By Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RD, LD and updated by Caroline Young, MS, RD, LD
There are few foods that are as nutritious and well-loved as peanut butter. It offers a nutritious option that counts as a protein in the school meal. Paired with whole grain bread, fresh fruit and vegetable, and a low-fat milk – peanut butter and jelly is a lunch that provides energy for learning and activity. School nutrition programs across the country are allowing the 98% of children who don’t have a peanut allergy access to this nutritious food by following best practices for food allergy management.
How peanuts and peanut butter fit:
- 2 tablespoon peanut butter = 1 Meat/Meat Alternate
- 1 ounce peanuts = 1 Meat/Meat Alternate.
Peanuts and peanut butter provide plant-based protein, mostly good fats, two grams of fiber and a variety of essential nutrients for growing children. In a survey, 60 percent of kids said they’d eat more fruits and vegetables if served with peanut butter. As schools work to increase acceptance of these foods and reduce plate waste, peanut butter can be a lifesaver.
“Students love the comforting taste of peanuts and peanut butter, and it's an economical choice for providing nutrient-rich protein to students,” said Garrett Berdan, registered dietitian and food nutrition consultant. “As we know, nourished students are more prepared to learn, so including peanuts and peanut butter as a choice on school breakfast and lunch menus is a win-win to fuel growing bodies and minds.”
There are a variety of prepared, ready-to-eat, and thaw-and-serve products with peanuts and peanut butter conveniently available to add to your school menus.
Peanuts on the Menu: Breakfast
Breakfast is an important way for kids to start the school day. Research has shown that students who eat breakfast do better on standardized tests, have better focus, more normal BMI, and fewer behavioral problems. Peanut butter can be used in many ways at breakfast. Here are some creative ideas for you to consider:
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
- Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
- Peanut Butter Granola Bars
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (they’re not just for lunch!)
- Peanut Butter and Banana Quesadillas
- Pancakes served with Peanut Butter as a topping
- Sandwich Peanut Butter and jelly between waffles for a Waffle PBJ
Peanuts on the Menu: Lunch
Meals at lunchtime can be fast and furious in the school nutrition program. Having go-to ingredients that are versatile and acceptable is essential. Peanuts and peanut butter fit the bill as foods that make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar – and they can grow in versatility as your student’s tastes change. Here are some great ways to incorporate peanut butter and peanuts:
- African Peanut Stew
- The Classic PBJ served with fresh fruit, veggie chips and low fat milk
- Use a Multipurpose Peanut Sauce on the salad bar or with cut vegetables as a delicious peanut butter dip, or stir-fry with vegetables and chicken for spicy peanut noodle bowl
Peanuts on the Menu: After School
As you know, kids need good nutrition beyond classroom hours, and both parents and students want to see delicious and nutritious foods. Peanuts and peanut butter can be an ideal addition to your after-school snack program.
In addition to prepared items available for service, like pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut butter crackers, here are quick and easy ideas to get good nutrition into every bite:
- Peanut Butter Vanilla Yogurt Dip
- Peanut Butter PCs with fresh cut fruit, vegetables, or graham crackers
- Half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Learn more about peanuts on your school’s menu as it relates to food allergies here.