Lightened-Up Family Pizza Night

Who says pizza can’t be a healthy meal? Although a store-bought slice of cheese clocks in at about 400 calories, you can make a healthy pizza-centric meal that is loaded with vegetables, dairy and whole grains. These easy tips can help you make to-die-for pizza — that your whole family will love — each week.

Choose a Night
Theme nights are fun, make planning meals easier and get kids excited to eat. Sample theme nights include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday and Pizza Friday. If you schedule pizza night for Friday, it’s a way to help reduce food waste, as most anything, like leftovers or extra vegetables, can be a healthy pizza topper. Scheduling also gives you time to stock your fridge with pizza essentials such as dough and cheese, or whatever else you choose to be on your pizza. Once you choose the night, then you have a few more decisions on how you’re going to build the pizza. Have your kids chime in on how they would like to make it more of a family affair.

Dough
This is the perfect opportunity to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendations to make half your daily grains whole. You can make your own 100 percent whole-wheat pizza dough, purchase whole-grain pizza dough from your market or ask your local pizza maker for an order of whole-wheat dough. You can also whip up dough made from legumes, like chickpeas, or that’s gluten-free. Other out-of-the box dough options include whole-wheat naan bread, whole-wheat English muffins or whole-grain tortillas.

Cheese
Cheese is a good source of calcium, and it counts toward the three recommended daily servings of dairy. One half-cup of part-skim mozzarella contains 170 calories, 11.5 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 29 grams of protein, and it provides more than 40 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium. You don’t need to pile tons on the pizza, but sprinkle it throughout so you have that delicious cheesiness both kids and adults love.

If you want to try higher-fat cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar, Asiago or Monterey Jack, you need only a small amount because they’re so flavorful. Combine smaller amounts of higher-fat cheeses with lower-fat cheeses, like part-skim mozzarella, to keep calories in check.

Toppers
Vegetables should be your No. 1 topper. One-half cup of cooked vegetables contains 25 calories and provides a ton of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that help fight and prevent disease). To reduce household food waste, use leftover vegetables right from the fridge. You can also use precooked vegetables that may be left over from an earlier meal in the week.

Higher-calories toppers, like chicken, chili, pepperoni, sausage and ham, make the calories and sodium add up quickly. Use small amounts of these toppers on occasion, or opt for the lighter versions (think grilled chicken breast and turkey sausage).

Sauces
You can make your own sauce and freeze half for the following week, like in this pizza sauce recipe by Ree Drummond. You can also buy jarred sauces, which have evolved to contain fewer processed ingredients and less sodium (check the label).
You can think outside the box and use pesto, salsa, hummus, barbecue sauce, or garlic and oil as an alternate sauce.

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