Pizza and all its cheesy, gooey goodness is a crowd pleaser in most American homes—not to mention a mainstay of school lunch menus nationwide. The problem? According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, too much pizza may have a significant impact on the health of our children. Here’s what they found:
- One in five kids eats pizza every day as a meal or snack.
- On days when they eat pizza, children and teens consume an average of 157 more calories; 309 mg more sodium; and 4 g more saturated fat than on non-pizza days.
- When kids eat pizza, they typically eat a lot of it—accounting for more than 20% of their daily intake of calories. And, when it comes to the top source of calories in the diets of U.S. kids and teens, pizza is second only to grain- and carb-heavy desserts such as cake and cookies.
In addition, kids aren’t balancing out their diet with more healthful foods on non-pizza days, and the overall effect may be contributing to problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to study author Lisa Powell, “Given that pizza remains a highly prevalent part of children’s diet, we need to make healthy pizza the norm.”
Try these 5 simple tips for taking pizza night to a whole(some) new level!
- Prepare it at home. You may not be able to control what restaurants and food manufacturers put in their pizza, but preparing your own pie at home can go a long way toward improving the nutrient value.
- Swap out dough for flat bread. You can’t have pizza without something to put all those toppings on, but try a healthier flat bread base made with whole grains instead of carb-heavy dough.
- Add more fruits and veggies. Ease up on meats and cheeses, which may be high in sodium and unhealthy fats. Instead, add more low-sugar fruits and non-starchy veggies.
- Ditch the jar sauce. Jar sauces are typically high in sugar—often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup—and sodium. Try using a can of natural tomato purée instead.
Pair it with a salad. Pairing pizza night with a healthy salad can help reduce the amount of calories, sodium and unhealthy fats consumed. Plus, the fiber in the veggies can help kids feel satisfied so they don’t reach for another slice.