Healthy Recipe Essentials: Pizza

by in Healthy Recipes, April 25, 2011
Pizza With Fresh Tomatoes and Basil
Making your own pizza is easy -- here are the basics.

This week we’re celebrating Italian food on Healthy Eats! See all our Italian food coverage here.

This budget-friendly dish can make a perfectly-balanced, healthy meal if you skip the takeout and make your own pie.  Don’t worry, it’s easy! Once you’re in the pizza-making groove, it becomes a culinary adventure to try new flavor combinations. Here are the basic steps to get started.

Pizza Basics
We’re talking about homemade pizza, baby! No take out, fast food delivery or frozen kinds. The first step in making a pizza is deciding about the dough. You can make your own, buy fresh dough at your local market or pick some up at your favorite pizzeria. If you’re looking to up your fiber, choose the whole wheat variety.

If the dough is frozen, make sure to place in fridge the night before. For refrigerated dough, let it stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before making your pie. Roll out to about 1 inch thick, and then add the goodies.

The Cheese
If you’ve never made pizza before, start with shredded part-skim mozzarella. To save money and have a better-quality pizza, purchase a chunk and shred at home (pre-shredded costs more and gets dried out in the bag.) Other cheeses to try include Parmesan, provolone, cheddar, Monterey jack and Asiago (or a combination of a few). Harder cheeses tend to be higher in fat, but they’re also high in flavor, so a little goes a long way.

The Veggies (or Fruit!)
The options are endless….broccoli, olives, onions, peppers, fresh tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, leeks, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes. These ingredients run around 25 calories per half cup, so don’t be afraid to go heavier on the veggies. If you’re looking to try something different, add some fruit! A Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and ham is traditional, but peaches, apricots, sliced apples or fresh grapes can also be super-delicious.

The Sauce
Jarred sauces typically contain a laundry list of additives, but healthier choices exist. Check out our recent taste test to see our top picks. You can also opt to make your own tomato sauce. To save time, make a double or triple batch ahead of time and store in the freezer. Pesto sauce is another sauce option or you can always go sauce-less.

The Extras
Here’s where you really need to pay attention. Chicken, meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, ham and all those meaty goodies can rack up the calories quickly. Some lighter options include chicken breast, turkey sausage or lightened up meatballs (use our tips to make a healthier version). If you’re opting for the higher calorie extras, then do so occasionally and add small amounts per serving.

Suggested Flavor Combinations
If you’ve done the basic Margherita (mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil), here are some other combos to try:

  • Eggplant, drained sun-dried tomato, provolone, part-skim mozzarella, fresh basil
  • Roasted pumpkin chunks, sliced pear, gorgonzola, fresh rosemary
  • Chicken breast, barbecue sauce, shredded part-skim mozzarella, green onions
  • Bell peppers (various colors), red onion, feta cheese
  • Onion, mushroom, green pepper, black olives, part-skim mozzarella
  • Roasted butternut squash, kale, provolone, ricotta
  • Fresh tomatoes, feta, kalamata olives
  • Asparagus, prosciutto, dried figs, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Recipes to Try:

TELL US: What’s your favorite pizza topping?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (15)

  1. Guest says:

    I got a pizza stone for Christmas and ever since I have been making pizza at least once a week. I make my own dough and often top with a variety of veggies like red pepper, broccoli, grape tomatoes, basil, etc. Not only is homemade pizza healthier, it also tastes way better!

  2. Katie says:

    Great tips! I usually make my own dough, but Whole Foods also sells a yummy ball of fresh dough at their pizza counter. If you buy the dough pre-made, you can throw together a tasty, healthful pizza in under half an hour!

  3. Brooke says:

    Nice overview of healty homemade pizza ingrediants. I think it would be nice to have included some information about preparing and cooking homemade pizzas, too.

  4. Joelle says:

    Can anyone tell me how to make whole wheat pizza dough or name somewhere I can buy it?

    • cynoff says:

      This is a recipe I use with my Kitchen Aid mixer but you could knead by hand: 1 pkg Active Dry Yeast, 1 c. Warm Water (105-115 degrees),1/2 tsp Salt, 1 Tbs Olive Oil, 1 Tbs Honey, 2 c. Wheat Flour, 1-1/2 c. White Flour, 1 Tbs. Dough Enhancer. Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add salt, olive oil, honey, wheat flour, and dough enhancer. Turn to Speed 2 and mix about 1 minute. Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down dough and transfer to a floured board and knead briefly. Divide dough into 4 equal portions and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls of dough, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Bring the dough to room temperature before proceeding. On a floured board roll and stretch each piece of dough into a 7-8 inch circle. Place each circle on a wooden pizza peel or pizza (use corn meal so it doesn't stick) and top as desired. Terrific on the grill! There are lots of recipes on the internet but another good one is on a website called Ciao Italia. Go to She has a good video and uses a "sponge" to start her dough. Very good and quicker than mine but my husband feels it has a slight sour taste…I thought it was good. It also helps with wheat pizza crust to bake it with a little olive oil and parm cheese for about 5-8 minutes at 450 and then top it and baking another 10-15 minutes.

  5. Cecilia says:

    I think I have seen it at Trader Joe's

  6. Jenny says:

    Wow, looks simple and delicious.

  7. @mivesta says:

    I've also used the Fleischmann's quick pizza dough yeast.. doesn't taste as good as the old-fashioned way, but you can have fresh homemade pizza dough ready in about 10 minutes.

    Also found out (as posted on Twitter tonight) that my kids love fresh spinach as a pizza topping, though they wouldn't eat regular cooked spinach for a million bucks.

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  10. hair weaves says:

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