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Home Cooking with Nimali Fernando

Home Cooking is back! I’m hoping to revive these interviews with local home chefs of all stripes. If you’re interested in being interviewed, e-mail me. Read past Home Cooking features here. Today we chat with Nimali Fernando, a local pediatrician who is always sharing yummy kid-friendly recipes on her website, Read a past story about Fernando here.

Name: Nimali Fernando

1. In a couple of sentences, tell us who you are and why you cook.

I’m a pediatrician in Fredericksburg. I’m also the founder of The Doctor Yum Project, a nonprofit that partners with families to raise children who eat a healthy, whole-food diet. Our goal is to help reduce the rates of childhood obesity and diet-related illness in our community. On my website,, we try lots of healthy recipes and let local kids taste and rate them. As a health professional, I see how important nutrition is every day. Cooking is my way of making sure my kids get a healthy start to life. It’s also fun to try recipes and put my own healthy spin on them!

2. Describe your cooking style in three words.

1)Seasonal 2) simple 3)plant-based

3. How did you learn to cook?

My parents are originally from Sri Lanka, and my mother is a wonderful cook. Growing up, she made all kinds of amazing Sri Lankan food, but also learned to cook a lot of American foods too. I grew up watching the ways that she experimented with recipes and was fearless in the kitchen. She also taught me how to cook fast (a skill that has served me well as a working mom!).

4. Favorite cookbook (or online recipe source) of all time, or just of the moment?

I love the Cooks Illustrated Series. I like the evidence-based slant and enjoy all the reviews and cooking tricks.

5. What is one dish on your menu this week that you’re excited about?

I’m trying a “Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna” from Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter who is featured in the Documentary “Forks over Knives.” He just came out with a cookbook called “Engine 2 Diet” which features plant-based recipes from his Texas Firehouse.

6. What is one thing that must be in your pantry at all times?

Beans! We eat a lot of beans in stews and chili. We also make beanburgers. My family is not vegetarian, but we have been exploring more vegetarian cooking. Beans are a great source of protein for us.

7. What one kitchen gadget could you not live without?

I have a big Boos Block cutting board on my kitchen island which stays put. When you eat as many fruits and vegetables as we do, you need a good cutting board!

8. It’s 6 p.m., the people in your household are hungry and you just walked in from work and need to get something satisfying on the table as soon as possible. What’s your favorite thing to whip up in this situation?

If I need dinner in a pinch, we often make pasta, which my kids LOVE. I have been using a quinoa pasta, which is delicious. I will sautee some greens, beans and other vegetables to throw into a store-bought pasta sauce, serve with a side salad and fruit. That’s a 15-20 minute dinner start to finish.

9. It’s a snowy Sunday, you’ve just done the grocery shopping and have the rest of the day to spend in the kitchen cooking a meal that will bring comfort. What’s for dinner?

I love stews in the winter.  I will often use butternut squash in the broth which makes it thick and rich. I would probably make some homemade bread in the breadmaker, too. It’s so fast and easy and makes the kitchen smell WONDERFUL.

10. What is your favorite dish to make for pot-luck dinners?

I have a Chicken Marbella recipe that is usually a hit. It has olives, capers, prunes and lots of garlic and oregano. I adapted the recipe for the crockpot which makes it really easy, too. It’s a favorite on my website (Find the recipe here.)

11. Do you have a favorite food source in the Fredericksburg region?

I’m in love with the Spostylvania Farmer’s Market. People who visit me from out of town are amazed by our local markets and the quality and variety of produce we have here. My kids and I are there every Saturday morning to find our weekly produce. I love the sense of community of the farmer’s market, and it’s a great lesson for my kids to learn about supporting local farms.

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