When I'm talking to kids and ask them to name a food that isn't so healthy to eat, they almost always respond with pizza as one of the top three foods.
When I'm talking with parents, they're almost ashamed to admit how often they rely on pizza for an easy family dinner. Want to know a secret? We have a pizza and movie night almost every Friday night, and I love it.
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It's quick, it's easy and almost every kid out there loves it. It's the one dinner that all three of my kids will eat without putting up a fuss. However, depending on the pizza you're serving, you could be serving up a plate full of nutrients or just a whole lot of calories and fat.
Consider this, one slice of a large hand-tossed cheese pizza from a popular neighborhood spot can easily be 290 calories with 10 grams of fat. Upgrade the cheese slice to meat lovers and now that same slice is upward of 370 calories with 17 grams of total fat. So, how can we possibly improve this kid-approved staple to keep the kids happy and make their parents more comfortable with the dinner selection?
Even if you still indulge in the neighborhood pizzeria, think about the balance on the plate. Most of the time, pizza is not only the main course but the only course. When this happens, kids are hungry, so they go back for more slices.
Instead, aim to make half of the plate fruits and veggies -- whether it is salad, roasted veggies or a big fruit salad -- the fiber from these sides not only provides healthier volume, but it also will help keep the kids fuller for longer.
If you consider making pizza at home, still keep those fruit and veggie sides served, but also try personal pizzas for each kid. A pizza the size of a CD is the perfect helping for older kids. This is great, because it allows them to pick and choose their own toppings, and, when their pizza is gone, there is not temptation to reach for more. Unless they're reaching for more fruits and veggies, of course!
Pile it on
Pile all those toppings on, but be light-handed with the cheese. This is where I love the personal pizzas, because now you can have an assembly line where each kid can pick and choose which topping they want to add.
Have small bowls of sliced mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, pineapple -- whatever you have on hand -- and let them have at it! Even if they still want to add pepperoni or sausage, you've now added more volume to the pizza and are packing it with extra vitamins and nutrients without adding significant calories.
And don't just think about piling on the toppings. While you want to be light-handed with the cheese, don't skimp on the pizza sauce. The tomato sauce is packed with the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
Choose meat wisely
This is a strategy you can practice when ordering, dining out or making your own pizza. The meat you choose for a pizza can really pile on the calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. Instead of pepperoni, try swapping it for ham or Canadian bacon while replacing sausage with small bits of chopped up chicken.
If you're like me, I always like to have a frozen pizza in the house for those just-in-case moments. Unfortunately, just like most frozen dinners, frozen pizza tends to be skimpy on the veggies while heavy on the salt.
While you can't change the salt or fat content of the pizza, you can still boost the nutrition content.
Consider only having a cheese pizza with whole wheat crust as your frozen choice -- this way you're at least starting with a more decent base. Then, you can still chop up extra veggies or leaner meat options and load up that pizza before baking.
The bonus of going this route: your pint-size guests can still have a vote in which type of pizza they enjoy the most!
I hope these quick and easy pizza revamps help give you a little more piece of mind the next time you choose pizza as your night- off option!
• Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or others, I would love to hear from you! Email christina@ nourishedliving.com with all your thoughts.
• Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and three young sons in the Northwest suburbs.