From Apple to Zucchini: An Interview with Victoria Stein Feltman (MS ’10) and Natalya Murakhver (MA ’07)

Victoria Stein Feltman (MS ’10) and Natalya Murakhver (MA ’07) are partners in Apple to Zucchini, a healthy eating consultancy. Both earned master’s degrees from NYU’s Department of Nutrition of Food Studies.

Victoria is a registered dietitian who specializes in childhood nutrition. Before becoming a registered dietitian, Victoria spent four years as an editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, and worked as a restaurant publicist in New York and Los Angeles. As a dietitian, she worked at the New York Children’s Health Project in the South Bronx, where she served as a counselor and taught nutrition education at schools, homeless shelters, and community centers.

Natalya has written about food allergies, environmental health and food labeling for Allergic Living, Kiwi Magazine, and Organic Gardening. In 2018 she produced the first NYU Exposome and Family Health panel and is currently working with the New York City Healthy School Food Alliance to improve school food for New York City’s children. She is the co-editor of They Eat That?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World (Greenwood Press, 2012). She is currently collaborating with Bronx-based culinary education program The Fresh Start Initiative to bring culinary education and urban gardening to children in New York City’s underserved communities.

Natalya Murakhver and Victoria Stein Feltman (left to right)

As graduates from NYU’s Nutrition and Food Studies program, what do bring from your education to your table?

Victoria and Natalya: We were both profoundly shaped and influenced by our time in the NYU Nutrition and Food Studies program, although our paths did not cross while in the program. That said, we both were incredibly inspired by Professor Marion Nestle, who taught us about media literacy and shaped our thinking about how the government approaches food policy and the role of industry in these decisions. 

On a personal level, our time in the department deepened our appreciation for family meals and understanding of food systems. We both believe in the virtues of plant-based eating and scratch cooking, whenever possible. Vicky’s clinical nutrition background has profoundly informed and shaped Natalya’s approach of not catering to individual tastes but rather creating meals with and for our kids. We plan and cook our meals with our kids, allowing them to experiment without pressure with tastes, textures, and seasonality. And we talk about food. All the time! Nutrition education begins in the home!

When you were a student at NYU, did it occur to you that after graduation you might want to start a business?

Victoria: Ironically, I really wanted to work with schools in low-income communities with school food reform, which is what Natalya is doing now. I worked at Children’s Health Fund and I always knew I wanted to work with kids and families but wasn’t yet sure which direction this would lead me in.

Victoria Stein Feltman (MS ’10)

Natalya: I really didn’t plan much beyond graduation. I enjoyed the Food Studies program so much and knew I wanted to shape food policy somehow, and work in public health. I am doing this now in my collaboration with Andrea Strong at the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance as we push for scratch based school food for our city’s nearly one million children.

Natalya Murakhver (MA ’07)

Victoria and Natalya:

While we were both alums of the same program, we only met in 2012, when our eldest children were babies, via an Upper West Side moms listserv. It was then that we realized that there was a great need for more family healthy eating education and so much misinformation out there about what, when and how to feed children, and adults alike. On a positive and promising note, we have seen so much activity and progress in the food movement. There is greater awareness of food ingredients, labeling, and environmental impacts; so it is heartening. Still, there is much work to be done!

How do you feed a picky eater?

Victoria and Natalya: We try to avoid labels and we don’t call kids (or adults) picky eaters, even when they have very selective preferences. 

We follow leading child nutritionist Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility approach: As a parent it is your job to determine the what, the when and the where; the child decides the how much and the whether. 

As parents it is our job to offer a wide variety of healthy well-balanced snacks and meals but not to exert any pressure or offer rewards for eating (or punishments for not eating). For example: if a child doesn’t eat her broccoli, we wouldn’t withhold the desert and in fact would often times serve it alongside the meal to desensitize kids from the allure of the sweets.

Of course there are clinical exceptions that do require a different approach. Parents of children with sensory issues, allergies, and emotional disabilities often need more support and we do run workshops and seminars and do personal consulting for this population. For more info please email us at info@appletozucchini.com.

How do you expand the palate of a child who only likes certain foods for dinner?

Victoria and Natalya: We all have our individual preferences and some are more restrictive than others. We would continue to offer new foods prepared in a variety of ways but also make sure to continue to include one familiar food that the child will eat. It takes most children repeated exposure (10-15 times and in some cases even more) before accepting an unfamiliar food. Deep breaths, and patience help. Modeling healthy eating and self-care help children learn how to eat and care for themselves and really imprint over time.

How did you arrive at your “healthy and simple food” philosophy?

Victoria and Natalya: We were both raised with this ethos, which was further reinforced at NYU. Once we had families of our own we understood the importance of preparing fresh, scratch-based meals and also the value of eating together around the family table. We also both love to cook so we were excited to do this with our own families. No electronics or other gadgets at the table at our homes- just good food and conversation.

Could you share your favorite recipe with us?

Our kids love these meatballs and they freeze well, too!

Also the simple, healthy and very allergy-friendly recipes that Natalya published here: Joyful, Mindful Approach to Allergy-Friendly Cooking.