Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kids Make Healthy White Pizza

My wife thought the work I was doing teaching nutrition labeling to the kids in my "food appreciation" classes was so important I should do more. So we designed another lesson around pizza.

Last week among the processed foods we examined was a DiGiorno "Rising Crust Supreme" pizza. We were impressed not only with the mile-long ingredient list--obviously constructed in a lab somewhere off the New Jersey Turnpike--but the fat and sodium content.

The pizza weighs in at a few ounces more than two pounds, which puts a single serving size--one-sixth of the pie--at more than five ounces. That one slice contains 370 calories--140 from fat--fully 6 grams of saturated fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1,000 milligrams of sodium. These figures are even more staggering when you consider that the pizza slice in question could very well end up in the hands of a child. (Hint: you might want to cut that slice in half to make a child-sized portion.)

My mission was to construct a pizza with much lower values, write up the results and present them side-by-side with the DiGiorno figures for the kids to analyze. Then we would go right ahead and put some of the healthier pizzas in the oven for a taste test.

What I used for this experiment was our tried-and-true pizza dough recipe, calling for 2 cups each of bread flour and white whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine table salt, yeast (one packet, or 2 1/4 teaspoons), 1 3/4 cups water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. This dough, which we normally mix in the Cuisinart at home, but assembled by hand at school, will make four thin-crusted, medium-sized pies.

For the topping, I prescribed for each pie about 2 cups (or a little less) of cooked broccoli spears, about 2 ounces grated fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil and a good dusting of Parmesan cheese.

It took me about an hour to tease out the nutrition values for this pizza, and these did come in a good deal lighter than DiGiorno. Granted, a slice of my pizza probably weighed less than the competition and therefore might be less filling. This is a pretty inexact comparison. But that's partly the point: When you make your own, you have complete control over the ingredients. Compared to the DiGiorno pizza, a child could probably have two slices of our pizza without overindulging.

Here were the nutrition values for one slice: 117 calories, 30 of them from fat. Three grams of fat, compared to 15, with 1.5 grams saturated, or one-fourth the DiGiorno. My pizza had somewhat less than one-fourth the cholesterol, and just 17 percent of the sodium (it's mind boggling how much salt is in the processed brand). The two pizzas had equal amounts of dietary fiber: 3 grams.

It became very clear to the kids that pizza dough is calorie-dense, no matter what kind of flour you use. And you're bound to end up with some fat if you put cheese on the pie. But they also learned that you can do without the meat and thus reduce some of the saturated fat, and that industrial pizza for some reason comes with a truckload of sodium.

Finally, our pizza had just six easily-recognized ingredients--definitely not the chemistry experiment you get in the frozen food section.

So while they pounded away on the dough, I used the batch I'd made at home to start constructing pies. Some of the kids laid on the broccoli, I grated the cheese, and within minutes we had some great pizza fresh from the oven, all warm and yeasty and made by us from scratch.


sugarcreekfarm said...

So what were the results of the taste test? Did they like it better than frozen or take-out pizzas? I make pizza about once a week (fall, winter and spring, anyway - too hot in the summer.) If I don't, the family complains. They like the homemade best.

Melinda said...

What an awesome lesson!

I would add that when you make pizza at home, you can use a low-fat, organic, local (or homemade) mozzarella, versus some of the crazy cheeses they put on the store-bought crusts & pizzas.

P.S. How did you figure out the nutrition values of your crust, by the way?

Matt said...

Way to go Ed! You are teaching them some valuable lessons! Keep it up!

Ona said...

I also teach cooking and nutrition classes to kids, and as you found pizza is always a hit!

We like to teach recipes that kids could make at home and on a budget. So instead of making the dough, we use whole wheat English muffins or whole wheat pita. It comes out the best with the pita... nice and crispy! The kids always love it... as do the adults. :)

Joanna said...

Fabulous ... I like that you are stretching the horizon by making a white pizza. And I am really interested in the work you are doing on nutritional guidelines v listed ingredients


Ed Bruske said...

Kelli, the kids loved the broccoli pizza we made from scratch. We did not unthaw the DiGiorno pizza. I wouldn't make the kids eat that stuff. I gave it to the teachers.

Melinda, it's true. There are low-fat mozzarella cheeses out there. I almost went for one of those. Then thought, what the heck. The kids are still young. They should taste the real thing. Nutrition values for the crust came right off the "nutrition facts" on the bag of flour.

Matt, I have to say the nutrition classes are probably more fun for me than they are for the kids. They get bored quickly looking at labels, but I think making the food brings the message home.

Ona, it's so great to hear from another nutrition instructor. I think your approach is perfectly valid. But I made a decision some time ago that I was going to teach kids how to make the same food adults eat. I also want them to learn about ancient methods, such as using yeast to make dough rise.

Joanna, I have to confess: I much prefer white pizza to the one with tomato sauce on it. I think you get much clearer flavors on a crust that isn't complicated with all kinds of sauces.