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Over the last decade, tens of millions of people across the UK have moved towards a flexitarian or plant-based diet. Today, almost 50% of the country are regularly buying plant-based food products, but we know there’s still a huge amount of confusion around all sorts of things from what a balanced meal looks like, to where plant-protein comes from – and how to include sufficient amounts of calcium and iron into your diet, especially for children.
Only one in four adults manage to eat their five a day. Plus, only half of us get our recommended fibre intake and almost 60% of our calories come from ultra-processed food. As a nation, our diets aren’t in great shape – especially when you hear that 71% of deaths around the world are caused by diseases linked to our lifestyles (according to The WHO). Ultimately, we need to shift to a natural, plant-rich (it doesn’t need to be 100% plant-based) diet and data shows that those on plant-based diets are at reduced risk of the common diseases, like type 2 diabetes, total cancer incidences, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity. The list goes on…
Plant-based cooking is for everyone. The British Dietetic Association days “If the nutritional intake is well-planned, a balanced vegan diet can be enjoyed by children and adults, including during pregnancy”. That’s not to say it’s what everyone needs to do, but it’s worth noting that it can be healthy. It’s important to be armed with information, whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, which is why we worked with a specialist paediatric dietician on the family chapter in our book. It has all the information you need for toddlers to teenagers.
Cooking with your children is a good way to introduce them to vegan food. Involving my girls in the kitchen really helps – it always makes them more open minded to the end result. I also find they’re more willing to try things if we’re eating with them, and it takes the pressure off because you don’t feel like you’re wasting time cooking something they might totally reject.
My veggie meatballs made with dried mushrooms, cannellini beans and breadcrumbs is a winner. I’m also a big fan of our root vegetable and black bean pie, which is perfect for meals with lots of little people. The family favourites chapter has all my staples in it.
Packed lunches are a great way to make plant-based food exciting. I like to make a variety of tasty dips for the kids, which is an easy way to add flavour with minimal effort. I make a big batch at the start of the week, like our herby butter bean dip with thyme, parsley and garlic. Another favourite is the roasted walnut and red pepper dip.
Don’t force your kids if they’re not keen on lots of veg. A good tip is to centre your cooking on plant-based food, but allow for other protein on the side, so everyone can dip into what works for them. For example, make our zingy 30-minute curry with tofu, baby corn, coconut milk and edamame, and have prawns or chicken on the side, instead of making a prawn or chicken curry with just a small amount of veg.
Cooking for fussy eaters can be tricky, but that’s completely normal. We put so much pressure on ourselves as parents and everyone is just trying their best. Remember that simple dishes are often the most delicious. One pot or tray wonders make the world of difference; finding those staples that you can come back to time and time again really helps.
Summer is my favourite time of year for seasonal cooking. Right now, I’ve got three dishes on rotation using my favourite seasonal ingredients. Our one-pot Mediterranean pasta with olives, capers, chilli, chopped tomato and parsley; our simple one tray baked ratatouille with garlic, thyme, balsamic, aubergine and courgettes; and a summer tray bake with sourdough croutons, fresh basil, tahini dressing and red onion.
Every kitchen should have lots of different herbs and spices, and plenty of tinned pulses. A variety of grains is also key (like oats, orzo and rice), as is a freezer packed full of veggies like peas, edamame and spinach. You don’t need any fancy gadgets, but I rely on my NutriBullet for lots of recipes.
With this new cookbook, I wanted to create the ultimate resource for plant-based cooking. It includes information from doctors, dieticians, and nutritionists, alongside 100 delicious and easy recipes. There’s a big focus on one-pan and one-pot recipes, as well as mid-week staples – so there’s something for everyone.
Inspired? Here are three of Ella’s favourite plant-based recipes…
Courgette & Herb Fritters
These are a go-to recipe on busy days. The mint, parsley, spring onions and garlic give the courgettes lots of flavour, and the gram (chickpea) flour adds great plant protein too.
Veggie Meatballs with Tomato Sauce
Note: For toddlers, skip the tamari – it’s high in salt.
The Perfect Cookie, Two Ways
These cookies are perfectly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and completely addictive. I’ve made them two ways for you, one version has dark chocolate and sea salt, the other has cinnamon and raisins.
Note: You can split the batch of dough in half and make some of each version. Just be sure to halve the quantity of the chocolate or raisin ingredients you add to each batch.
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