whole brazil nuts in melted dark chocolate for
a sweet snack.”
“One of the best-unprocessed sources of carbohydrate, which helps promote the production of serotonin, our feel-good brain chemical. Make sweet potato mash, soup or roasted wedges.”

Food not only impacts your physical health but also your mental health and general mood,” says Gemma Ogston, chef and author of The Self-Care Cookbook. “The minute I don’t eat well my mood plummets, and the same applies to kids. If we want them to be in the best frame of mind for school they have to be well-fed.”

For Gemma, it’s simple:, when we make an effort to eat more healthily and also take proper time to rest, recharge and do more of the things we enjoy, we feel better and happier. “This means we’re stronger and more able to deal with whatever life sends our way.” But, of course, life is all about balance. “Sometimes that means cutting that extra slice of cake.”
Her own journey into a happier and more wholesome place began when she was trying to start a family. She suffered many miscarriages, and started looking at how her diet could be impacting not only her physical health but also her mental health and general mood. “Someone told me to try doing a detox – cutting out sugar, caffeine and alcohol and eating more plant-based foods. I tried it and felt great.” When she fell pregnant with her daughter Carmen, doctors discovered she had a rare blood disorder and she began to look at other aspects of self-care too. “I was so anxious thinking that I was going to lose Carmen, I looked at a list of positive affirmations on my phone every time I went to the hospital.”

She’s has come a long way since then. Carmen is now 8 and big sister to Hendrix, 7, and Gemma runs Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen, making healthy meals for those who sign up to her Nourish Package. She also shares what she’s learnt in classes for adults and workshops for children in schools
in her local area of Brighton. Her book is a combination of wholesome plant-based recipes for self-care, moments of quiet reflection and practical steps you can take to show yourself – and your family – the love and attention you deserve.

Research suggests that children who eat a good breakfast have a better attention span for their morning classes, are twice as likely to perform well in tests and have a reduced risk of certain health problems. But breakfast also sets the tone for the day ahead. “Whatever mood is set around the breakfast table they will take to school with them, so we make it a celebration. My son can get a bit down about going to school, so to boost his mood we go around the table saying one thing that we’re excited about.”
Gemma’s go-to breakfast is easy Overnight Oats (see recipe, right). Soaked oats are easier for anxious tummies to digest, provide slow-release energy and contain the mood-boosting mineral selenium. “We make them together the night before. You just mix them with milk or a plant-based alternative and then stir through honey or maple syrup. Then I let the kids add their flavours: cacao adds a real chocolatey flavour and is also full of essential minerals and vitamins that can all help with boosting the mood and helping with focus. But there’s also cinnamon, vanilla, chia seeds or nut butter…” Then you simply leave them in the fridge overnight and top with whatever you want in the morning. “Bananas are great for boosting serotonin, our happy hormone, and walnuts are packed with selenium which helps relieve anxiety and a low mood.”

Cooking according to the seasons is a priority in Gemma’s house, as is buying locally grown produce. Another thing that’s important is visual appeal, and not only for the varied nutrients that a ‘rainbow’ of different-coloured veggies provide. “I had an eating disorder when I was younger, so I understand the impact that food can have on mood and energy levels. Colourful food makes you happy in such a simple way.”

Having lived with an eating disorder, it’s extra important for Gemma that her kids have a happy relationship with food. “I only use positive language around body image – never words like ‘fat’ or ‘skinny’ – and show the kids that I love my body. As a family we exercise regularly; it’s important to demonstrate how exercise is a major part in making you feel good.” But it’s not all about being good. “We love the occasional treat like pizzas or chocolate cake! Life is about balance and joy.”

Dinner in Gemma’s house is quick, filling and nourishing, with protein and carbs to replenish some of the energy the kids lose in the day. And when her kids go through fussy phases she doesn’t make a big deal over it, instead encouraging them to cook with her and come up with ideas for what they would like to eat. “I normally find if they don’t have much of an appetite it means something is going on emotionally. On these occasions we chat, we hug, and I might make them some peanut butter on toast or homemade tomato soup. Mum’s comfort food normally sorts them out!” As a family they stopped eating meat five years ago: “We make wholegrain pasta with homemade pesto (made with broccoli for a vivid green colour), ratatouille or simple stews with loads of veggies and butterbeans. I make sure that we all sit down together – it’s an opportunity for togetherness, which is essential for our wellbeing.”

A good after-dinner routine lays the foundation for bedtime. Children aged 2 to 12 need between nine and 13 hours’ sleep for their bodies to rest, restore and grow. “I have a rule that we stop working and put screens away after dinner. They potter around and play, we read books and share what we were grateful for that day,” Gemma says. “It makes them stronger and more able to deal with whatever life sends their way.”

Find out more about Gemma at

energy balls

A wonderful afternoon snack made
from natural ingredients

Soak 200g pitted dates in hot water for 5 mins. Pulse 100g walnuts in a food processor for 30 secs. Drain the dates (reserving the soaking water) then add them to the walnuts and pulse for 30 secs. Add 1tbsp each of coconut oil, oats and maple syrup and blend for 2 mins. You may need to add a little of the reserved date water if the mixture is very thick. Now add your choice of flavours (such as cacao powder, desiccated coconut, dried pineapple or chia seeds), or leave plain. Blend for 1 min and roll into even-sized balls, about 2.5cm in diameter. Decorate by rolling in desiccated coconut or seeds. Makes approximately 15.

Rich in fibre, magnesium and B vitamins, as well as being a source of slow-release energy, oats are a one-hit-wonder for calming an anxious mind

Combine 50g oats with 120ml plant-based milk in a small jar and stir in honey or maple syrup. Optional extras are ½tsp cinnamon or vanilla,
or 1tbsp chia seeds or nut butter – stir these through now. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. The next morning, add bananas and walnuts for a mood boost (bananas boost serotonin, and walnuts are packed with selenium which helps relieve anxiety); spirulina and pear for a green energy boost (spirulina is full of nutrients, but just use a bit as it has a strong flavour); or cacao powder and frozen berries for focus (cacao is full of essential minerals and vitamins that can help with mood-boosting and focus). Serves two kids.


Find the recipe
for the Veggie Tacos
pictured here
in ‘The Self-Care Cookbook’
by Gemma Ogston,
published by Vermilion