A School Chef Shares Her Peanut Butter Love and How Schools Use Peanuts Today

School lunch is such an important part of every school child’s day. The National Peanut Board is committed to providing delicious, innovative and nutritious ways for peanuts and peanut butter to be served as part of school meals, while supporting evidence-based approaches to food allergen management. While partnering with our friends at Live From My Desk with Stefanie and Amanda to discuss back-to-school trends for peanuts in K-12 and new peanut recipes, we were captivated by chef Amanda Venezia's enthusiasm for peanut butter. In this Q&A conducted by Sherry Coleman Collins, registered dietitian and @PeanutRD, Amanda shares why she’s peanut butter’s biggest fan and exciting ways that peanuts can be incorporated into school meals.

SCC: Hi, Amanda! Tell us a little about your district and the students you serve.

AV: We are a district of 4,000 students in Londonderry, NH about an hour and half north of Boston. Of our students, 12% receive free and reduced lunch, so our population is fairly affluent and growing. 

SCC: In our interview you mentioned your love for PB&J, will you tell us again that story? 

AV: Maybe you should be interviewing my mother. Hold on. I'll call her. "Mom, how many years did you have to make me PB&J sandwiches every day for lunch?" "Oh my gosh! Five, wait, six years, no it had to be seven. Lots of peanut butter and not the chunky one; it had to be smooth." "How did you feel about my peanut butter consumption?" "I didn't care. Peanut butter had protein and that made me very happy."

SCC: What’s the most popular way to serve PB in your district?

AV: Smucker’s Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches. We stock them in our vending machines for 24/7 access. It is a great option especially for our athletes, who purchase them after football and cross-country practice. We also serve vegetables with peanut butter. I find myself reaching for apple slices with peanut butter at 3:00pm instead of walking to the snack machine! 

SCC: In and beyond your district, schools are really getting creative and innovative. What are some of the trends you’re seeing take off?

AV: Ethnic cooking is getting a lot of attention. It’s a hard trend as we seek to incorporate the household food culture of our students in schools. Online ordering is definitely here to stay too and I am loving the bento box concept, which I am seeing everywhere!

SCC: How do you think peanuts and peanut butter fit into those trends?

AV: Whenever I think of peanuts it reminds of umami flavor. Peanuts are earthy and savory like mushroom or animal protein. Peanuts are a great fit in ethnic foods with Thai peanut pasta as well as in vegetarian cooking. I will definitely add Uncrustables as an option for our online ordering. My Starbucks Protein Bento Box introduced me to the magic that is Justin's peanut butter. We can definitely replicate that combination in schools. 

SCC: What are your thoughts on managing allergens, including peanuts, in school meal programs?

AV: Allergen management is different for each operation, largely based on the student population and what allergens are present. School nutrition policies seem to fit into three categories: complete peanut and tree nut ban, allowing peanut packaged items for sale in program, or peanuts openly used within an allergen-conscious kitchen. More and more districts are moving toward the final model as they realize that, with proper management, education, and training, peanuts can be served safely in schools. 

SCC: Last, what are your favorite ways to use peanuts?

AV: Peanut butter protein balls are great. You can freeze them and cover them in chocolate. I am personally obsessed with the Chobani peanut butter dream yogurt flip. Let's make a K-12 version with Greek yogurt, peanuts, peanut butter clusters, and chocolate bits. There are also peanut butter pouches for on the go. This is would be perfect in those bento boxes! 

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