By Mary Parsons, MS, RD
This recent research that you’re talking about determined that pizza is a top contributor of calories in kids’ diets – actually more than any other food except for grain-based desserts like cookies or cake! It also revealed that when kids eat pizza, they generally consume more calories, saturated fat and sodium than when they don’t eat pizza. These findings show that we need to pay attention to how much pizza our kids are eating and whether it is providing too many calories for them to maintain a healthy weight.
These results tell us that from a public health standpoint, the extra calories in pizza are making a real contribution to childhood obesity. Excess weight is a widespread problem with serious health consequences, and when kids grow up developing unbalanced eating habits, it can be very difficult to overcome such habits later in life.
But this doesn’t mean that pizza should be off the menu! On the contrary, we see this as an opportunity to recognize what kids love to eat and to use that favorite food as a tool to introduce healthy ingredients.
- Starting with a whole grain crust. Swapping out the regular white crust for a whole wheat version adds fiber and important nutrients that help make pizza more of a balanced meal.
- Cutting back on cheese. Cheese is the biggest source of calories and saturated fat in pizza, and a big contributor to the sodium count, too. Kids may be accustomed to lots of gooey mozzarella, but they’ll learn that they can still enjoy the flavor of cheese without an overload of it. Many restaurants are now offering cheese-free vegan pizzas, and others are typically happy to accommodate special requests to go “light” on the cheese.
- Thinking outside the box for healthy toppings. Restaurants are making healthy eating fun by expanding their menus to include a variety of nutritious toppings. These days, you often have the option to pump up the protein with chicken breast rather than fattier meats like sausage, and to include more nutrition with a wide range of veggies – from artichoke to zucchini! The best healthy toppings are whichever ones your kids like best. Let them get creative and experiment – they’re more likely to try new things when they have a role in building their own healthy pizza from the ground up!