I have asked my dear friend and fellow RD Jessica Maillet to be a guest blogger. Jess and I did our internship together at UCSF Medical Center and I watched her fall in love with the food of San Francisco. Her eyes light up when you talk about the farmer’s market. She is doing wonderful things in Massachusetts and I love reading her blog www.afeteforfood.com–check it out. Thanks Jess!!!

I’d like to thank Jae for letting me share my healthy pizza passion with her blog readers. I also practice as a Registered Dietitian and an ACSM-certified personal trainer. I believe that wellness originates from nourishing the body with whole foods that are grown close to home and are good, clean, and fair. I also believe in every day exercise that is enjoyable, stress-relieving, and utilizes that high-quality food energy for high performance! Please enjoy my musings on the topic of pizza, and check out my blog at www.afeteforfood.com. I can be reached at afeteforfood@gmail.com if you have questions. Happy eating!

Pizza is not usually touted as a “health food,” especially when its descriptors are “double cheesy-stuffed crust,” “Xtra cheese, Xtra large,” “bacon cheeseburger feast,” “meatzza,” “MEGA XL3,” and the best: “bread bowl pasta pizza.”

After all, what’s better than a wheel of cheese, topped with greasy commodity meats, atop layer(s) of chewy white bread?

(This screams spare tire.)

Unfortunately, you can see that pizza has gotten a bad rap. I have been determined to unravel the bad roll that pizza has received and take healthy pizza to a new level of acceptance.

Follow my 4-step process to create your own healthy, tasty, glammed-up pizza!

Step one: Create a crust canvas. This serves two purposes: one, you will be cooking yourself and NOT be ordering out at your greasy neighborhood pizza palace. Two, you can manipulate the type and thickness of the crust, which will influence the calories and flavor of the masterpiece you are about to create. Roll the crust very thin. I use a heavy (corked) bottle of red wine to iron the dough out into a somewhat circle. Don’t worry about recreating the perfect pizza circle. Homemade healthy pizza is supposed to look “rustic!”
• Good: Trader Joe’s white pizza dough crust
• Better: Trader Joe’s garlic herb pizza dough crust
• Best: Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough crust

Step two: Get saucy! Sauces can contain extra sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Choose a sauce with few ingredients.
• Good: Newman’s Own Marinara Sauce (still contains a small amount of sugar)
• Better: Newman’s Own Fire-Roasted Tomato and Garlic Sauce (no sugar)
• Best: A homemade creation with organic diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, and sundried tomatoes

Step three: Choose your cheese wisely. No need to break the bank in the cheese department. A little can go a long way.
• Choose rich, flavorful cheese like reduced-fat Cabot sharp cheddar or an imported parmesan. Or, choose a combination of the two!
• Finely grate cheese and spread into a thin layer.
• If you can’t part from the traditional mozzarella, slice fresh mozzarella thin, and add a few slices to the pizza pie.

Step four: Select top quality toppings. Decorate your canvas with color. Add red peppers, thinly sliced sweet potato or eggplant, broccoli florets, zucchini, fennel and/or chopped greens (beet greens, kale, spinach).
• Looking for a different flavor? Opt for a hint of sweetness by adding thin slices of figs.
• Need a greasy meat substitute? Use mushrooms, or try lean meats like bits of spicy turkey sausages or meat substitutes like soy bacon crumbles.
• Still not enough flavor? Add herbs like fresh chopped basil or bits of parsley.

There are so many options with homemade pizza-making. Here are my favorites:
• Make mini-canvases and prepare toppings; have family members create their own pizza masterpieces.
• Create a dessert pizza using sliced fruit and a sprinkling of shredded coconut for the “cheese.”
• Get that professional look by brushing crust with egg wash and a sprinkle of corn meal.
• Experiment with different combinations. (Local goat cheese with thick slices of tomatoes and basil ribbons goes well!)
• Eat a slice of pizza alongside a salad of warm spicy greens, goat cheese, sautéed onions, and garlic vinaigrette.