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 pizza:
- 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 crust.
- 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 difference.
- 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 satisfying.
- 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 appetite.”
This month’s Good Sense Eating recipe
More from Good Sense Eating
Christine Palumbo, a
mother of three, is a registered dietitian in Naperville and
an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University.