Justine Roth Nutrition


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Why I’m thankful for FOOD52


When searching for meal ideas on the internet it is increasingly more difficult to avoid the onslaught of “clean eating, whole food” recipes being promoted. A trend that is marketed not as a diet but a “change in lifestyle” may sound harmless but in fact it has become way more complicated then that. Social media influencers make promises of purity and body transformations through beautifully decorated, likely uneaten food images and often restrictive recipes. They may not seem it at first since they have chocolate and pizza in the title but dig a bit deeper and the chocolate is actually unsweetened cocoa and the pizza is made from cauliflower.  Judging by the followers on these blogs millions of people find these to be trusted and aspiring resources but unfortunately many of them feel burdened by the need to “eat clean” and guilty when they don’t.

So where does one turn when needing a yummy, not diet focused recipe? Enter Food52, my new favorite website. After discovering it a few months ago it has become my go-to for all things cooking and baking.  Besides the ease of finding exactly what you want, my favorite aspect of the website is the absence of anything diet related. I have never come across “healthy”, “clean”, or “whole foods” anywhere, reassuring me that whoever I send there will not be triggered by potentially eating disordered comments or descriptions.

However unless they enjoy cooking I have found most people I come in contact with are unaware of this resource. With nothing to gain besides spreading food love I figured I would try to change that a little.

The story: founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, set out to “bring cooks together from all over to exchange recipes and ideas and to support each other in the kitchen.” They lure you in with beautiful aesthetics, creative content, and artistic food photography. Although creating a place where sharing recipes and supporting each others endeavors was their main goal they have now expanded to have all of the resources one would need to “eat and live better” available in one place.

So for the last few months I’ve been admiring the recipes and even attempting some in hopes of being featured on their Instagram. The Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie is one I tried on Thanksgiving and it was a big hit. I should have kept a better eye on the crust but no one seemed to mind.

Besides the pie recipe, I built our entire Thanksgiving dinner using the “Automagic Thanksgiving Menu maker” and it was seriously life changing. Short of producing my grocery list (I did that simultaneously in a word doc) I had basically just planned my whole dinner in 5 minutes. Every meal category included varying recipes from simple with fewer ingredients to a little fancier but still manageable. If I wanted to make adjustments to make the dish more nutritious and balance out our meal I could, but the absence of any suggestions to swap out lower calorie options was refreshing.

Below are some of the highlights of the dishes I made for Thanksgiving Day and since they were so good again for a “Friendsgiving” we hosted Sunday.  And here is the full menu I chose minus a few add on items I already had recipes for.


Hasselback Potatoes


Roasted Brussel Sprouts


Challah Stuffing


Green Bean Casserole


What are your go to recipes sites that inspire you to create, experiment and bring joy to your world through food, with out the “clean eating” pressure attached?

*Update: the Holiday Menu Maker is even better than the Thanksgiving one! 

Sunday Meatballs and “Gravy”

In my house growing up Sunday dinner never varied, it was always macaroni and meatballs. The “gravy” and meatballs were made from scratch (sort of, we cheated and use canned tomatoes) and the macaroni was whatever pasta we wanted as long as we didn’t call it “noodles.” My brothers and I would help roll the meatballs and take turns throwing them at the ceiling when my Mom or Dad weren’t looking. In retrospect I now realize that was pretty gross but nonetheless the meatballs always came out amazing as did the gravy.

The week before Thanksgiving my daughter’s kindergarten class was hosting a “Family Feast Day”  where everyone was encouraged to bring in their favorite family recipes.  There is no question meatballs are my favorite thing to make, especially to share with others so that is what I signed up for.  I hadn’t really thought through the fact that hosting Thanksgiving and whipping up enough meatballs to feed 40 people would possibly be a little stressful but luckily I had some help!


I have never used turkey meat for my meatballs as I have an aversion to anything that I think should be beef but doesn’t taste like it when I bite in to it. Unfortunately the line for the butcher was way too long and there were plenty of ground turkey packs available so turkey meatballs would have to do. We always used Tutorosso for our gravy but I was limited to the two types of crushed tomatoes Whole Foods carried so just grabbed whatever looked good. Next was the tomato paste, breadcrumbs, and grated romano cheese and I was at the 10 or less item line and ready to get home.

Once home I poured the crushed tomatoes in to the pot, filling each up with water and adding that as well. This was a trick my Mom taught me as she never really had an exact amount of water she added and often added more along the way if it looked too thick. Next was the tomato paste, which if anyone has tried to open up a can of tomato paste you know that it is pretty challenging to get all of the paste out. So after 20 years or so of making this I decided I would open up both ends of the can and see if that helped. The paste slid out in tact and with ease (did I just develop a “hack”?) which saved me a few minutes of scraping. I added all of the seasonings and put it on the stove to start heating up.

The kids and I got to work on the meatballs and since my daughter is way more meticulous then I am they came out beautifully round and smooth. Some recipes add milk to the meatballs, we have never done this as my Mom once said “there is something about adding milk to chopped meat that just seems wrong!” and it just stuck with me.

I have yet to figure out a good way of adding these to the pot with out the hot sauce splattering everywhere so if you know of one please share! (Note: its not really “gravy” until the meatballs have been cooked in it so that is why I naturally wrote sauce there!”

raw meatballs

About 3 hours later and a lot of stirring the gravy was ready and the meatballs were done! The truth is the meatballs cook rather quickly in the sauce but it is the sitting there for all of those hours on a low heat that makes the gravy taste amazing and the meat soak up all of the yummy flavors in the pot.


I was a little nervous the turkey wouldn’t come out as good as the regular meatballs but none of the children or families seemed to mind as they were all eaten when I checked about half way through the feast.

I have shared this recipe a few times over the years and I think everyone adds a little bit of their own “feel” to it to make it their own. Either way I love recreating our Sunday Meatballs and Gravy tradition any chance I can with my family, even if it is on a Monday night slightly rushed before bedtime!


The Gravy:

2- 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes

4- 6 ounce cans of tomato paste

Enough water to fill the cans and additional if needed through out cooking (if it is too thick)

Seasonings: this is where you can get creative but this is what we use:

1 Tbsp of each: garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano

Additional “Italian seasoning” if desired

Salt and pepper to taste (about 2 tsps each and add more later if needed)


Add all of the ingredients in to a pot and bring to a low boil. Once the meatballs are added bring to a high simmer, and stir every 20 minutes or so. If it is starting to boil up too much you can lower it to the lowest setting of simmer.


The Meatballs:

2 pounds chopped meat (any desired, but the higher fat contents will make the gravy more “oily” so less water might be needed)

2 eggs

2 tsps each: garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning

1 tsp basil

2 tsp of salt

1 tsp pepper

2 Tbsp grated Romano cheese (can be Parmesan too)

1/2 cup bread crumbs (you may need to add more if mixture seems to loose and won’t form a solid meatball but we prefer softer meatballs in my family so start with less and add if needed)


Mix ingredients with your hands and form in to desired size meatballs. Ours are usually about 1 inch in diameter. Place in the pot of sauce and cook for approximately 2-3 hours.


You will have a lot of extra gravy so freeze it in smaller containers as regular pasta sauce whenever you want it!






The Trick about Treats: Tips for Parents

Trick or treat

Children require guidance in all areas of their lives— how to tie their shoes, when to speak in a quiet voice, and, of course, when, what and how to eat. As a parent, I know it is my job to think carefully about the messages I send to my child regarding food to start her on the path towards healthy self-regulation. But even as a dietitian who counsels others on developing a balanced relationship with food, I struggle to navigate this with my toddler.

My daughter loves food. Meal times are not stressful, and in fact are usually very enjoyable.  She usually finishes everything I give her (and that she often picks out) without an issue. If she doesn’t finish a meal, I just assume she wasn’t that hungry to start. But, it is a different story when we are around others. She often asks for food just because she sees friends or family eating it and, unlike most kids who do this but lose interest in the food once they get it, she will usually finish whatever she is given. Sometimes this results in her not feeling well. This is where it gets tricky. Do I give her food every time she asks, so as not to “restrict her,” or do I try to limit excess snacks and food outside of meal times to help her learn to identify her hunger and fullness cues?

Some parents may think I am too strict with my daughter.  The parent of a picky eater, for example, is likely to have different struggles than me – and to arrive at different solutions. Parenting is hard enough without us judging one another. Instead, perhaps we can learn from one another. Because although young, our children are certainly capable of starting to learn about their body and to establish healthy habits, and we must lead the way.

As both a professional in the field of eating disorders and the parent of a young child, I too am learning the best way to provide my child with healthy food messages. These are not necessarily the exact same messages engrained in my head from my professional or personal experiences; instead, they are messages that I think will be helpful for my daughter given her own biology, preferences and budding relationship with food. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Try/taste everything.

Even if your child won’t sit down to a plate of broccoli or baked chicken, start introducing all types of foods, in a plain and simple form, at an early age. Don’t be discouraged; some kids will like it right away, while others will take a while to adjust to a new taste.  Focus on praising the “trying” of new foods, rather than the liking or disliking of them. Try not to jump right into dipping foods or combining a lot of items or flavors. While it will be a good idea at some point, this can initially make it difficult to discern your child’s reaction to a particular food, and once you start, it’s hard to do it differently.

Neutralize food.

Spinach is just spinach, cookies are just cookies- and food is just food. Making eating a food a reward or not eating it a punishment makes everything more complicated. Dessert can happen just because it’s fun to have cookies once and awhile, not solely because you “ate all your veggies.” Labeling food as “good” or “bad” can be just as problematic for children as it is for adults!

Get your kids involved.

Give your children some say in their food choices. As the parent, we choose most things for them. We pick what time the meal is and what is being served. Let them serve themselves and decide how much goes on their plate. Also, get them involved in the preparing or cooking of their food when possible (even if it makes the process messier or longer). Kids love having input and although we parents must offer guidance when needed, this is one way we can start to help our children learn to self-regulate.

Relinquish some control.

Research has shown that children will eat enough to sustain themselves and that mostly they tend to overdo it primarily on foods that are otherwise restricted. This is a tricky concept to navigate; even as an experienced dietitian, I find myself constantly working to achieve balance for my child.

For example, when a holiday like Halloween comes around, an occasion when most people tend to eat too much candy, what’s the best way to handle it? One option is to pick out a few of their favorite pieces for immediate enjoyment and then discuss a plan together for the remainder of it – perhaps saving it for another time or coming up with a recipe to bake something later on with the leftover.

Like adults, there will be times that kids will overdo it on foods they love. It is important not to get too caught up on those moments; remember, they are moments and not what your child is doing most of the time.

There isn’t a magical, secret way to get your kids to have a healthy relationship with food. Adopting these principles, modeling healthy behavior, and proceeding mindfully when you set up guidelines or talk to them about food can go a long way. In the end, thoughtfully navigating the common challenges of getting kids to eat well early in their lives will leave you more time to focus on the other fun things you can do with your child; things that do not involve food.



Eat This AND That: Rethinking “Top Food” Lists


Not a day goes by without a Top 10, Top 6, Top 3 list of dietary recommendations floating by my Twitter or Facebook feed. Whether it’s eating certain foods to boost immunity, improve mood or burn muscle, or avoiding a number of foods putting your health at risk, many news outlets have hopped on the ‘eat this, not that’ bandwagon.

No matter the article’s content, as a dietitian, I cannot help but cringe at the over-simplistic message: Eat this (and only this) to relieve INSERT HEALTH COMPLAINT HERE. This basically implies that if you don’t adhere to the list, you could be poisoning yourself and anyone you give these foods to! Here’s why I think we’d do well to ditch the lists:

Lists foster an unhealthy relationship with food.

We are searching for guidance and advice on the healthiest food choices, and these lists are created to simplify the latest scientific findings…or hunches. However, these lists can leave people feeling like they are doing something incredibly wrong if they aren’t following them.  As a result, rules and fears around food may form. Since food is meant to be eaten, not feared, feelings of guilt for what you’ve eaten or uncertainty about what you’re allowed to eat may result. If food lists have left you with highly limited version of what is acceptable and healthy, take the time to redefine healthy for yourself.

These lists are not always accurate, or reflective of reproducible scientific findings.

Nutrition is one of the most debated and controversial topics of the health world. As a professional in the field, I am either valued for my opinion or critiqued for the demise of America’s diet. There tends to be an outpouring of publicity following trends in hot nutritional topics. Though this may start out as reporting on a valid study, depending on the source the take-home message may get skewed and exaggerated. Before making any changes to your diet as a result of these lists, become an educated reader who carefully considers the source of the advice.

They support black-and-white thinking.

The overuse of the words never, always, and should in these lists is astounding.  Never eat red meat? Never enjoy a processed food? Really? Never? Sure, it can be helpful to learn about which foods are more nutritious and which have higher risk of causing health problems if overconsumed, but the idea that we ought never to enjoy another Hebrew National hotdog unless we “want cancer” is just absurd. These words promote a way of thinking that is overly rigid and can, for some people, give matters of food, eating and weight way too much power. For others simply searching for health advice, the recommendations are not applicable given the amounts of these foods they include in their day-to-day intake. To take back control over your consumption, strive to live in the gray.

Living by these lists is unrealistic.

Perhaps most important of all, unless you have the time at home to make these “must have” nutritious meals, it is near impossible to stick to these recommendations all the time. Even if it is possible, it can get expensive, and for a subset of people, it can backfire and lead to binge- or over-eating.  While eating organic and including foods that are healthy in your diet is a nice goal to have, it shouldn’t leave you feeling overly stressed out and calling yourself a failure if you can’t follow through all the time.  So when you come across a list like this try to set goals to make small changes to include things you want to be a priority; don’t bite off more than you can chew!

While these lists are meant to inform us, they tend to spread more rigidity and fear as opposed to balance and helpful knowledge.  If you cannot resist reading them, this dietitian cautions you to take what they say with a grain of salt. Just not too much salt – I hear it’s bad for your health (*wink, wink*).

(Re)Defining Healthy

Ever find yourself skating on a thin line between wanting to eat healthy and obsessing about everything you put in your mouth?  Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can have positive effects on your social, emotional, and physical wellbeing—but this is entirely dependent on how you choose to define healthy. You may view “healthy” in terms of the food you ate for lunch (or what you avoided eating for lunch), what the scale said that morning, or if you were able to add that extra mile on yesterday’s run.

Photo credit: Creative Commons by Miiish

Photo credit: Creative Commons by Miiish

While some can achieve their vision of health through balance and moderation, others may, in the process, develop disordered eating or a full blown eating disorder. What may start as a desire to reach a particular health goal can end in a commitment to an unhealthy relationship with food and body image.

If you think that your current definition of healthy may not, in fact, be so healthy, consider redefining it using the following steps:

Let go of rigid rules.
Setting rules tends to generate shoulds and should nots and are often derived from unrealistic or inaccurate ideas about what, when, and even how you can eat. Strict rules about exercise can have a negative impact on how you view yourself for the exercise you do or don’t do from one day to the next.

Examples of common unhealthy rules include:

I can’t eat carbs at dinner because I had a sandwich for lunch.

I have to run at least 5 miles to burn off the calories from that cake I had last night.

I can’t eat after 8pm because food turns to fat if you eat before you go to sleep.

The more rigid the rule, the more likely you will be unable to keep to it.  Rule-breaking typically leads to feeling guilty …and setting even more (or stricter) rules! Instead of rules, try setting goals in the form of realistic guidelines.  A guideline involves a plan and strategy for a goal towards which you’d like to work.

Balanced guidelines might be:

I am still full from the pasta I had at lunch.  I will try to include a lighter, whole grain for dinner.

Tomorrow I am setting a goal to run 3 miles, but will not beat myself up if I can’t do it.

I want to cut down on my after-dinner snacking, but if I am hungry, I will eat something I enjoy.

  • Eliminate black-and-white thinking. Live in the gray!

Black-and-white thinking (sometimes called all-or-nothing thinking) is unlikely to help you feel good in a consistent way. It can involve labeling food or your behaviors, like eating a salad for lunch or skipping your yoga class, as “good or bad.” This is problematic because it gives your food or health behavior choices too much power and can lead to harsh self-judgments.

Examples of black-and-white thinking are:

I already ate badly today; I might as well continue to blow it.

This skirt I wore last summer is a little snug. I am fat and should go on a strict diet.

I was really good today. I deserve this brownie.

Living in the gray means being flexible and nonjudgmental about food (and other health) choices.  Food is just food. It is not inherently good or bad and neither are you for eating it, or not.  Nor are you good or bad based on your clothing size.

  • Eat the foods you enjoy.

No one is left feeling good about themselves if they feel deprived. Identify those things you truly enjoy and find a place for them in your diet. Maybe this means a few cookies at night or cream in your morning coffee. If you allow yourself to eat food for pleasure and not just for fuel the desire to overdo it on these “forbidden” foods might slowly diminish.

  • Disconnect body image and food.

The way you feel about your body does not need to drive your food choices (or vice versa). Say you wake up in the morning and do some (not so healthy) body checking and decide you look heavier today. At that moment, you might decide to eat a restrictive breakfast, which will likely leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.  On the other hand, you might recognize that you are feeling fat, but that this is just how you feel at the moment; you can then simultaneously remain aware that you still need to eat a balanced breakfast. Choosing to nourish your body despite negative body image thoughts will allow your brain to focus on other things, possibly allowing the negative body image thoughts to lessen as the day goes on.

  • Be mindful.

Everyone can benefit from increasing their mindfulness about eating, even if developing (or reestablishing) an innate “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” practice seems unattainable. Start to notice your hunger and fullness cues; pay attention to whether or not these cues enable you to eat regularly and adequately, or not. Throughout the day reflect on your food choices and in a nonjudgmental way use this to decide what you might eat next. This is much healthier then projecting forward an unrealistic limitation on yourself based on what you ate earlier that day.

Creating a healthy relationship with food and your body image can be hard to do, and it is likely to be a gradual process. Remember: Small shifts in your thinking and behaviors may pay off big when it comes to your overall wellbeing.