By Dayle Hayes MS, RD, and Jeanne Reilly, NDTR, SNS
There are many reasons peanuts and peanut butter can benefit school nutrition programs. Here are four of the reasons we’re convinced that peanuts do belong in schools.
Kids Love Peanut Butter
Consumer research suggests that the average American will eat as many as 3,000 peanut butter sandwiches in their lifetime. But these days, we know it’s not just the iconic PB&J that kids love. The truth is that the palate of Americans has changed and that’s true for school children too. These days, kids love spicy, global flavors and they come to school looking for meals that reflect the ones they eat at home and at local restaurants. If we want students to eat school meals, they must taste good first.
Peanut Butter is Convenient
Pre-made PB&J sandwiches have been a favorite of students for years. During the pandemic, they became an essential part of emergency meal delivery for schools across the country due to their convenience. Many directors reported that offering pre-made or homemade PB&J sandwiches increase participation. Because it is shelf-stable, peanut butter is also a food that’s perfect for keeping in stock all the time.
Peanut Butter is Affordable
Peanut products provide a cost-effective plant-based protein, meat/meat alternate option with minimal labor investment that children love. Peanut butter is affordable for school nutrition programs to purchase or to divert into processing for pre-made sandwiches. It’s also affordable because it’s versatile and can be used in many other recipes. It can help reduce the cost of a full serving of another meat/meat alternate such as yogurt when mixed to make this Yogurt Dip or served as part of a vegetarian or chicken dish using this Multipurpose Peanut Sauce. Lastly, the value of peanut butter can also be seen in its very low waste – both because it lasts a long time in storage and because students actually consume meals that include peanut butter.
Bans Interfere with Food Equity
While social justice and food equity are currently hot topics, they are not new issues for schools. The school nutrition program was established to help ensure that hungry children were fed. Banning specific foods creates inequalities from school district to school district and even within school districts. It is important to remember that peanuts and other nuts are a valuable source of nutrition for children from various backgrounds, including vegetarians (by choice and by religion). Peanut butter is also often a lifeline for children with diabetes as a snack to help manage blood sugars. Lastly, it is often a nutrient-rich food that children with sensory processing differences (like autism) will eat when they may not eat much else. Restricting access to these foods by children who can safely eat them unnecessarily creates inequalities.
Peanut Butter on The Menu
Wherever you’re serving school meals, peanut butter can help. Breakfast, lunch, snack and supper are all times when peanuts and peanut butter can fit. As we mentioned, peanut butter is a versatile ingredient that can go beyond the PB&J. Get inspired by this collection of school nutrition recipes, including Peanut Butter Overnight oats, African Peanut Soup, Multipurpose Peanut Sauce, just to name a few. If you’re still doing (or need to do again) curbside or delivery meals for students, consider how using individually wrapped or portion cupped peanut butter products can help you serve safe and nutritious meals for students. For remote meals single-serve peanut butter and individually wrapped PB&J are a value-added convenience because they are shelf stable and unitized to prevent cross-contact.
For more about serving peanut products in schools safely, visit PeanutsinSchools.org.