Making the Grade: Peanuts in School Nutrition
- Visit www.peanutallergyfacts.org. You’ll get tips for managing peanut allergies plus expert videos on topics ranging from proper introduction of potentially allergenic foods to young children to managing peanut allergies at school.
- More than 98 percent of children can enjoy peanuts without any issue and food allergies can be safely managed in schools while still making them available to non-allergic students.
- For more resources, go to the bottom of the page.
E for Energy
In the world of nutrition, there are few foods that are as nutritious and well-loved as peanut butter. Many peanut butter sandwiches will be enjoyed as part of a nutritious meal served in the school lunch program.
Peanut butter is a staple food that is available to schools as a USDA Food (formerly called Commodity) or as a purchased item. Either way, peanut butter 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 provides a lunch that provides energy for learning and being active.
Here’s how peanuts and peanut butter fit:
- 2 Tablespoon Peanut Butter = 1 Meat/Meat Alternate
- 1 ounce peanuts = 1 Meat/Meat Alternate.
Peanuts on the Menu
At every eating episode, peanuts and peanut butter are a great fit. They provide plant-based protein, mostly good fats, two grams of fiber and a variety of essential nutrients for growing children. In a survey, 60 percentof kids said they’d eat more fruits and vegetables if served with their favorite peanut butter dip. As schools work to increase acceptance of these foods and reduce plate waste, a beloved food like peanut butter can be a lifesaver! 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 today.
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:
- Peanut-Peanut Butter Granola served with Yogurt and fresh fruit
- 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
- Peanut Butter Smoothie
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:
- The Classic PBJ served with fresh fruit, veggie chips and low fat milk
- On the salad bar or with cut vegetables as a delicious peanut butter dip
- Mix Peanut Butter with soy sauce and spices, stir-fry vegetables and chicken for spicy peanut noodle bowl
As you know, kids need good nutrition even after the school day ends. Parents and students alike want to see delicious and nutritious offerings. Peanuts and peanut butter can be a great 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, these quick and easy ideas are a great way to get good nutrition into every bite.
- Peanut Butter PCs with fresh cut fruit, vegetables, or graham crackers
- Half of a peanut butter and jellysandwich
- Yogurt with Peanut-Peanut Butter granola
Managing Food Allergies in the School Nutrition Programs
Many school nutrition professionals are nervous about managing food allergies in schools. However, with some important facts, training, planning and implementation, there is no reason that potentially allergenic foods cannot be safely served in schools. In fact, since milk is the most common childhood allergen, you are already doing it!
America’s peanut farmers, through the National Peanut Board, have given more than $10 million dollars toward helping to find food allergy research, education and outreach. Early on, the Board determined that if even one person was harmed by peanuts it was one too many. To that end, NPB remains a resource for school nutrition and healthcare professionals looking to find ways to manage food allergies in a variety of settings, including in schools.
Here are some quick facts to consider:
- About six percent of children have food allergy
- Eight foods are responsible for 90percentof all food allergic reactions – milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, shellfish, fish, soy and wheat
- Most allergic reactions are mild and self-limiting, however any food can cause a dangerous or even life-threatening reaction
- Many people fear airborne allergens, but research indicates that ingestion is required for anaphylaxis to occur
- Experts do not recommend blanket food bans since they create a false sense of security and take the focus off education and onto enforcement
- A combination of caution and preparedness will help keep all students with food allergies safe, regardless of the allergy
Eliminating the risk of accidental ingestion is impossible; however having a policy or plan to manage food allergies helps ensure that students with food allergies are safe. Getting key stakeholders together to discuss how to do this is essential; including parents, students, teachers, administrators, foodservice, transportation, custodial services and nursing. Training kitchen staff on identifying allergens, preventing cross contact, and recognizing a reaction is an important step. Utilizing HACCP to manage food allergies is a best practice. Ensuring that all school staff are trained to identify a food allergy reaction and administer emergency epinephrine, if needed, is also a best practice. Finally, ensuring that all students with potentially life-threatening food allergies have Food Allergy Action Plans is a key to success.
For school nutrition professionals, nurses and others who want to learn more about food allergies, please visit the following additional resources:
- “To Ban or Not To Ban” School Allergy Management Brochure (PDF)
- “Finding the Sweet Spot in the New School Nutrition Regulations” presented at the School Nutrition Association 2013 Annual Conference
- Food Allergy Research and Education(FARE) – the nation’s largest food allergy advocacy organization
- “Managing the Mystery: Correcting Myths and Sharing Best Practices in Food Allergy Management in Schools” presented at School Nutrition Association 2012 Annual Conference
- School Nutrition AssociationFood Allergy Resource Center
- School Nutrition Foundation: “Teamwork is Key to Successful Food Allergy Management in Schools.”Archived 2012 webinar featuring experts in child nutrition programs, food safety, and education
- School Nutrition FoundationPeer to Peer Connect: Food Allergiesarchived 2012 webinar
- School Nutrition Foundation’s School Nutrition UniversityFood Allergy Management– (SNA membership not required) five module program for food service employees, in English and Spanish
- Today’s Dietitian magazine. “Food Allergies in Schools” and “Strategies for Managing Peanut Allergies” (web only bonus). September 2012.
- For dietitians: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Food Allergies: Cutting through the Clutter” Online Certificate of Training.