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Moms Pair Up to Offer Healthy Eating Advice for Parents

By Emily Frost | November 30, 2012 11:31am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Sorry Hostess, but Natalya Murakhver is happy the Twinkie is dead.

"We'd like the chicken nugget to be dead too," said Murakhver, who, along with Vicky Feltman, has launched Apple to Zucchini, a childhood nutrition and healthy eating company aimed at helping overwhelmed moms and dads figure out what to feed their kids. 

The duo — both moms of toddlers — decided to launch their company last March after seeing misinformation about food and nutrition flying around in discussions on the First Time Upper West Side Moms listserv where Murakhver and Feltman belonged. 

"With parenting, you want validation. There's a lot of fear and hysteria — we're here to make you feel better," said Feltman.

While Murakhver and Feltman concede that the field is crowded with people offering advice, they believe their approach, which includes relating to parents and speaking from experience, as well as in-person discussions, will woo anxious New York City parents

Murakhver and Feltman also have professional training in the subject: Murakhver has a masters in Food Studies from NYU and Feltman is a registered dietician.

They are in the midst of increasing the company's activity, planning a series of talks at the JCC in Manhattan, at Whole Foods on 97th Street, and at the Institute of Culinary Education. The talks are typically $40 per person or $60 per couple but vary depending on the venue. 

On Dec. 11 at 7 p.m., they're hosting a "Taking the Fear Out of Food" session at Whole Foods in TriBeCa to demistyify organics and share savvy shopping tips. 

Among their advice for parents is the recommendtation to stock up on the right ingredients, even if it means spending more up front, to make sure you have everything you need when hunger strikes.

They also suggest approaching other parents to agree not to serve cupcakes at every class birthday, maybe mixing it up with other healthy food options.

They nix kids' meals on menus — saying it's more expensive and doesn't usually have healthy options.

And they steer clear of all foods that have to advertise how healthy they are.

"Fruit doesn't need health claims," said Murakhver.

Apple to Zucchini started on the Upper West Side, but the women are eager to reach other boroughs, including Brooklyn, where Murakhver and Feltman said there's a vibrant organic parents scene. 

On May 18, they'll run a farmer's market tour for kids at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights. Murakhver said that the demand for guidance at the farmer's markets is high. Even she admits to feeling intimidated about asking questions about where the food comes from and how it is produced.

"GrowNYC offers tours, but the demand has grown beyond what they can supply," said Murakhver of the city's non-profit greenmarket steward. 

Murakhver and Feltman confess that they think the Upper West Side is behind in terms of understanding the importance of organic food. They're working on a larger map of the best restaurants and markets that respect this ethos in the neighborhood, but their short list includes Elizabeth's Table, Jacob's Pickles, and Amsterdam Burger Co. 

Though the Upper West Side has two Whole Foods Markets, Murakhver cautions parents to beware of the "Whole Foods halo," whereby one assumes everything in the store is safe and nutritious. 

Both women are concerned about genetically modified food, which they said has been linked to a rise in allergies and autism and about which food companies aren't sharing enough information. 

"The only way to be sure there are no GMOs is to choose organic," said Feltman. 

But even while doling out advice, Feltman wants to emphasize that the company's approach is always "practical, reasonable and positive." 

A Favorite Apple to Zucchini Recipe:

Grass-fed Meatballs and Whole Wheat Fusili

1/2 lb. whole wheat fusili

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 lb. grass fed ground beef

1-2 Tbsp. parmesan, grated

1 Tbsp. Italian seasonings (thyme, basil, marjoram, rosemary)

1 Tbsp. whole bread crumbs, optional

1 egg, optional

1 cup organic store-bought tomato sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

1.     Prepare pasta according to package directions.

2.     Meanwhile, in a medium skillet set over medium heat, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3.     In a medium mixing bowl, combine the beef, cheese, seasonings and breadcrumbs and egg (if using). Add the onions. 

4.     Using your hands, shape the meatballs into 1-inch rounds. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the meatballs and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. 

5.     Drain excess oil and add tomato sauce, reduce heat and bring to a simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.

6.     Remove from heat. Serve meatballs with pasta and garnish with additional Parmesan, if desired. Serve with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.