Who doesn't love pizza night? Moms love taking a
break while serving a meal everyone agrees on. Many dads consider
pizza a favorite food. Children seemingly never tire of it. Plus,
it's budget friendly. But there's that nagging worry that pizza is
a "junk food." Is it?
Janice Newell Bissex, a Boston area dietitian and
co-author of No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes
from The Meal Makeover Moms, is reassuring. "With the right
choices, a weekly pizza night can certainly fit into a
healthy family meal plan."
Consider these tips when you're ordering up a healthful
- Go for thin. A thin crust
has fewer carbs and calories than a deep dish or stuffed crust. A
few pizza parlors are even starting to offer whole wheat
- Eat less (or eliminate)
meat. Pepperoni is consistently the number
one favorite meat topping. Unfortunately it's loaded with grease
and salt. If it isn't "pizza" without pepperoni, ask for just half
to be placed on the pie. Ditto for sausage. Instead, opt for
grilled poultry, shrimp, Canadian bacon or ham. Or replace the meat
with meaty mushrooms, like portobellos. You'll hardly notice the
- Order vegetable toppings with
abandon. Here the sky's the limit. Load up on
black or green olives, red or green pepper, onion, artichoke
hearts, spinach, sliced or sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil or
broccoli. Aim for at least three veggies on a pie. They add bulk,
flavor and nutrients, making a small portion more
- Get saucy. Most pizzas
contain sauce, while some contain chunks of tomatoes. Either way,
enjoy them guilt-free. The lycopene in whole tomatoes is more
available in tomato chunks and sauce. Herbs and garlic add
antioxidants along with flavor.
- Lighten up the cheese.
While it's a good source of protein, calcium and potassium, pizza's
cheese also contains saturated fat. Since many pizza makers layer
it on thick, it's easy to overdo it. "If the cheese completely
covers the top of the pizza, consider asking your pizza guy to go
light on the cheese next time," suggests Bissex. Sprinkle grated
Parmesan or Romano cheese at the table. It's flavorful in small
amounts and even provides that sixth sense of umami.
- Fill up on salad. Bissex's
family often starts with a salad or vegetable-based soup to take
the edge off everyone's hunger. Studies show people who eat a
high-volume, low-calorie food like salad or a broth-based soup as
an appetizer eat fewer calories overall.
Your own pizza parlor
How hard is it to make a pizza at home? Not very. You can
pick up a pre-baked crust or fresh or frozen dough and with a
little planning, you can bake your own pizzas. Invest in a pizza
stone and peel for best results.
Camille Prindle, a Lake Forest mother of four, prefers
baking her own. "Pizza may be made from dough I make in my
breadmaker. But on days where there's time constraints, I'll bake a
frozen cheese pizza and add toppings-diced tomatoes, sautéed
spinach, onions and mushrooms."
Bissex concurs. "My girls love pesto pizza topped with
sautéed onions, red bell pepper and spinach. My husband and I like
to also add artichoke hearts and mushrooms. To get your kids
excited about all those veggies, set up a make-your-own-pizza bar,
and then let the kids add whichever toppings whet their
Christine M. Palumbo, RD is an award-winning Naperville dietitian and mother of three who loves a good quality restaurant pizza. She also enjoys whipping up a totally from-scratch pizza from time to time. Contact her at Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com