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Stealth healthy food for the family

Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Cambridge plant-based restaurant business Stem & Glory, discusses UPFs, wholefoods and has some great tips for how to provide nutritious meals for your household.

Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

Lately there has been an increasing amount of coverage being given to UPFs (ultra processed foods), which are implicated in obesity and many many other health issues.

The bottom line is these foods are not only unhealthy, they are also addictive. Foods high in fat and sugar (as many ultra-processed foods are), stimulate a greater sense of reward than others. This can lead to changes in the brain, and what’s known as a “dietary pleasure trap” - you can’t stop eating them once you start (why Pringles have always been banned in my house!)

Rather alarmingly, it’s been revealed recently that many of our children are eating a diet of 80 per cent of UPFs. It is convenience that has bought us to this point, with UPFs being part of every single meal for a very high percentage of people. It is very important therefore that we get our children eating healthy, not just for now, but for their future eating habits. As a time pressed parent, if that just sounds completely overwhelming, a good target could be 80 per cent healthy, 20 per cent less healthy.

I’ve always been an advocate of a natural plant-based whole food diet. These foods are the opposite of UPFs and completely unprocessed, containing all the nutrition we need. Add a little naughtiness to a base wholefood diet, and hopefully we can maintain a diet that is pleasing to both our bodies and our pleasure centres.

I’ve always thought the way to win hearts and minds to the vegan movement is by serving ridiculously delicious vegan food, but people still sometimes question if a plant-based diet is ‘safe’ for children, and voice concerns that they will lack the right nutrition if they follow a plant-based diet. Given that apparently 80 per centof our children are eating an ultra unhealthy diet, I feel it is time to move on from this!

The world is actually full of healthy plant-based children, we just don’t hear about them. All we hear is one extreme horror story of one Australian family depriving their baby by feeding them only plant-based food. Turns out that they are depriving their child of food, period, and of course that will lead to ill health. There is no link between veganism and malnutrition amongst children of any age, as long as attention is paid to balanced nutrition and wholefoods.

A hummus dish at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
A hummus dish at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

A diet rich in lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and a wide array of vegetables provides all the protein and other nutrients needed for both children and adults. The trick, obviously, is getting your kids to try new things.

The successful dishes that became family favourites from their childhood are still big favourites in our house, and there is something really nice about the children being reminded of their younger selves around the dinner table.

The sooner you get children eating diverse flavours when they are young, the better, and wholefood plant-based dishes are generally very simple to prepare, nutritious and balanced, and they are also very cheap.

[Read more from Louise: Have vegetarians been short-changed by the vegan movement?]

My children love potatoes, and an early favourite in our house was spinach and potato curry. One finely chopped and sauteed leek, add one finely chopped tomato, a teaspoon of garam masala, cooked and drained spinach and diced cooked potato. Cook for five to 10 minutes with a little water. Serve with rice (try and get your kids on brown rice early on) and plant milk yoghurt. I got this recipe years ago from a vegan food for kids book, the book was an advocate for giving children very diverse flavours from a very early age (literally babies), and it really did work. I think we shy away from feeding tasty foods to our young children when in fact we should do the opposite.

These early beginnings made us a family of Indian food lovers, and traditional restaurant-style tarka daal was also an early favourite with both my children from a very young age. Again it surprised me how much they loved this from when they were babies.

Lentils are so nourishing, I think children instinctively know this. Gently fry one finely chopped onion and one clove of garlic with half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of turmeric. Add one cup of rinsed split red lentils and two cups of water. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

When they were little we served it just like this with rice, they loved to squeeze fresh lemon juice on it. As they became older we added the traditional ‘tarka’ - this is where it is at with the ‘art of dal’. Once the dal is cooked, fry 1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds in a little oil until they start to ‘pop’. Add eight curry leaves and three garlic cloves cut into slivers. Fry until the garlic just start to go golden. Add to the dal whilst still hot. Stir gently into the dal and serve immediately.

In the kitchen at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
In the kitchen at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

As anyone will know if they have gen Zs living in their house, they are extremely vocal on the subject of sustainability and global warming.

I’ve been able to keep mine on the righteous path with their eating habits very much along with the sustainable credentials of vegan food, and in particular locally sourced vegetables.

My local farm shop now stocks lentils that are grown in a field a few miles from our house, and we love cooking with them. I would urge any parent or parent to be to develop a love of lentils and pulses as they really are nature’s food. And they are extremely cheap. You can literally feed a family on one cup of lentils.

[Read more from Louise: Let’s not waste lunch... Stem & Glory founder suggests low-cost, low carbon, low-hassle options]

My final tip then for a simple, nutritious and extremely versatile dish is the wonderfully nutritious global staple - hummus.

Getting your children to fall in love with hummus as young as possible is an extremely good move. Of course, hummus is widely available, and is the biggest selling dip in the UK, but it is also really easy to make, and if you do it yourself, will not contain any additives at all. Hummus is one of those super nutritious super available superfoods, and served with pitta and carrot and cucumber sticks is a winner with most children.

Hummus is traditionally made with chickpeas, but at Stem & Glory we now use British whole yellow peas, and you can use other peas too to give the same nutritional powerhouse, with some delicious new twists - and British grown too. Served together, hummus and pitta is what's called a complete protein - between them, pitta and hummus contain the full spectrum of amino acids that you need.

Get your children loving lentils and a whole new world of easy meals will open up before your eyes!

Chickpeas do not grow very well in our climate, so they are always imported. The good news is British yellow peas grow amazingly well here, they make a fantastic hummus, and they are even more nutritious than chickpeas. You can of course use chickpeas in this recipe, and you can also of course use tinned chickpeas - but the whole pea version is soooo much tastier!

A hummus dish from Stem & Glory - this one features turmeric. Picture: Keith Heppell
A hummus dish from Stem & Glory - this one features turmeric. Picture: Keith Heppell

Whole pea hummus


  • 250 grams cooked British yellow peas (retain the cooking water)
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 60ml tahini
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 30ml British oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)
  • 50 to 90ml pea cooking water
  • 60ml lemon juice


Add the first seven ingredients to a blender and blend for two minutes.

Then with the blender still turning, add 50ml of the pea water slowly.

Blend until very smooth, adding more liquid if needed.

Serve on its own or drizzled with olive oil.

At Stem & Glory we serve with crudités, mint dressing and our multiseed crackers.

Stem & Glory can be found at 50/60 Station Road, Cambridge. Call 01223 757150 or visit stemandglory.uk/cambridge.

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