How to make pizza healthy

Hands rolling out pizza dough

Most pizza is ultra-processed – and we should eat less of this type of food. But if you make your own, it can be a much healthier choice and the possibilities are endless.

Pizza. It’s an ever-popular meal choice, especially in my house where my children love to make them.

However, not every pizza is good for our health, especially shop-bought ones which can be high in salt, fat, especially saturated fat (a type of fat we should eat less of) and can also contain added sugar. You can’t always be sure exactly what goes into making them, from the base and tomato sauce to processed meat toppings. Many ready-made pizzas are considered overly processed – what is now commonly referred to as an ultra-processed food.

Recent research, co-funded by World Cancer Research Fund, found that eating these types of food could increase the risk of cancer. As ultra-processed foods can often be high in calories, regularly eating them can lead to weight gain – and living with overweight or obesity can increase the risk of at least 13 cancers. It’s also easy for children and adults to eat too much pizza: a whole pizza isn’t meant for 1, it’s actually a meal for 2 or more people.

But let’s not take all the joy out of eating pizza. This is where homemade pizza comes in. It can not only be healthy but is also a great way to incorporate vegetables – and even fruit – into your meal – and that of your children. Eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains like brown rice, and pulses such as beans can help you stay a healthy weight and protect against certain cancers.

How to make pizza with children (or adults!)

I have 2 young children and they love pizza – what a surprise. So, a regular activity in our kitchen is making pizza.

Pizza base – making shapes

Cooking with kids can be messy so be prepared, especially if making your own pizza dough – which can be fun! Why not try this whole wheat version?

However, with the attention span of two under 5s, we usually use a wholemeal wrap or pitta bread as a base. The kids often want to cut out shapes using big biscuit cutters – a heart is an all-time favourite.

Let each child have their own pizza.

> How to make tortilla pizza

Toppings – teach the family about healthy eating

Pizza toppings including tomatoes and mushrooms
Photograph by Isabel Cruces

What I love about homemade pizza is that you can really choose what toppings you want. And that’s where it works so well with children (and adults). It gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own meal – while giving you control to fill those bowls up with healthy ingredients.

Fill small bowls with different ingredients, some well-known favourites and 1 or 2 new ones. Let children choose which ingredients they want to add to their pizza – let them be creative (and messy). But subtly encourage them to try to taste one of the new ingredients and add a small amount to a section of their pizza. I find that my children tend to be a little more adventurous when they feel they have made the decision themselves to try something new.

For the tomato base I always use tomato puree – it’s cheap and packed full of flavour. It’s also easy for children to spread on with the back of a spoon. Then they can just sprinkle some dried herbs – we usually use oregano or thyme.

Easy pizza toppings to try

  • Tuna
  • Asparagus tips
  • Pineapple
  • Sweetcorn
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Thinly sliced onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Roasted garlic
  • Different cheeses – from mozzarella to cheddar
  • Broccoli
  • Leftovers like roast veg or chicken

For older or more adventurous children why not incorporate some spicy options – it’s a great way to introduce them to these flavours without it being overpowering. Try adding paprika or even a few chilli flakes.

Adults enjoy pizza too

Tortilla pizza
Now we adults enjoy pizzas as much as any child. So below are a few extra topping ideas – some better-known and others a little outside the (pizza) box. Your children might like to try some of these too!

Toppings with a twist

  • Pesto: instead of tomato sauce, try using basil or parsley pesto as the base for your pizza – especially during the summer when these are in season.
  • Fruit: pineapple, mango, figs, grapes or apples can add a sweet and tangy flavour to your pizza.
  • Seafood: tinned fish like tuna or salmon, prawns (defrosted), tinned or fresh crab, and smoked salmon are great options for a seafood pizza.
  • Eggs: crack an egg on top of your pizza before baking for a unique twist and some added protein.
  • Root vegetables: roasted sweet potatoes or turnips (thinly sliced or in chunks) can give a sweet, earthy flavour.
  • Vegetables: why not add some more greens to your pizza to help hit your 5 A DAY such as artichoke hearts, roasted butternut squash, spinach and rocket (add to cooked pizza).
  • Salty flavour: add capers, sliced olives or anchovies to bring a saltiness without the need to add salt to your pizza. They will also add some extra flavour you might feel you’re missing by not using processed meat.
  • Herbs and spices: from basil, parsley and thyme to paprika, ginger and fennel seeds you can try anything that’s in your cupboard.

These are just a few examples of pizza toppings you can try because the possibilities are endless.

Whether you decide to create a classic margherita with just tomato sauce, cheese and fresh basil, or go for a unique twist with unexpected ingredients like mango or goats cheese – with a homemade pizza the choice really is yours.

> Does pizza count as 1 of your 5 A DAY?