Why Freelance Nutrition Writing Is Such a Great Career

Are you considering a career in freelance nutrition writing? Check out my post on how to get started, or like A Love Letter to Food on Facebook for more tips!

Need a professional health and wellness writer? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com.

If you don’t know me personally, you might not know that the writing I do here on A Love Letter to Food isn’t my only writing. Not by a long shot, actually. I’m a freelance writer–and not in the sense of one-off articles published here or there. Writing is my main gig, my bread and butter, my livelihood. I spend anywhere from 15 to 30 hours a week cranking out content for a number of publications and private clients (and probably would do more if I weren’t also a wife and mom to three school-aged kids).

As a licensed nutritionist, I primarily focus on nutrition, health, and wellness writing. I’ve been fortunate enough to land articles (and sometimes recurring work) with respected sites like Eat This, Not That!, Healthline, Verywell Fit, Greatist, and–coming soon!–Eating Well and Prevention. I also do quite a bit of parenting and spirituality writing for publications like Today’s Parent, Busted Halo, Aleteia, and Amendo…because I’m more than just a nutrition professional. I’m a mom and a Catholic Christian. I figure my writing can reflect all of these facets of my identity. And so far, I absolutely love this career path.

Quite honestly, before now, I’d never had a career I really liked. I’ve been an adjunct German professor, children’s museum tour guide, a secretary, a YMCA customer service rep, a substitute teacher, and–a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–an ice cream scooper at Cold Stone Creamery. In each of these positions, I was always seeking more: more opportunity, more money, more ice cream (Ha! But seriously.). But now, with my freelance writing career, I find there’s no limit on my achievement or how far I can go.

I’ve written on this blog before about how this nutrition freelance writing journey began. In fact, it’s one of my most popular posts! Check it out for practical tips on getting started. But now I wanted to share some of the reasons this is such a rewarding career. Whether you’re considering dipping a toe or taking the plunge into freelance health and wellness writing, I hope this list offers some encouragement that propels you forward. (Or, if you’re looking for a writer, visit my Work With Me page.)

Here are five things that make freelance nutrition writing an awesome career.

1. Flexibility

Let’s say I want to meet a friend for lunch or need to pick up my kids on an unexpected early release day at school. No problem! The freelance career means that I make my own schedule and can roll with the punches of unexpected schedule changes. (Which we all know happens often, especially with kids.) If need be, I can get my work done at night or on weekends. Heck, as long as I have my laptop and internet access, I could even leave the country. I sure wouldn’t mind tapping away at a window overlooking the Eiffel Tower!

2. Recognition and Purpose

One of the saddest things I ever heard from colleagues when I was interning as a diet tech at a local hospital was, “We don’t actually know if the doctors read our notes.” Wait, what? You don’t even know if all the work you’re doing charting on patients actually does anything for their care? Major NOPE moment for me. (In addition to the fact that the dietetics office adjacent to the cafeteria that smelled like dirty mop water and overcooked tater tots.)

Personally, I want a job that I know actually makes a difference to someone, somewhere. Even though I might not know my readers’ names or how my writing impacts their lives, I believe that creating trustworthy nutrition and health information has a certain nobility and purpose. That means a lot to me.

3. Money

Raise your hand if you like making money. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The nutrition industry is notorious for grossly underpaying its professionals. I happen to know that several employers in my area start their NDTRs at under $15/hour. And when I worked for a health and wellness non-profit–one with a top-notch national reputation, mind you!–I literally made minimum wage. For most of us trying to make an actual living, this is not sustainable. And as nutrition professionals, our knowledge isn’t worth such low compensation!

That’s why I love freelance writing. In a given month as a writer, I make anywhere from four to seven times what I made for around the same number of hours at a non-profit. Yes, skills and experience matter for scoring higher pay, but I don’t have to attend seminars or trainings or even necessarily obtain my RDN. I just have to research well and communicate well.

4. Independence

I’ll be honest…I never had a boss I loved. Several companies I worked for were oozing with hierarchy, which, when you’re at the bottom, can be pretty discouraging. (Or, to be more blunt: It sucks.) Plus, I’m not crazy about getting micromanaged. (True story: I once had a manager write me a note that said, “Write a note that says…” and then wrote the entire thing herself.) But I really don’t mind working for myself!

As a freelancer, I can pitch whatever publications I have the guts to approach, set my own hours (see #1, Flexibility), and go after as much or as little work as I like. I work in tandem with clients and editors, but I’m in charge of my own career.

5. Minimal Hassle

Long commute? Mandatory meetings? Dress code? Nope, nope, and nope. There are definitely some things I miss about working in an office setting with fellow co-workers, but I sure do love not having to deal with a lot of the hassle.

If you’re a dietitian or diet tech, I’d be willing to bet you face another hassle: wondering whether your patients or clients actually listen to you. Your training qualifies you to be an expert on all things diet-related, but is that high-cholesterol patient really going to take your advice and stop eating burgers and fries five days a week? Maybe, maybe not.

The beauty of putting your writing out into the universe is knowing that, very likely, you won’t get pushback about it. You won’t have to hound anyone about counting their carbs or cutting back on sodium. You’re simply creating solid health information–and you can feel good about that. Rest assured that plenty of eyeballs will see your work. Whether or not the owners of those eyeballs take your good advice and translate it into practical change isn’t up to you. For me, that’s a relief. People change on their own timeline, not mine.

Convinced yet that freelance nutrition writing is a great career? I wish you all the best! Don’t forget to check out my post on how to get started with freelance health and wellness writing, or like A Love Letter to Food on Facebook for more tips!

If you need a freelance nutrition, health, wellness, or parenting writer, I’d love to work with you! Email me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com.

Dutch Oven Cooking Class

Helloooooo again! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted! Things have been pretty crazy around here, and I don’t just mean run-of-the-mill busyness. If you don’t follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook or Twitter (and if not, I’d love it if you would!) let me fill you in:

Last week I went to New York City to be featured on the Today Show! Their producers invited me to be on the show for a segment about a crime I was the victim of several years ago. You can watch my appearance here. After my stint on the show, my husband and I stuck around for a few days to catch the best of NYC. (And, in addition to all that, yes, some run-of-the-mill busyness has also been keeping me occupied.)

With anchors Craig, Sheinelle, and Dylan (and my husband Anthony)

Today, though, I’d like to tell you about one other interesting event I recently experienced. With some of my girlfriends, I attended the Becoming an Outdoorswoman weekend in Prescott, AZ. This unique program, 25 years running, is 48 hours of classes (plus socializing and other fun stuff) devoted to teaching women useful skills for the outdoors. I’ll be honest, as someone with basically zero camping experience, a whole lot of it was outside my comfort zone. Examples: putting up a tent, eating javelina stew, sharing a bathroom with four other women…

One thing that was TOTALLY up my alley, however, was my class on outdoor Dutch oven cooking, aka cowboy cooking. I have a totally romantic notion of living in the American West a hundred-plus years ago, harbor a (probably completely unrealistic) fantasy of homesteading, and have always wondered how cooking over a campfire differs from cooking in a kitchen.

Here’s what I learned!

First, explained our lovely instructor Barb of Cowgirls Forever (pictured here in all her Western glory), you have to build your fire.

Once we had laid a nice bed of kindling, Barb added mesquite charcoal. She lighted the coals and allowed them to burn until large chunks were gray.

Meanwhile, we got to work on preparing our ingredients.

Barb had brought a literal truckful of food and said it was up to us to decide what to make! Here are just a few of the ingredients we had available.

Among the dozen or so women in the class, we decided on the following:

  • Roasted vegetables
  • Green chili with ground pork and hominy
  • Elk stew
  • Biscuit breakfast casserole with sausage
  • Bon bons (rolled around a Hershey’s hug)
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Peach cobbler

Yeah, it was a lot of food. And let me tell you, this lady did NOT fear butter. Although none of our recipes were scripted (more “a can of this plus a stick of this and a shake of this”) if I were to guess, I’d say we went through five pounds of butter. NOT KIDDING.

When enough mesquite coals were suitably gray, it was time get cookin’. Barb grabbed her tongs and pulled several coals aside to sit underneath our first Dutch oven. Then, since she instructed us to never cook in an uncreased pan, we set the Dutch oven on top of the coals and poured in some oil (or butter. Lots of butter). Once this was shimmering, we started on our green chili by browning ground pork–the idea being that chili can simmer a long time while everything else cooks. We then moved on to our other savory dishes.

Each time we added a new ingredient, we’d top it with the lid of the Dutch oven, then cover the lid with coals. The ideal ratio of top coals to bottom coals is apparently 1/3 on bottom and 2/3 on the top. And, as a rule of thumb, you can take the number of the Dutch oven’s size (they come in sizes like 12, 14, and 16) and double it to get the appropriate number of coals to use in total. By this metric, the interior of the oven should stay at around 350 to 375 degrees.

Amazingly, according to Barb, you can stack up to five Dutch ovens for space-saving. Alternately, you can make groupings of coals for individual ovens, especially if you frequently need to access the inside to add ingredients or stir. For handling the extremely hot pot lids, Barb came equipped with special lid lifters suited to the task.

By the end of our three-hour class, our feast was complete! Since it was far too much food for our group, a number of ladies from other classes wandered over (drawn by the enticing smells, I’m sure) and enjoyed the various dishes with us.

Everything was decadent and delicious–and truly had that warm-you-from-the-inside-out feel that you only get eating campfire food on a chilly day. I absolutely loved this class and would 100% take it again!

I highly recommend looking into the Becoming an Outdoorswoman program in your area (they’re in over 40 states), and if you live in AZ like I do, Barb from Cowgirls Forever does catering and private classes–check her out!

My Takeaways From the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium just a quick drive away from home in Scottsdale, AZ. If you aren’t familiar with Today’s Dietitian, it’s a top-notch print magazine and online publication nutrition professionals look to for reliable, evidence-based health and nutrition information. In addition to their publications, the brand offers an annual roaming conference in May. This was my first time attending, and I learned a ton!

Although I’m not a dietitian (and I was literally the only dietetic technician I saw at the conference–ha!) I didn’t feel out of place. As a health and wellness freelance writer, I try to stay pretty hip to the latest research and trends. The sessions felt digestible, and, for the most part, very helpful.

Looking out at the room during a session

I shared a bit on my social media channels about what I learned at the symposium, but wanted to go more in-depth here on the blog. Here are four of my top takeaways from the two-and-a-half days:

1. Now is a great (but also super challenging) time to be a nutrition professional

Nutrition is sexy! People care so much these days about what they do and don’t eat. The public is seeking diet advice under every rock and behind every tree (and definitely on every shiny website and image-conscious Instagram post). Because of this uptick in interest, now is an awesome time to work in nutrition. As I’ve found in my own brief career, there are innumerable opportunities for credentialed professionals. The conference displayed the immense variety of the nutrition working world.

On the other hand, it also highlighted some of the ways being a dietitian (or NDTR like me) is more difficult now than ever. At the moment, there’s a MAJOR emotional component to people’s beliefs about food… so although, as scientifically trained nutrition professionals, we might emphasize our credibility by pointing to our degrees and the hard evidence behind our advice, this isn’t necessarily what the public wants. We’re living in an era of hashtags and sound bytes, not deep analysis or thoughtful reflection. It can be really tough to make the truth about nutrition compelling to the average consumer.

Secondly, in this age of social connectedness, with a million platforms to join and products to promote, it can feel like we have to be all things to all people. Be an influencer! Build your Twitter following! Secure brand deals! All while keeping up with the studies, determining your audience, and figuring out how much to charge for your services (oh, and maintaining your own svelte figure, because who wants to listen to an overweight dietitian?). Anybody stressed yet?

2. Networking is worth it — and it’s a pretty small world

One of my biggest goals for attending the conference was to meet and mingle with fellow nutritionistas. Mission accomplished! Despite my natural introversion, I went bold with introducing myself to strangers–and often found the person I had just said hello to was a mover and shaker I’d heard of before (hashtag #starstruck). I assembled a dozen business cards from other RDs over the course of the conference and was not shy about putting my own out there, either, like…

Not only was it cool to rub shoulders with some big names in the industry, it was also just great to sit down and chat with like-minded nutrition professionals. We’re not that big a club, so we get pretty excited when we meet.

3. Nutrition science has come a long way — but we still have further to go

Justified or not, nutrition science gets a bad rap for constantly changing. “First they said eggs were bad, then they were good, now they’re bad again! What can you even believe?” goes the common criticism. (As Michael Pollan famously said, “Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650–you know, really interesting and promising, but would you want to have them operate on you yet?”) But I felt impressed at the TD Symposium with how cohesive most of the messaging from dietitians actually is.

We know a lot of things for sure: Overconsumption is a problem in this country. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be emphasized, no matter who you are (almost). Fad diets are usually a bad idea. Gluten and dairy are not the enemy. Overall, I think we’re getting a handle on a lot of tricky topics.

I will tell you, though–no joke–I sat in on concurrent sessions that appeared to give conflicting advice about carbohydrates and fats. The first presenter seemed to be saying we should embrace low-carb diets to treat obesity and heart disease. The second said we still need to focus on limiting fat (especially saturated fat). In the presenters’ defense, they both said a lot had to do with the quality of carbs and fats…but still.

4. Nutrition professionals need to be kind, flexible, open-minded, and show our love of food!

Dietitians and NDTRs are competing with a lot of other (sometimes very loud) voices when it comes to giving the public sound, evidence-based nutrition counsel. To stay relevant, we have our work cut out for us. Some of the best advice I heard at the Today’s Dietitian Symposium was about the soft skills side of being a nutrition professional.

Gone are the days of beating people over the head about diet changes. It doesn’t work (and it’s really not fun for anyone). We have to approach clients/patients/friends/readers with kindness, flexibility, and open-mindedness. For eating, one size definitely does NOT fit all. How can we help people to enjoy their food while making positive changes? How can we “liberalize” instead of restrict? I think these are extremely important questions everyone working in nutrition should consider.

Finally, the best approach to food and diet is FUN! I absolutely love the concept emphasized at the conference that dietitians and DTRs need to show people how much we freaking love to eat. (I mean, I hope for me it’s obvious, given the name of this website…) Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s our job to help others as a cheerleader and fellow lover of food.

So thanks, Today’s Dietitian 2019 for an informative, interesting conference! Hope I can make it next year in Savannah, GA!

Snack Review: Fishpeople Salmon Jerky

If you had told me a few weeks ago that my new go-to snack would be dried Alaskan salmon, I would have thought the idea was…well…pretty fishy. I don’t usually think of seafood as snack food. (I did, however, just learn that whale milk ice cream is gaining popularity. Apparently it’s almost 50% fat and tastes like “a mixture of fish, liver, milk of magnesia, and castor oil,” so…maybe this is a thing now?)

Here’s the deal, though: As a freelance health and nutrition writer, I often get, ahem, interesting emails from PR people for various companies, asking me to try out their products so I can write about them. I’ve been offered all sorts of intriguing and off-the-wall stuff, from athletic wear to “designer” turmeric to plant-based sports drinks. I got a free tote bag and water bottle from Morton’s salt. (Yes, featuring the iconic umbrella-carrying salt girl.) I’ve been offered free online yoga subscriptions and services to cure headaches. And I was recently given a pre-screening of a new movie made by the guy who played Toby on The Office, and asked to interview him. Sometimes it’s a pretty sweet deal!

It’s hard to know when to say yes and when to say I’ll pass on these many products. But sometimes something comes along that sounds genuinely compelling, and this salmon jerky by Fishpeople was one of them.

First, let me just say that I dig the name “Fishpeople” and the company’s rather eccentric, stuff-of-Grimms-fairytales logo (pictured above) of a man/fish creature carrying a fork–or is it a trident? Is he a person? Or a fish? Is he going to eat people? Or fish? The world may never know.

When I tore into my first bag of jerky, I was excited, since I love salmon, but wan’t sure what to expect. I mean, I’ve had plenty of smoked salmon (which I also adore) and lots of beef jerky (I went through a jerky phase in high school, I confess), but what does fish look and taste like when you put it through the drying process?

I had my choice between Original flavor, Ancho Chili + Lime, Rainbow Peppercorn, and Lemon Zest + Herb. I decided to start with Original. Admittedly, the smell upon first opening the bag was a bit overpowering, even for someone who really likes salmon, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I tried the bits of dried fish and was pleased to discover they were extremely tasty! Chewy, certainly, but not nearly as tough as beef jerky, and with a slightly sweetness that complements the fish’s natural flavor.

I’ve now worked my way through the various bags of jerky and enjoyed them all. (Rainbow Peppercorn is by far and away my favorite.) I’ve sprinkled them on salad for an easy protein topping and snacked on them before bedtime. I even think you wouldn’t be remiss adding them to a sandwich, perhaps to make a salmon BLT.

Although–as mentioned–I wouldn’t normally think of eating dried fish for a snack, I’m really coming around to the idea. I mean, who says we have to eat any certain type of food at any meal? My 9-year-old likes to eat meatball sandwiches for breakfast, and sometimes I think he’s better off with that than a bowl of super sugary cereal in the mornings. So maybe salmon as my bedtime snack isn’t such a bad idea (as long as I brush my teeth before snuggling in next to my husband).

I say this especially because so many packaged snacks are high-calorie and packed with garbage. Dried salmon, on the other hand, is extremely low-calorie (each Fishpeople bag contains two 90-calorie servings), full of omega-3 fats (the kind with evidence-based links to brain health), and high protein (not that we need a TON of protein, but 12 grams per serving is a nice boost). Plus, they contain far less sugar than the average granola bar or yogurt I’d usually reach for.

Though the PR person I’d emailed with had emphasized portability as one of salmon jerky’s main selling points, I just don’t think I’m quite hipster enough to, you know, stash a bag of dried salmon to munch on during my flight to Coachella. But for an at-home snack my future self will thank me for? One that’s good for me and is actually really tasty? Yes, I’ll gladly grab some salmon jerky any day.

You can find Fishpeople’s products on their website, or on Amazon.

Blueberry Picking at Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm

When our family decided to stay at a farm in rural New Hampshire as part of our New England vacation, I immediately took to the internet to research the area around Newport, NH where we’d be staying. Among the historic buildings and covered bridges, one listing caught my attention: Blueberry picking! Whatever else we did, I knew this topped my list of options for a family activity. Blueberries are my all-time favorite fruit. In fact, at my former job at the American Heart Association’s Children’s Museum, every employee’s name tag stated their favorite fruit or vegetable under their name, so mine said “Sarah Blueberries”–which always led kids on my tours to ask if “Blueberries” was my last name. I wish! Wouldn’t that be perfect for a nutritionist? Maybe I can convince my husband we should consider a name change.

As fruits (and foods in general) go, you can’t get much healthier than blueberries. They’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins K and C, and contain a surprisingly high amount of fiber. (Check out this post of mine over on Brit + Co to read more about berry health benefits!) I also find them super versatile and delicious–as you may have realized from the many blueberry recipes on this blog!

Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm came highly recommended by the owners of the farm where we were staying, and it happened to be the closest place to pick blueberries, so we set off on our outing on a beautiful sunny day. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the lovely lady who runs the farm at a tented stand featuring tons of blueberry-based products.

The owner explained that we had access to the farm’s enormous swath of blueberry bushes, with our choice of picking to fill either a large bucket or smaller buckets. Since our stay in New Hampshire would be brief, we chose the smaller buckets, which adorably (and conveniently) hung on strings around our necks while picking.

With that, we were off to picking!

Embarrassingly, before this experience, I couldn’t have told you what a blueberry bush even looked like. They’re not exactly springing up on every corner in Phoenix, where I’ve lived almost my entire life. Actually, I’ve only ever known one person who succeeded in making them grow in the desert, and he was a horticulturist. So I was pleased to learn that blueberries grow in bunches on pretty, thorn-less, eye-level bushes.

Bartlett’s Farm boasted several varieties of blueberries. At the end of each row was a marker designating its variety, such as Duke, Nelson, and Earlibue. We tasted several and did notice a difference–some were sweeter, some tarter. To me, blueberries have always just been blueberries, so it was interesting to learn that there are subtle differences between different plants.

Picking the blueberries proved to be a very simple task (not nearly as arduous as apple picking, with all the reaching and pulling and spiky lacrosse stick-like plucking tools). With plenty of ripe berries in easy reach and no thorns to poke us, the berries practically fell off the branches into our buckets. We all just kept our eyes peeled for the bluest fruits, knowing they’d be sweetest, and avoided any green or magenta-colored ones.

Sometimes they even popped off in perfect little clusters, like this..

All in all, we probably spent 45 minutes picking before we got our fill (well, more than our fill) of blueberries. I don’t actually recall the price per pound, but I do know that for the amount pictured–I’m guessing at least two pounds–we paid only $6.60. A pretty stellar deal for fresh, local blueberries, even if we picked them ourselves.

If you’re ever in western New Hampshire, check out Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm!

And for more blueberry inspiration, check out these recipes:

Red, White, and Blueberry French Toast Casserole

Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream

Easy Blueberry Jam

Whole Grain Blueberry Orange Muffins

Lighter Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Blueberry Scones