Why Pizza Is NOT A Junk Food (Well, Not Always)

Posted on Jan 21 2010 - 2:57pm by Christine

If you ask someone to make a list of ‘junk’ food, invariably pizza will be included on that list. But labelling pizza as an unhealthy food is doing a great disservice to a dish that can be very nutritious, easy to prepare and – perhaps most importantly – a big hit with children!

Today’s post shows you how to prepare healthy pizzas that your baby and the rest of the family will enjoy.

Why pizza is not a junk food

Why are pizzas considered a ‘junk’ food?

Commercially prepared pizzas – either those available in pizza restaurants, for delivery, or those designed for cooking at home – are often high in salt and fat. They may also contain undesirable additives, including colourings and preservatives. Their reputation as a ‘junk food’ is often richly deserved, as they offer little in the way of nutritional value.

Homemade pizzas, on the other hand, can be highly nutritious, combining many elements of a ‘complete’ meal in tasty, child-friendly way.

Just look at the various components of a typical pizza and see how you can make yours as healthily as possible…

The pizza base or dough

Many commercial pizza bases are prepared by making a dough with white flour, then placing that dough into a pan containing oil. This pan is placed in the oven, where the dough effectively ‘fries’ in the oil. Yes, this gives a base with a crispy outside and a soft centre – but it’s also the reason that pizza tends to leave a greasy puddle on your plate!

So how can you make a HEALTHY pizza base?

The best option is to make your dough with a whole grain flour instead of white (here’s our simple recipe for a whole wheat pizza dough). Once prepared, the base can be topped with the ingredients of your choice then placed on a baking sheet – no need to sit it in a pan of oil.

Another option is to make an extra-healthy dough using veggies! We have a simple recipe for a sweet potato pizza base on our Sweet Potato Baby Food Recipes page, along with a lovely photograph of the dish as prepared by a visitor to our site. Our children LOVE this recipe!

But if you don’t have time to prepare your own pizza dough, there are other healthy alternatives. Try using a whole grain flat bread, whole grain tortilla wraps (we use three at a time, as one is too thin) or whole grain pita.

Pizza sauce

Making a healthy sauce to spread on the base of your homemade pizza can be as simple as cooking chopped, fresh tomatoes in a little olive oil and adding a pinch of chopped fresh herbs. We sometimes use tomato puree, which – even though it’s made from processed tomatoes – offers its own nutritional benefits to the dish (processed tomatoes have been shown to be particularly high in lycopenes, anti-oxidants which help protect against cancer and heart disease).

Some parents prefer not to offer tomatoes to their little ones until later in their first year – the acidity of tomatoes can sometimes cause diaper rash (nappy rash).

You can learn more about giving your baby tomatoes here.

But there’s no rule that says pizzas HAVE to contain tomato sauce – if you want to avoid it, then you can simply spread your pizza base with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (and maybe even some garlic powder or crushed garlic). You could also try using a white or cheese sauce, cream cheese – or try the favourite of one our little ones and spread the base with a layer of ricotta cheese.

The cheese

Cheese and other dairy products made with WHOLE milk as opposed to skim (skimmed) milk are recommended for the first two years of baby’s life (here’s why babies need whole milk and fats). Once your child is at least two years of age, try using a reduced fat cheese instead.

For a richer cheese flavour, mix some Cheddar with your mozzarella but don’t use JUST Cheddar – the flavour may be too strong for your baby and the texture of melted Cheddar isn’t ideal for pizza. Mozzarella is nice and stretchy when melted, which is why it’s a popular choose in pizza preparation. Using mozzarella as a base, you can – of course – add whatever cheeses you like (learn more about safe cheeses for baby).

Pizza toppings

One of the worst components in most ready-made pizza is the meat! It tends to be particularly high in salt and fat and is often mixed with other ingredients during processing.

But your healthy, homemade pizza (of course) won’t contain these processed meats!

We recommend avoiding meats like pepperoni, bacon, ham etc in your baby food recipes altogether, because of their high salt content (here’s why salt should be avoided).  Instead, you can add chopped, cooked, UNprocessed meat to your pizza – lean ground beef, for example, or chicken breast.

Always cook meat before using it to top your pizza, as the cooking time for pizza is not long enough to allow the meat to cook properly.

Fish can make another nice addition to your homemade pizza – we sometimes like to use canned tuna (or cooked, fresh tuna if we can get it), but small pieces of any cooked fish would work equally well.

Your choice of vegetable toppings is enormous…

You really can add anything your baby enjoys (or even things that he doesn’t!).  If you chop the veggies fairly small, then you can get away with ‘hiding’ those that you usually have difficulty in persuading your baby to eat.

Some vegetables can be added raw, as they will soften and cook in the cheese, particularly if they’ve been cut into very small pieces.

We tend to lightly steam vegetables like broccoli and green beans before adding them to the pizza, otherwise they tend to be a little too crispy for baby when the pizza is cooked.

Other vegetable toppings for baby could include lightly steamed eggplant (aubergine), mushrooms, diced onions, peas, bell peppers, sweetcorn, yellow squash and zucchini.

To summarize…

Our homemade pizza consists of…

  • A whole grain crust, or one made with vegetables such as sweet potato
  • A sauce made with fresh tomatoes or a lycopene-rich tomato puree
  • Calcium-rich cheese
  • Protein-rich lean meat or fish
  • Fresh veggies, supplying a range of vitamins and minerals

So no junk food here… just a tasty and nutritious meal that the little ones in your family (and the big ones!) will all enjoy!

Do YOU enjoy making pizza for your family? Are there any weird and wonderful toppings that your baby really enjoys? What do YOU use as a base for your pizzas?

Please do share your tips and ideas by leaving a comment below!

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