Pizza Is Different

Want Your Family To Eat Better? Give 'em A Pizza Your Mind!

by Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA


I hear it all the time.  Parents want their kids (and sometimes their spouses) to eat better, but all they want are burgers, fries, hot dogs, and pizza. 


Maybe you shouldn’t lump pizza in with the rest of that bunch.  Pizza is different – or at least it can be better than the others.  Think about it: in its most traditional form, it’s bread, cheese, and tomato sauce.  But pizza can go many other places than the other typical “fast food” items because the ingredients can be as varied as there are foods.  Even a single pizza can have as many flavors as there are slices. 


Why I like pizza

There’s the taste, of course, but I love how it makes it easy to fill nutrition gaps in people of all ages.  Pizza can be an outstanding delivery vehicle for what’s missing from most people’s diets: whole grain, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and even fruit.


The average person gets less than a single serving of whole grains per day and that really needs to be stepped up.  At least three servings daily are recommended by the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines (think three slices of bread or 1 ½ cups of brown rice, as an example of three servings) and we’re still falling way short.  Nowadays you can find lots of frozen pizzas in the supermarket that have a whole grain crust.  Bingo.  Better still, and more fun, is to buy whole-wheat refrigerated pizza dough and make your own.  Relax, it’s easy and it gives everyone a chance to get in the act.  Plus, if you just follow the directions for baking, it’s almost goof-proof.  Better still. 


Just be smart: everyone can have the pizza they want – but not the whole pizza.  Keep it real, to one or two servings, depending on your age, weight, and calorie needs, and you’ll do fine.


Bespoke pizza

There pizza gets really fun is with the toppings, but it’s also where pizza can make it’s nutritional mark.  You offer a healthy choice: green and red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, onions olives, plus a few they’re not used to seeing on pizza, like chopped spinach, kidney beans, artichoke hearts.  Use the leftover veggies and meat.  Just shred up last night’s chicken or fish, but even cooked mixed vegetables are fair game.  Allowing the family to customize their slice gives them some control, but it’s all good because you keep the choices great. OK to try some fruit, too.  Thin apples slices or pineapple chunks get you the savory-sweet thing people like.  Let kids choose their toppings but make it clear they need to choose at least some veggie toppings. 


Got cheese?  It’s OK here

Cheese doesn’t occupy that much of our diets.  It only accounts for about 5% of the calories we eat but it does supply us with about a fifth of the calcium we get.  Remember, in pizza, it’s also taking the place of meat most of the time.  Even the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), a super heart-healthy diet, allows about 4 ounces per week.  You can also add some reduced-fat cheeses (they’re far better than they used to be!).  If you grate the cheese to make it go farther (a whole cup will be only 4 ounces).  No need for fat-free cheese on your pizza – and your taste buds will thank me for this advice. 


Some say to put the cheese on top of the veggies, others say vice versa.  Try it each way and you decide.  Either way, here’s a secret flavor ingredient that makes the pizza taste like the full-fat version: just a teaspoon of grated parmesan per slice.  Negligible calories but totally wakes things up because it’s loaded with glutamate – a natural flavor enhancer. 


Bake this guy as directed and you’ll end up with a dinner that’s got it all: whole grain, veggies, a serving of dairy, and a bunch of happy campers at the table.  


You may end up with make-your-own pizza becoming a regular part of your dinner repertoire.  It also gets the family eating together and talking again at dinner.  Even try some friendly competition to see whose version is best.


Pizza may end up being the most veggie-friendly meal you make.  The possibilities are endless, so start now.  


Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA