Stealth healthy food for the family

Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Stem & Glory, a Cambridge plant-based restaurant company, talks about UPF, whole foods, and has some great tips on providing nutritious meals for your home.

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

Lately, an increased amount of coverage has been given to UPFs (ultra-processed foods), which are implicated in obesity and many other health problems.

The bottom line is that these foods are not only unhealthy, but also addictive. Foods rich in fat and sugar (such as many ultra-processed foods) 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 have Pringles always been off limits in my house!)

Quite alarmingly, it has recently been revealed that many of our children are eating an 80 percent UPF diet. It is convenience that has brought us to this point, with UPFs being part of every meal for a very high percentage of people. It is therefore very important that we get our children to eat healthy, not only for now, but for their future eating habits. As a parent pressed for time, if that sounds completely overwhelming, a good goal might be 80 percent healthy, 20 percent less healthy.

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

I’ve always thought that the way to win the hearts and minds of the vegan movement is by serving ridiculously delicious vegan food, but people sometimes still question whether a plant-based diet is ‘safe’ for children and express concern that they will lack proper nutrition if they follow a plant-based diet. Given that apparently 80 percent of our children are eating a very unhealthy diet, I think it’s time to put this behind us.

The world is really full of healthy plant-based kids, we just don’t hear about them. All we hear is an extreme horror story of an Australian family starving their baby by feeding them only plant-based foods. It turns out that they are depriving their child of food, period, and of course that will lead to poor health. There is no link between veganism and malnutrition among children of any age, as long as attention is paid to balanced nutrition and whole foods.

A plate of hummus at Stem & Glory.  Image: Keith Heppell
A plate of hummus at Stem & Glory. Image: Keith Heppell

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

The hit dishes that became family favorites since childhood are still big favorites in our house, and there’s something really nice about kids remembering their younger selves around the table.

The sooner you can get kids to eat a variety of flavors when they’re young, the better, and whole-grain plant-based dishes are usually very easy to prepare, nutritious, well-balanced, and very inexpensive.

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

My kids love potatoes, and an early favorite in our house was the spinach and potato curry. A finely chopped and sautéed leek, add a 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 to get your kids to eat brown rice from the start) and non-dairy yogurt. I got this recipe years ago from a children’s vegan food book, the book was an advocate of giving children very diverse flavors from a very young age (literally babies), and it really worked. I think we avoid feeding our young children tasty foods when, in fact, we should be doing the opposite.

These early beginnings made us a family of Indian food lovers, and the traditional restaurant-style tarka daal was also a favorite of my two sons from a very young age. I was again amazed at how much they loved this since they were babies.

Lentils are so nutritious that I think kids instinctively know that. Sauté a finely chopped onion and a 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 a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

When they were little we served it like this with rice, they loved to squeeze fresh lemon juice out of it. As they grew we added the traditional ‘tarka’ – this is where the ‘art of dal’ is. 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 sliced ​​garlic cloves. Fry until the garlic begins to brown. Add to the dal while it is still hot. Gently stir in the dal and serve immediately.

In the kitchen of Stem & Glory.  Image: Keith Heppell
In the kitchen of Stem & Glory. Image: Keith Heppell

As anyone will know if you have Gen Z living in your house, they are extremely vocal on the subject of sustainability and global warming.

I have been able to keep mine on the right track with their eating habits coupled with the sustainable credentials of vegan food and in particular locally sourced vegetables.

My local farm store now stocks lentils that are grown in a field a few miles from our house, and we love to cook with them. I urge any parent to develop a love for lentils and legumes, as they truly are nature’s food. And they are extremely cheap. You can literally feed a family with a 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 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 soon as possible is a very good measure. Of course hummus is widely available and the UK’s best-selling sauce, but it’s also very easy to make and if you make it yourself you won’t have any additives. Hummus is one of those super-available, super-nutritious superfoods, and served with pita bread and carrot-cucumber sticks it’s a hit with most kids.

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 provide the same nutritional powerhouse, with some delicious new twists, and also grown in Britain. Served together, hummus and pitta is what’s called a complete protein; Between them, pitta and hummus contain the full spectrum of amino acids you need.

Get your kids to love lentils and a whole new world of easy meals will open up before your eyes!

Chickpeas don’t grow very well in our climate, so they are always imported. The good news is that British yellow peas grow amazingly well here, make fantastic hummus, and are even more nutritious than chick peas. You can of course use chickpeas in this recipe, and of course you can also use canned chickpeas, but the whole pea version is so much more flavorful!

A bowl of hummus from Stem & Glory: This one has turmeric.  Image: Keith Heppell
A bowl of hummus from Stem & Glory: This one has turmeric. Image: Keith Heppell

Whole Pea Hummus


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


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

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

Blend until very smooth, adding more liquid if necessary.

Serve plain or drizzled with olive oil.

At Stem & Glory we serve with crudités, mint dressing and our multi-seed cookies.

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

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