Being the parent of a picky eater can be stressful. You want to make sure that the food you put on their plates is nutritious, but you also want them to actually eat the food in front of them. And you may find yourself giving them junk food just so that they'll eat something. But one food that's often considered junk food – pizza – may actually be your child's gateway to better eating. Take a look at a few ways that you can use pizza to expand your picky eater's palate.
As "junk foods" go, pizza isn't really that bad. Your basic plain cheese pizza has grains (the crust), dairy (the cheese), and vegetables (tomato sauce). Add a meat topping and you've basically got a balanced meal. However, pepperoni, the most common meat topping, is high in fat and sodium and lowers the overall nutritional value of the meal.
If your child is getting enough protein from other sources, you could skip the meat altogether and stick with a plain cheese pizza. But if you want them to eat meat, you can try substituting some healthier alternatives to regular pepperoni.
Turkey pepperoni or sausage looks and tastes similar enough to regular pepperoni or sausage that your child probably won't notice the difference, but the turkey-based meats are much lower in saturated fat and sodium. Canadian bacon, while still high in sodium, is also considerably lower in fat and high in protein and iron, and the taste is similar enough to pepperoni or ham that a child who likes those toppings may also like Canadian bacon. And grilled chicken is a good source of protein, zinc, and potassium, and its mild flavor is appealing enough to most kids.
Sure, there are tomatoes in the sauce, but you probably want your child to get more vegetables than that in their diet. On a pizza, you may be able to sneak these vegetables in without your child really noticing.
One option is to simply hide the veggies under the cheese, rather than putting them on top of the cheese. For some children, this may be enough. They may turn up their nose at vegetables they can see, but once they get a taste and enjoy it, they're happy to keep eating.
However, some children may be bothered by the texture of the vegetables if they bite into a pizza slice and discover vegetables unexpectedly. You can get around this by making your own pizza sauce and blending the vegetables you want them to eat into the sauce. You can add spinach, mushrooms, onions, peppers, or almost anything else – if they're blended into the sauce, your child probably won't notice the difference.
While your tweaking your pizza orders or recipes to make them healthier, don't forget the crust. The traditional pizza crust is made with white flour, but many pizza restaurants today also offer a whole wheat crust. Whole wheat flour retains more vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats than white flour.
You might also consider ordering a thin crust to cut down on the overall carbs and calories. If you're making your own pizza at home, you can skip the flour entirely in favor of a cauliflower pizza crust, which is lower in calories and gives your child some extra veggies.
Parenting a picky eater is definitely a challenge that requires some creativity. Pizza offers some great opportunities for you to use that creativity in ways that your child will find appealing. Talk with local pizza restaurants, such as Tony & Joe's Pizzeria, for more ideas on how to make pizza healthier.