Q&A with Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN
For our August Pasta Spotlight, we spoke with Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN. As a busy mom, registered dietitian, and culinary nutrition expert, Jessica knows how to create meals that are healthy, tasty, and kid-friendly! Below, she shares her nutrition advice, how pasta fits into a healthy meal, and one of her favorite pasta recipes!
- How does pasta fit into your healthy lifestyle?
Pasta is usually on the menu in our house once a week – if it’s not, you can bet my kids will be complaining! Most often I make a pasta dish that has a protein-rich sauce or added protein on top, plus cooked vegetables mixed in or a salad or roasted veggies on the side. This provides an all around balanced meal for kids and adults alike.
- What are some recommendations you have for making dinners, including pasta, kid friendly?
I love making what I call Interactive Meals. I’ll set out each component of the meal in individual bowls and everyone makes his or her own bowl based on personal preferences.
For example, when I make my Nicoise Pasta Salad, I line up bowls of cooked pasta, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, olives, chopped spinach, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, and crumbled feta cheese. The kids know that in addition to the pasta, they need to include at least 1-2 veggies and a protein. By allowing them to make their own bowls, they feel empowered and in control, while I’m still the gatekeeper to what’s being offered.
- What types of nutrition misconceptions do you hear most often?
- Carbs are the devil
- Sugar is the cause of obesity
- Avoid red meat
- Avoid processed food.
Generally speaking, people want to be able to point their finger at something as the cause of weight gain or health problems. However, it’s not as simple as that. Many different factors contribute to complex issues like obesity and diseases, and no single food or food group can be blamed for health issues. For example, if you subscribe to the belief that all processed food should be avoided, you will miss out on nutrient-rich foods like canned beans, tomato sauce, and baby carrots.
My personal philosophy, as cliché as it may seem, is to enjoy all foods in moderation (except of course if you have allergies or intolerances). What we eat from a nutritional standpoint is extremely important, but the enjoyment of food should not be discounted.
- What are some of your suggestions to keep a pasta meal light?
Use whole wheat pasta; if using ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, use part skim varieties; add vegetables to bulk up pasta dishes without adding a lot of calories; skip cream based sauces or make them with healthier substitutes like puréed beans, low-fat Greek yogurt, puréed cauliflower or butternut squash.
5. Finally, can you share one of your pasta recipes with us?
Try my Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Pasta.
About Jessica Levinson:
Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN is a nationally recognized nutrition expert with a focus on culinary nutrition and communications. She is the author of 52-Week Meal Planner: The Complete Guide to Planning Menus, Groceries, Recipes, and More. Jessica’s passion lies in the kitchen, where she develops nutritious and delicious recipes to feed her family (including her twin daughters) and inspire others to do the same. You can find Jessica’s recipes, menu plans, and healthy living tips on her website JessicaLevinson.com. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.