Pizza is a crowd-pleaser, because most everyone can agree on some combination of blistered dough, cheese and tomatoes; plus, pizzas have the advantage of being customized for different dietary needs and preferences on one piece of dough, English muffin, pita, or whatever the crust may be. However, pizzas can be calorie bombs loaded with meats and cheeses that ratchet up the saturated fat, sodium and calories, while crowding out higher-fiber toppings, such as vegetables. Let’s think outside of the pizza box realm to help make healthier pizzas a reality for smart, quick dinners that don’t rely on delivery.
Start with your pizza crust
Even though a blistered round of white, doughy goodness is the pizzeria ideal, at home, whole-grain options are a fun way to tweak your pizza pie and up your daily whole grain counts. Replace a traditional crust with all manner of whole-grain bread products: tortillas, English muffins, or pitas work well. If you prefer a classic crust, opt for a whole-wheat pizza dough (look for this in the freezer section in store) and use it in place of the regular doughs called for in a recipe, or make your own using corn and rye flours to incorporate some whole grains into the pizza equation. My kids love the idea of a personal pizza, so whole grain English muffins are perfect for an individual pie. A whole-grain pita round would work well in a quickie Margherita riff while brown rice tortillas support lots of vegetables in these vegan pizzas.
Choose smart sauces
A red, tomato sauce is classic, but many jarred options can harbor several grams of hidden sugar and excess sodium. Keep it simple, and pick up our 365 Everyday Value Pizza Sauce, which has no sugar added. Of course, you can also make your own, using fresh tomatoes and herbs, which uses judicious amounts of sugar and salt to round out flavors. Pesto makes a fair swap for maintaining an Italian vibe, or you can add hummus to your pizza to try a new flavor.
Make veggies the main event
Pizzas are a great way to incorporate vegetables (we all need them!) into your meal, and we’re not just talking about the tomato sauce. Try a hearty beans and kale version or a grilled vegan pizza that puts summer produce in the spotlight. And using canned black beans and frozen corn help nudge this pizza’s fiber counts to more than 30% of daily needs. And if you’re serious about upping the vegetable quotient of your pizza, try a “salad pizza.” Use an amazing salad, such as this arugula and pine nut one, and top your baked crust or whole-grain tortilla with it and have your fork and knife at the ready. Another option: top your just-baked pizza with baby spinach or arugula to add some greens to your meal.
Use special toppings with a light touch
Some people may not feel like it’s truly pizza without some pepperoni or cheese. And you can have your pizza pie and eat it, too. Just use small amounts of thinly sliced meats and finely grated or shaved cheeses to help extend the flavor without piling on the calories or sodium. A tomato and pepperoni pizza does just that, so you feel like you’re getting the best of both worlds of taste and nutrition. Using a smart amount of lean ground beef and real cheese makes a taco pizza a nourishing dinner (and still has nearly half of a day’s protein needs, while a chicken version includes a touch of shredded mozzarella cheese, allowing you just what you want from a good pizza: one more piece.
Pizza tastes best when shared! But the next best thing is sharing your favorite healthy twists on pizza pies. Let us know what yours are!