Is Pizza a Vegetable? Here’s The Real Deal

  • By: Mike
  • Date: July 18, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Have you heard that pizza is classified as a vegetable? Did Congress pass a bill claiming pizza is a vegetable? It’s not as clear as it may seem, so let’s sort it out once and for all.


When parents tell their kids to eat their vegetables, the kids sometimes argue that french fries count as vegetables because they are potatoes.

Parents will say that potatoes don’t count.

What counts as a vegetable according to US congress guidelines for school lunches? Does pizza count?

With Congress passing bills to make school lunches healthier, we need to know how these bills define vegetables. Are the bills so bad that a slice of pizza counts as a vegetable?

While I dislike the current regulations in some ways, they are not as bad as some people say they are. The current regulations do not say that kids can eat as much pizza as they want.

Pizza Sauce Counts as a Serving of Vegetables

Pizza does count as a serving of vegetables according to the current rules. There is enough tomato sauce on pizza that it counts as a vegetable.

A bill that would have changed that and stopped counting pizza as a serving of vegetables was rejected.

One version of the proposed bill would have made tomato sauce count as a serving of vegetables only if there was half a cup of it, not two tablespoons.

If this version of the bill had passed, pizza would no longer have been considered a serving of vegetables because of the tomato sauce. Half a cup is far more than they put on pizza.

However, that version of the bill did not pass. Instead, a modified version did – and the modified bill continues to consider only two tablespoons of tomato sauce a serving of vegetables.

Pizza with tomato sauce on it will continue to count as a serving of vegetables according to the new guidelines. Many people ridicule the current bill for this reason.

Half a cup of vegetables counts as one serving, compared to as little as two tablespoons of tomato sauce.

What Counts as a Vegetable According to the Bill That Passed?

At least, french fries do not count as vegetables. Potatoes in any form never do.

However, the modified bill that passed does not try to minimize starchy foods. A bill that would have declared potatoes, corn, and peas to be unhealthy starchy foods was defeated.

There is a debate about whether or not to prevent schools from serving excessively salty food. Bills that require schools to offer more whole grains have also been tried.

So, Is Pizza a Vegetable?

Pizza was “considered a vegetable” before the bill passed. Pizza counting as a vegetable is nothing new. The new bill maintains that pizza counts as a vegetable because of the tomato sauce; it does not declare pizza to count for the first time.

People who mock the bill defend another version of the bill that didn’t pass. They are not angry at Congress for declaring pizza to count as a vegetable.

Instead, they are annoyed that Congress continued to consider pizza a vegetable because of the small amount of tomato sauce on it.

The Current Bill Does not Even Mention Pizza

The bill does not even refer to pizza – it only refers to tomato sauce. It may be unreasonable for people to get angry about pizza being “considered a vegetable.”

The bill only insists that an arguably too small quantity of tomato sauce should count as a serving of vegetables.

Many People are Against More Restrictive Rules

Some people say that the bill is unnecessarily restrictive or that it forces schools to spend more money on food when budgets are already tight.

Many people disagree with a bill that is against potatoes, other starchy foods, and salt. Arguably, these starchy foods are good for you. There are important vitamins and minerals in potatoes, corn, and peas.

Are the New Guidelines too Generous to Tomato Paste?

According to the new guidelines, 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste counts as just as good as 1/2 of a cup of vegetables. Is that reasonable?

Why does so little tomato paste count as a serving of vegetables? Is tomato paste a highly nutritious food that should be encouraged in school cafeterias?

One can make a case that tomato paste actually is excellent food. In some ways, a smaller serving of tomato paste is as good as a larger serving of vegetables.

When tomatoes are turned into paste, some of the healthiest parts of the tomatoes remain. 

Tomato paste contains fiber and potassium, enough to compare to a bigger serving of vegetables.

1/8th of a cup of tomato paste provides a fair bit of nutrition. It is high in fiber while being low in sugar.

However, half a cup of vegetables is quite likely much better. Different vegetables have different nutrients. Tomato paste is healthy, but I doubt it deserves special treatment.

I doubt that measuring vegetables by volume is a good idea. Some vegetables are more nutrient-dense than others. It is too simple to declare half a cup to be one serving of vegetables.

Are the New Guidelines too Generous to Pizza?

Probably not. There are limits on how many calories a school meal can contain. If it contains more than a third of a day’s recommended calories, it is not allowed under the current guidelines.

Since there are limits on calories, and adding a slice of pizza to a meal can use up a lot of the calorie limit. Pizza is a calorie-dense food.

It can be easy to eat too much pizza because it doesn’t make you feel full fast enough. This makes it a potential weight gain food.

The current school lunch guidelines do not suggest that kids can eat all the pizza they want.

I don’t think that those who complain about the bill understand it. It does not declare pizza to be healthy food.

Pizza is not considered comparable to salad according to the new guidelines. Salad is a low-calorie food, so it is not treated as similar to pizza.

How Can You Make School Lunches Healthier?

One of the best ways to make school lunches healthier would be to limit the amount of ultra-processed food they serve.

Anything with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients is quite likely bad for you, and this is what you can expect from school lunches, including pizzas.

If Congress is serious about making school lunches healthier, they could stop allowing the worst artificial ingredients.

I don’t think that the debate about tomato sauce matters all that much.

Americans are more likely to become unhealthy from eating sugar and bad artificial ingredients than from a lack of whatever nutrition there is in tomato sauce.


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