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Are You Doing Pizza Right?

I like pizza. My kids like pizza. In almost every speaking event I give, or interaction with someone who knows I “do” kids’ nutrition, someone almost always asks, “Is pizza okay for my child to eat?”

My response is: “Yes, of course, as long as you…”

There’s a reason for my qualifying statement—it’s because we, as a nation of parents and adults involved with kids and teens, often do pizza wrong. In other words, we aren’t taking the opportunity to make a healthy pizza.

Are You Doing Pizza Right?

Research on Pizza

A new study in Pediatrics has highlighted this fact: pizza may be a child or teen’s favorite food, but it may also be his worst health-related enemy.

Researchers looked at the National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) eating patterns, collected by dietary recall, of children aged 2-19 from 2003-2010, and found several things:

On days when kids ate pizza, they ate more calories (84 more), saturated fat (3 more grams), and salt (134 milligrams more) compared to when they didn’t eat pizza. When teens ate pizza, these nutrients went up too, with an increase in calories (230 more), saturated fat (5 more grams) and salt (484 milligrams).

During 2009-2010, on days when kids ate pizza, it made up 22% of their total caloric intake. For teens eating pizza on a given day, it made up 26% of their total caloric intake.

When pizza was used as a snack, the nutritional impact was worse, with significantly more calories, more saturated fat and more salt consumed. In fact, kids got about 200 more calories and teens 365 more calories than when they didn’t eat pizza for a snack.

{P.S.–that’s about 2 miles and almost 4 miles of walking, respectively, to balance that indulgence}

Need to know better snack alternatives? Click here for some healthy kid’s snack ideas.

During the study’s time frame, the calories consumed from eating pizza at dinner fell, while eating it at school remained the same.

The researcher’s message is to make healthy pizza and eat it less. That’s a good start, but there’s so much more that you can do.

How to make healthy pizza:

-Choose whole wheat crust

-Opt for thin crust instead of thick crust or deep dish

-Stay away from “filled” crusts, like the cheese-filled crusts

-Top it with veggies (onion, peppers, fresh tomato, broccoli, for example) or fruit (pineapple comes to mind)

-Select low fat meat toppings like lean ham, turkey sausage, or turkey pepperoni rather than the full fat pork-based versions

-Ask for low fat mozzarella cheese, rather than whole milk types

How to Serve Healthy Pizza {Better}

Your efforts shouldn’t stop with making healthy pizza, as there are other ways to downgrade its inappropriate presence in a child and teen’s diet:

-Don’t serve pizza as a snack (smart snacks for kids should only be about 150 calories; for teens about 250 calories; the exception is the serious athlete.)

-Don’t make pizza the go-to option for sporting events, social outings or celebrations. {Yes, I know it’s cheap and convenient but try to be a little more creative or at least offer healthy side dishes with it.}

-Always offer pizza with a complement of foods that round out a meal, such as a glass of milk, a side of fruit, and a veggie, like salad.

As with all food, it’s all about the balance, not necessarily the food. Since pizza is a food kids and teens love to eat, taking it away under the classification of “bad food” may drive kids and teens to want it more. Instead, find a new balance with pizza in your child’s life.

Remember, if done right, pizza can be a great addition to your child and teen’s diet—after all, kids like it, will eat it, and you can doctor it up with good nutrition and regulate the system for eating it.

Let’s find ways to use pizza to our kids’ advantage, not to their disadvantage!

What do you think about pizza?

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  1. Good points you make. I do see pizza as a problem, b/c of the overuse of it. My husband loves to have once a week pizza nights, ordering a large deep dish from a local place. To balance that, on some weeks, I will make a (smaller) frozen DiJournos and we always serve with side of peas or vegetable that my kids like (my kids love frozen peas!). I have experimented with making my own pizzas, using cauliflower crust, but hubby didn’t like (He is the picky one). I have found that if you don’t offer a side of veggie, the kids will need to eat 2 pieces of pizza instead of one, which is way too much.