Taste Test: Frozen Cheese Pizza
When I was in college, prepping fresh, balanced meals wasn't exactly a priority. Sometimes quick and cheap won out and that often meant frozen pizza. Newly graduated, I'm thinking healthier these days. Looking for smarter standbys, I recruited my friend, Tracy, to help me sample five "better for you" frozen pizzas. Then, we ran them by Dana and Toby to get the nutritionist perspective.
Note: For an even-steven comparison, we stuck to plain flavors to get the best sense of the big three: crust, sauce and cheese.
Nutrition Info: 260 calories; 9 grams of fat (per 1/3 pizza)
Kashi's frozen line boasts some tricked-out pies (The Caribbean Carnival, for instance, has mango and plantain chunks). This classic version, with a simple cheese-and-tomato topping, hits the spot just fine. Tracy and I both gave a thumbs-up on the sauce's pronounced herb flavor, an improvement on the blandness of most frozen options. The thin crust gets nice and crispy and even retains its crunch after reheating leftovers. As a meal, the serving is a little light, so we added a salad to round things out.
The Dietitian Says: "This one is the highest in fiber at 4 grams and comes with numerous whole grains, including ones you may have never heard of like triticale." -Toby
Nutrition Info: 340 calories; 7 grams of fat (per 1 single-serving pizza)
Microwave pizza can often be a little, well, soggy. Lean Cuisine's "wood fire style" pizzas try to make up for that. This one did score points for a crust that got crispy on the bottom, yet remained pleasantly chewy around the outside. The sauce, however, had a packaged taste. The dough also lacked flavor -- a sprinkle of fresh herbs would have helped. It was a good-sized portion; with a sliced apple, the pizza made a super-quick lunch.
The Dietitian Says: "This was the highest calorie option, but it was also the lowest in sodium -- about 35% lower! Overall, the quality of ingredients aren't impressive -- no whole grains and some sweeteners and additives." - Dana
Nutrition Info: 290 calories; 12 grams of fat (per 1/3 pizza)
This one tasted the most like homemade. The crust was chewy, and the sauce had a fresh tomato flavor. When we pulled it out the box, we worried about the sparse cheese covering. As it cooked, however, the flecks melted and spread into an even, toasty layer. Bonus: no I-ate-too-much-grease feeling when finished.
The Dietitian Says: "This is the organic choice from the bunch. A cool fact about the cheese: it's made without animal renins (a cheese-making enzyme from the intestines), so this a good choice for dairy-eating vegetarians." - Toby
Nutrition Info: 300 calories; 13 grams of fat (per 1/3 pizza)
When a frozen pizza calls itself "four cheese," it sets some high expectations. This one delivered. It had a dense layer of grated cheese across the top, but there was so much melty goodness that we could hardly taste the tomato sauce.
The Dietitian Says: "Similar to the Amy's brand, I could pronounce all this pizza's ingredients, which is always a good sign. But don't be fooled by that 'multigrain' crust. That's not the same as whole grain." - Dana
I have an aunt in Chicago who has a gluten intolerance, which can be a real bummer when you want some authentic, Chicago-style pie. When we go out, she orders an individual pizza with a gluten-free crust for herself. Lucky for her, there are also some gluten-free frozen pizzas in supermarkets. Tracy and I sampled Amy's Rice Crust Cheese Pizza and were pleasantly surprised. No cardboard here! The crust did get pretty burnt (next time, we won't cook it as long as the package says) and wasn't quite the same as regular wheat crust. The sauce's fresh tomato taste came through, however, and made this a solid choice.
As for vegan pizzas, you've got two options: soy "cheeze" or no cheese. I sometimes purchase a cheese-less pizza -- one that comes with just the crust and sauce -- and add my own cheese. Then, I can control the quantity or drizzle on my faves.
Just because we opted for plain cheese pizzas doesn't mean you can't experiment. I often add extra sliced veggies -- peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, whatever -- before the pizza goes in the oven. They add color and freshness, and the extra toppings give the pizza a fiber boost (making it more filling!) without too many extra calories or fat. Fruit is another fun add-on, as are lean meats such as diced chicken breast. Feeling adventurous? Try canned tuna on a roasted veggie pie.
Karen Ostergren is Healthy Eats' intern and a recent graduate of the University of Missouri. She recently relocated to New York to pursue her journalism career and continue her quest for foods that are healthy, quick and tasty.