Kids love the great taste of peanut butter, and school nutrition professionals love the protein and other key nutrients of this American staple. Some schools, however, struggle with managing peanut products due to concerns about food allergies. For those, we have a helpful resource called Instead of "Peanut Free"...Be "Allergen Aware" (PDF).
Other school nutrition professionals may unsure of how to use peanut butter as an ingredient in meals beyond the typical PB&J.
We sat down with two experts in K-12 school nutrition to get their insights on the importance of peanut butter in nutrition programs, advice on managing food allergies, and culinary tips to elevate school meals with peanut butter.
Garrett Berdan is a registered dietitian and chef who works with schools on both food allergy management and recipe development. When it comes to peanut butter, he says that schools can moderate risk of cross-contact of allergens when making peanut butter sandwiches by implementing effective allergen management practices. But he also sees the potential for peanut butter to be used as an ingredient in dishes other than a sandwich to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to managing food allergies, what resources do you recommend for school nutrition pros?
Two main resources that I would recommend are the Institute for Child Nutrition’s training on food allergy management, and the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’ food allergies in schools toolkit. Also, resources that are available linked from PeanutAllergyFacts.org, including training videos for school nutrition professionals.
How can school nutrition pros leverage the culinary versatility of peanuts and peanut butter to help improve school meals?
If we can look at it as a protein component to serve on the side with some dippables, that's always a fun thing for especially younger kids to enjoy. That could be any variety of fruits that would withstand dipping into peanut butter. From apples and pears and banana, but also think of peanut butter as a dip for veggies like carrots and celery, and even bell pepper strips. That may be a draw, especially when served with colorful fresh crunchy vegetables.
I also see the flavor of peanuts as really being on trend right now in cuisine that we see outside of schools. Certainly, with Southeast Asian flavor profiles, peanuts and peanut sauce are an important flavor aspect of those cuisines. Those can be easily integrated onto a school menu with dishes like noodles with a peanut sauce, or maybe a chilled veggie and noodle salad. That definitely takes things beyond the peanut butter and jelly.
Get the volume recipe for the multipurpose peanut sauce here.
Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, is president of her own company, Nutrition for the Future. She has over 20 years of experience consulting with school nutrition professionals, and is also a social media maven with a popular blog, School Meals That Rock.
Her favorite mantra is, “it's only nutrition when they eat or drink it.” As such, she agrees that peanut butter is a tasty ingredient that can get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. But she also recognizes the benefits of peanut butter for both a child’s nutrition, and school nutrition programs.
What nutritional benefits do peanuts and peanut butter provide for school aged children?
Protein is one of the most obvious nutritional benefits of peanuts and peanut butter for children. The good unsaturated fat plus the protein provides satiety in a meal or snack. Peanut products can offer an extended source of energy for children’s physical activity and for their brain activity too.
In addition to protein, there are three other nutrients that I always think about in terms of school-age children. One is potassium. Potassium is one of the nutrients of concern that health experts know we're not getting enough of for our everyday needs, and peanut butter has potassium in it. In fact, one serving (one ounce) of peanuts provides 6 percent of the daily value and one serving (2 Tablespoons) of peanut butter provides 5 percent of the daily value. Also, peanut butter pairs well with some other kid-friendly, high potassium foods like apples and celery.
Peanuts and peanut butter are also a source of fiber as well. One serving of peanuts contain 10 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter has 8 percent of the daily value. Because most of the meat alternate foods do not have any fiber in them, this combination of protein, potassium, and fiber is great.
The other nutrient in peanuts and peanut butter I want to mention is iron, because in the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Scientific Advisory Committee called out iron as a nutrient of concern for girls and young women. One serving of peanuts provides 7 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter provides 3 percent of the daily value. Any time we can find a source of iron that students like to eat it's a win-win situation in terms of their nutrition.
How does peanut butter help lower costs for school nutrition programs?
School nutrition programs are very limited in terms of overall food costs and often pennies per serving can make a difference in balancing budgets. For consumers and foodservice channels, peanuts and peanut butter are often always listed as one of the least expensive protein sources. It just compares so favorably when we think about some of the other proteins. When you reduce the cost of the meat or the meat alternate in the “center of the tray,” then you have more food dollars for fresh produce and other local items. Farm to School is one of the fastest growing areas of school nutrition programs and any money that directors have to spend in purchasing local products works to their benefit.
What is your favorite preparation for peanut butter being used in school meals?
The thing that I'm most excited about is what people are calling power packs or grab and go meals. The ones I've seen often include an individual container of peanut butter along with pita bread, pita chips, or whole grain crackers. Then some sliced apples, maybe some baby carrots or celery sticks, and often an added protein source like a cheese stick.