Pizza night, the savior of quick family dinner night. At our peak of needing the pizza night rescue, we were ordering it two and sometimes three nights a week. I know. Don't judge me. However, when ordering it out, it's not the healthy food we desire to feed our families. Quick dinner requiring little effort? Yes. Is it a healthy dinner? A very large majority of time, no. I get it though because it's hands off. You dial a number or push a few buttons on a app, and in thirty to sixty minutes dinner is at your front door. Meanwhile, you've helped the kiddos finish up homework and they're bathed. Successful evening so it seems. Although, the pizza delivered to our doors is typically high in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. It's not the healthy food that we want our little ones to grow accustomed to eating. Definitely not a dinner that we want to eat several days per week.
It's a Monday evening. I am unexpectedly working late. My husband sends me a text with a frantic undertone asking what we should do for dinner. Why the panic, you ask? Well, prior to us changing our diets to consume more whole, plant-based foods, my husband did most of the cooking. By the way, those days were awesome. However, when we transitioned into healthier eating, he was overwhelmed with learning new dishes to cook and passed the buck to me. His apprehension came from not knowing what was considered healthy and not knowing how to cook it. He was immediately turned off by the necessary Google search at the time to get even an idea of what to cook for dinner. Needless to say, if I'm still at work, at this time in our transition, he's standing in the pantry or in front of the fridge with his shoulders shrugged and hands up. Then comes the text to me. I'd say about fifty percent of the time, I would not see the text until some time later. By that time, I could likely check my email and see an order confirmation from a national pizza chain. This day, I did, indeed, miss my opportunity to offer a dinner suggestion, which usually did not make much difference because it was usually followed by the frustration of not knowing what was needed to make it or how to make it the way I did. With that, also on this particular day, I did, in fact, have a pizza order confirmation email. However, I arrived home before the pizza. It's around 7:30pm, so I'm met at the door with eager kiddos giving me hugs and asking what's for dinner. I inform them that daddy ordered pizza, and what comes next is so embarrassing. "Ugh! Again!" We ordered pizza SO much that even the kids were sick and tired of it. To get kids sick and tired of pizza is a huge feat, but we accomplished it. Not a proud parenting moment, needless to say.
Once I made the decision to change our diets to more whole, plant-based foods, the nights of ordering pizza in immediately became less frequent. Now we do not order pizza unless it's for a special occasion, like a party or get-together we're hosting at our house. Takeout pizza became what it should have been all along for us, a treat, instead of regular part of our diets. I don't beat myself up over it, however. We were doing the best we knew how to do at that point of our lives. Then, we learned better, so we did better. Pizza, however, did not have to leave our regular dinner plates. We just needed a better way to consume it. With that, we developed our own family pizza nights. They don't happen on a regular day of the week because we just can't stick to that, but when we decide to have a pizza night, this is how we do it.
1. Use your favorite whole grain pizza dough recipe, if gluten free, there are several options available as well. When selecting a recipe to try, look for ease and the use of primarily whole food ingredients. If you find a recipe that's complicated and takes a significant amount of time, it will become a deterrent for making pizza at home. Preheat the oven according to recipe instructions. I also like to make think crusts and pre-bake my dough for around 7 minutes at 450 degrees F, can vary, to give it a nice texture.
2. Chop up your favorite veggies. Get creative and have fun here. You put what you want on your pizza. We focus on mostly veggies, but I have one kid that just loves having mostly sauce, and she just sprinkles veggies. I have a couple of kids that still enjoy adding some cheese, and we let them. One of those kids also likes adding chicken to his pizza. I used to make one or two big pizzas for us to share, then I started making mini- pizzas that everyone can top themselves, HUGE hit.
3. Once your dough pre-bakes for a few minutes, top it with a pizza sauce that contains no added sugar and mostly, if not all, whole food ingredients. We use Rao's Homemade Pizza Sauce. Next, having all the ingredients easily accessible, allow each household member to top a pizza or two to their liking. One kid has fun making dough into different shapes (my gluten-free kiddo, we use Simple Mills Artisan Bread Mix for her dough). They all have fun adding their toppings. We've had some movie characters and mythical creatures made of pizza dough or with the toppings.
4. Last step is to bake your pizzas until veggies are tender but not mushy, and if there's cheese, until it's melted. We use large pizza baking pan and cook 3 to 4 pizzas at a time on it.
- Have toppings organized into separate dishes for colorful and enticing array of options.
- Put the pizza sauce in a dish with a spoon so the kids can easily scoop and apply it themselves.
- Allow as much autonomy as possible. It's fun for the kids because they get to be in charge of what they're eating all the while it's directed by you since your providing the toppings. Win-win in my book.
- I roll the dough on parchment paper and also bake it all on parchment paper for super easy clean up.
- Allow the kids who are interested to assist in preparing the ingredients and dough. Obviously, safety and skill are the presiding factors here.
By allowing the kids to participate, it becomes family time together. You are creating memories and spending precious time together. The more you all do it together, the more efficient you become in preparing ingredients, making less of timely task. Making dough can be super fast and easy. You'll become faster at cutting veggies the more often you cook. Pizza can be a veggie vessel and a great way to spend time with your family. By preparing it at home, it also becomes a healthy meal and a more cost effective meal.
Always striving to help,
If looking for help in the transition to healthier lifestyle with whole food, plant-based eating, check out www.getfitward.com