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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Test in Meal Conversions: Pizza

A few weeks back, I did a post where I explained that it's often possible to take a food that is traditionally unhealthy and/or fattening, and make a homemade version that is healthier and has reduced fat or saturated content. In my first post, I made a low fat and healthy chicken salad, saving hundreds of calories over a comparable sandwich from the local store. I thought now might be a good time to share another meal conversion I enjoy making, this time for a bit more of a decadent item - pizza!

The pizza we're going to use for comparative purposes is a Sbarro Chicken Vegetable pizza. Since my pizza will use chicken and vegetables, I wanted to choose something as similar as possible, but be aware that my recipe will save you even MORE calories and saturated fat over a pizza that uses red meat, like a supreme pizza.

Sbarro Chicken Vegetable Pizza Nutrition Facts:

Serving Size 1 slice (280.0 g)
Calories 530
Calories from Fat 153
Total Fat 17.0g
Saturated Fat 8 g
Cholesterol 45mg
Sodium 1260mg
Total Carbohydrates 69.0g
Dietary Fiber 5.0g
Protein 24.0g

Now let's make a healthier version at home. We're going to make a southwestern-flavored pizza with chicken and vegetables.

First, instead of using pizza dough or a pizza crust, I'm making my pizza on a wrap. For this recipe, I'm using a Flat Out multi-grain wrap, but you can certainly use whatever brand you like. The key is to make sure you don't overdo it on the size. The wrap I'm using is only 53 grams in weight. Compare that to a Mission 12" tortilla, at 104 grams, and you'll see that portion size is important! Whole wheat is ideal, but sometimes the whole wheat varieties are much higher in sodium, so weigh all factors when choosing your wrap. As an alternative, if you want to make your own crust, a healthy alternative is this spelt pizza crust recipe I found on another blog.

Next, we're going to saute some vegetables: mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, and red peppers. You can use whatever vegetables you enjoy best. If you have some scallions, I recommend throwing those in as well! In the picture I included above, I've used carrots instead of red peppers. But veggies are veggies! Use what you like. I throw mine on a nonstick griddle and cook them without any butter or oil. You can also cook them in a wok.

Now it's time for the chicken. If you're like me, you typically will make a batch of chicken over the weekend, and then reuse it throughout the week. In this case, I have a number of grilled chicken breasts. So, let's take one of those, slice it into pieces until we've used up about half the breast (3 oz or 85 grams), and throw it on the griddle to warm it up and give it a little crispiness on the outside. If you're a vegetarian, black beans might be a good alternative to chicken, since this pizza has a bit of southwestern flair.

Put your wrap on a baking stone or cookie sheet, and spread it with about 2TB of your favorite salsa (mine is made by restaurant On the Border, and has a good kick to it!). Why do I use salsa instead of pizza sauce? Well, I've found that pizza sauce is usually filled with a ton of sugar and sodium. Salsa is just as tasty (if not more so), and is healthier to boot!

Top the wrap with your chicken and vegetables. Then take about 1 ounce (28 grams) of grated part-skim mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle it over top. Don't go overboard with the cheese, as even part-skim is calorie dense. You can substitute a mexican blend of cheeses, or if you're a vegan, just skip the cheese all together!

Put the wrap into the oven, warmed up to about 400 degrees. Now is the hard part - watch it closely! Wraps will crisp up quite quickly and you don't want yours to scorch. The idea is to get it crisp and melt the cheese without burning the sides. So turn on the oven light and watch it the whole time. Remove from the oven after about 5 minutes, or whenever it appears done.

I'll list our ingredients, and then the nutritional information, so that you can compare.

Skinless Grilled chicken - 1/2 breast (3oz, 86 grams)
1 Multi-Grain Wrap (53 grams)
2 TB Salsa (30 grams)
1 oz Part Skim Mozz Cheese (28 grams)
1/4 C Mushrooms (48 grams)
Half stalk Broccoli (57 grams)
1 C Spinach (21 grams)
1/2 Small red Peppers - 1/2 small (37 grams)

The total weight of the pizza ends up at 360 grams, which means it's actually 30% more food than the original. Keep that in mind and let's see how the nutritional facts stack up for my healthy pizza:

Calories: 367
Calories from fat: 103
Fat: 12 grams
Saturated fat: 5 grams
Cholesterol: 88 mg
Sodium: 785 mg
Carbohydrates: 27g
Dietary fiber: 10g
Sugars: 4g
Protein: 47g

Okay, so with a serving size that's 30% larger, I've reduced the calories, fat, and saturated fat by 30%. Sodium is high for a single meal, but still 40% less than the original. Using a wrap and ditching that sugary sauce drops the carbs by a whopping 60%! Meanwhile, we've nearly doubled both the fiber and protein.

If you want to make an even MORE dramatic change, use just a sprinkling of cheese or skip the cheese altogether. Do that, and the final product will have just 287 calories, 6 grams of fat, and only 1 gram of saturated fat.

Is there a meal you'd like me to convert from high fat and high calorie to healthy? Let me know your ideas and I'll use it in a future post.


  1. This is awesome. I have avoided pizza like a plague since starting TT.Looking forward to more recipe conversion!

    Hmm, how about the Burger King whopper? That is my cheat meal because I like BK Whopper Jr.(can't consume the regular). I have tried making the patty with 50% tofu and 50% ground meat..didn't count the calories though.

  2. Grace, thanks so much for the suggestion! Wow, that IS a challenge. I'll have to do some research and see what I can come up with that is both tasty and a major improvement over the whopper.

  3. Grace,

    Try grass fed beef. Very lean very juicy and tastes better than burgers made from supermarket meat in my experience.