All pizza is not created equal. There's the kind you buy in the frozen food section, the kind you have delivered to your door, the kind you eat at fast food joints, and the kind kids eat in school. I'm guessing these are the kinds of pizza that the researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago were referring to in the recent report that found pizza was on par with sugary drinks in its effect on childhood obesity.
The analysis, which originally appeared in the journal Pediatrics, relied on data from the National Heath and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) and reveals that because pizza is so widely consumed by children, it's a significant contributor to the obesity crisis. I'm not a scientist, or a nutritionist, and I don't disagree with the study's findings, but let's be clear about terminology before we malign another food and categorically demonize it.
It's not pizza in general that's to blame here. It's the packaged, processed, and preservative-laden kind, the poor quality and the ubiquity of it—the kind we shouldn't be buying or letting our children eat. The kind that really does a disservice to the term "pizza," because unlike soda, where there is no "good kind," there is in fact, good pizza. It's the homemade, wholesome, calorically controlled pizzas that we can and should be cooking for our families on a regular basis. The kind you make in mere minutes with actual ingredients (think fresh tomatoes and good quality cheese). Before pizza becomes the next mealtime pariah and we start boycotting one of the most beloved foods out there, let me offer up my personal pizza routine, which I also share in my new cookbook Truly Madly Pizza, for your consideration:
Every Sunday morning while the coffee is brewing I pull out the food processor along with five basic ingredients. Before the first cup is poured, I mix whole grain bread flour, yeast, sea salt, olive oil, and water together for about two minutes. Then I let it rise for another twenty while I sip said cup of coffee. After a total of thirty minutes (mostly inactive time) I freeze what will become two pizza crusts, knowing that I can thaw them during the week for homemade pizza dinners. Ridiculously easy, incredibly fast, and totally healthy; these are what I call "pizzas" and what we should be eating instead of that other stuff.
I don't have the percentages of sodium, or the exact fat and calorie counts of my homemade pizza versus the ones in the study, but I'm willing to bet that they aren't in the same universe. And while it may sound like it's asking a lot to make your own dough and then bake a pizza, I promise, beyond the obvious reward (a delicious, healthy meal), you'll also have the satisfaction of making a homemade dinner that everyone will love, even if it doesn't come in a sturdy white box. Maybe you'll even do it together as a family. Think about it: You can make a pizza tonight, one with real ingredients, one that tastes amazing, and one that actually contirbute to your family's health and well-being.
Suzanne Lenzer is a New York City-based food stylist, writer, and recipe developer and the author of the recently-released cookbook, Truly Madly Pizza. Visit her at www.suzannelenzer.com or pick up Truly Madly Pizza on Amazon.
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Image of family eating pizza courtesy of Shutterstock Book cover image courtesy of Suzanne Lenzer