The nutrition expert and mom of two shares her advice for making meals healthy and appealing.

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Maya Feller has made a career out of healthy eating. Not only does the Brooklyn-based registered dietician and nutritionist counsel patients on making informed food choices that support wellness while fitting into their lifestyles and taste preferences, but the busy mom of two also keeps her family eating healthy and gives her children some power in the kitchen—within reason. To get a better sense of how she makes it all work, we asked Feller for her essential weeknight dinner tips.

portrait maya feller sitting on couch
Credit: Courtesy of Maya Feller / Wini Lao

What's In Her Pantry?

Whether they're canned, dried, boxed or jarred, Feller is a huge fan of beans. "I love beans and I love beans for my patients," she says. "Just look for beans without additives." Feller also considered starches, such as brown, red, or black rice, to be staples. "Oftentimes, I'll mix it with a lot of vegetables and an egg for fried rice, or sometimes I add in a cooked piece of salmon. Those types of starches are a fantastic accompaniment to whatever you're putting together."

While Feller hesitated to recommend a specialty item, keenly aware that it might not be available all over the country, she says she almost always has pesto on hand. "A lot of people think of pesto on pasta, but you can also put pesto on oven roasted potatoes, chicken, or fish," says Feller. She often looks for non-traditional pesto, such as a ramp or sun-dried tomato, for more interesting flavors.

chef maya feller cooking at home
Credit: Courtesy of Maya Feller / Wini Lao

What to Consider Before Planning Meals

First says Feller, determine your cooking style: Think about how you like to cook and then use that to help get nutrient-dense meals on the table. "I have my patients figure out what their priorities are; are they a batch cooker, meaning are they going to prepare an entire meal in advance, or are they a batch prepper?" she says. Then, consider your flavor profile. Maybe you like sweet foods, sour dishes, or care less about flavor and more about the texture your food has. Feller recommends thinking about your flavor profile and the flavor profiles of those in your household and then using that information to help determine not only your meals, but what foods you'll buy fresh and which ones you'll buy frozen.

Another factor in meal prep and execution is, of course, food dollars. "I always focus on budget," says Feller. "When you know your food budget, that's when you can figure out what you want to buy fresh, what you want to buy frozen, what you want to buy in bulk, what you want to buy on sale and prep in advance."

On Cooking with Kids

Just as your child needed to learn how to walk, tie their shoelaces, and even throw a ball, they need to learn how to cook. "If your kid is going to be in the kitchen with you, give them some kitchen skills so that they can actually be helpers," says Feller. She also advocates for giving them a choice about meals—within reason. "It's not what vegetable would like tonight, it's here are two or three vegetable choices, which one would you like?"

And let them take ownership of specific tasks: "You can totally give kids age appropriate tasks," says Feller. "In our house, my daughter sets the table and son has to take everything and put it into the dishwasher," says Feller, adding that she also gets them involved in smaller cooking jobs such as tearing the lettuce for a salad. "I've found it's very helpful in my family to create things they can make on their own," says Feller.

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