Getting the family together for a pizza-making night is a great way to spend some fun time in the kitchen and learn about building a nutritious meal at the same time. There are lots of ways to improve on a white flour crust and top your pies with more than just gooey cheese. Encourage your kids to try new flavour combinations and maybe even some veggies they’ve never tasted before. From crust to toppings and sauces in between, you can upgrade your pizza’s nutritional quotient from borderline junk food to a meal filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats.
An average slice of plain cheese pizza has about 272 calories, 9.8 grams of fat, less than two grams of fibre and a whopping 551 mg of sodium and 22 mg of cholesterol. An average slice of pepperoni pizza has 298 calories, 12 grams of fat, 1.6 grams of fibre and 683 mg of sodium and 29 mg of cholesterol. The daily recommended sodium intake for adults and kids ages nine and up is 1,500 mg on the low end, up to 2,300 mg maximum. Factor in pizza sauce which also typically has a high sodium content and you have one salty, high-fat, high-calorie, low fibre meal. Eating about three slices of cheese and two slices of pepperoni pizza will max out your daily sodium allowance right there. Pizza can still be a “fun” food, even if you do tweak the ingredients to make healthier versions.
Let’s Start With the Crust
A white flour or whole wheat crust makes a stable base for sauces and toppings but if you want to build a better homemade pizza, why not think outside the box? This recipe for a quinoa pizza crust is tasty and dense enough to withstand heavy sauces and layers of toppings.
Quinoa Pizza Crust:
1/2 cup quinoa
21/4 cups of water, divided
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
non stick spray
Mix quinoa in a bowl with two cups of water and let soak for a minimum of four hours, or overnight for at least eight hours for best results. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, spray an 8-inch cake pan or pie plate with nonstick spray and heat in the oven while it’s warming. Drain quinoa, rinse, and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup fresh water and pulse until quinoa is the consistency of thick pancake batter. If you want to boost your Omega 3 quotient, throw in a couple tablespoons of ground flax meal or chia seeds. Add seasoning, salt and more water if batter is too thick.
Pour batter into preheated pan and spread out quickly to an even thickness. Bake 10 minutes, flip, and put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes until browned. Make a few smaller crusts for smaller hands!
By the way, half a cup of cooked quinoa comes in at about 111 calories, 8 to 13 grams of fibre, 2 grams of fat and a low 6 grams of sodium.
Add Value to Your Sauce
While most store-bought pizza sauces fit perfectly within nutritional guidelines (with the exception of high sodium content), there are ways to make them better, but a bit of sneakiness is involved. You can always start with a low-sodium tomato sauce and add your own vegetables. The trick, of course, is to puree cooked vegetables or even use low-sodium pureed baby food and add it to your sauce. I find that keeping a few jars handy in my pantry is a quick and easy way to add nutrients to foods I’m cooking and nobody in my family knows the difference! Squash, peas, broccoli, carrots, yams, or a prepared mix of a few complimentary tastes stirred into a basic low-sodium tomato or pizza sauce will add a whole host of vitamins, minerals and fibre to every bite.
Toppings Can be Tricky
If your family is already used to prepared meats like salami, pepperoni, bacon and ham you may have a bit of a challenge convincing them to do without. There are some very tasty substitutes you can try, though. Veggie or soy pepperoni can sometimes pass for the real thing depending on how observant your children’s taste buds are. Just brush the tops with a bit of olive oil to get that nice crispy texture.
Chopped vegetables can steal the show when it comes to pizza toppings. Colours, textures and flavours scattered across the surface of your pie can create a flavour rainbow in every bite. Sliced tomatoes, red, green or yellow peppers, mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts, roasted asparagus and onions add flavour and nutrients. The more you pile on, the healthier your pizza!
Pizza night at our house can get a bit crazy. I like to leave out ingredients for everyone to pick and choose from and usually group them according to an international theme or taste. Here are some examples.
Mexican Fiesta Pizza
Start with a quinoa crust, spread a thin layer of pureed salsa (my kids don’t like chunks of tomato and onion), followed by another thinly spread layer of refried beans. Top with cubed chicken (or lean ground bison) cooked with taco seasoning and finish with a sparse sprinkling of shredded nacho cheese. Heat up in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
While you’re exploring world cuisine, why not try Thai or Chinese themed ingredients that might include bean sprouts, peppers, flavour-infused chicken or ground pork and crispy noodles? Anything goes!
Summer Barbeque Pizza
Take your quinoa crust and spread a thin layer of low-sodium barbecue sauce around the surface, top with chicken grilled on the barbeque, chopped red onion, cooked corn and your choice of cheese. Throw your completed pizza back on the grill to heat up your ingredients and melt the cheese.
Out of the Box Veggie
If you’re getting tired of your standard veggie toppings, why not try something out of the ordinary? I randomly roast sweet potatoes once or twice a week and keep them in the fridge to throw into almost any meal. Rub coconut oil on the outside of a sweet potato, pierce with a fork and bake at about 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes or until soft when poked with a knife. Remove, peel, let cool and slice to put onto your pizza. On a quinoa crust, spread your tomato and veggie infused sauce (add some pureed garlic for extra flavour and immune boosting powers), top with sliced sweet potato and one-and-a-half cups of chopped kale tossed in one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Spread over pizza (the kale will shrink down as it bakes) and cook in a 475 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until kale is crispy but not burned. You can even get away without using cheese for this one!
By keeping your pizza ingredients low sodium, low fat and veggie and protein based, you can rest assured that whatever combinations you and your family come up with, a healthy meal will be had by all.