By Lauren Highfill Williams
School nutrition leaders face many challenges these days. New proposed regulations restrict sugar for the first time and place further limits on sodium in school meals. Districts continue to deal with supply chain challenges, staffing and retention issues and student meal debt. Understandably, district leaders are looking for easy solutions to matters like food allergies. While banning peanut foods initially seems like the best solution to some, more districts are realizing the benefits of including peanuts on the menu and choosing management instead of bans.
In June, the National Peanut Board (NPB) brought 25 influential school nutrition leaders together to host the first Summer School Nutrition Summit at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) campus in San Antonio, Texas. The dynamic event explored the theme of the future of school nutrition through exciting trends, like plant-based eating and global flavors, chef demos of peanut-packed school recipes, actionable advice, and education sessions. Texas peanut farmer Lexi Floyd kicked off the summit by sharing her family farming story, discussing how peanuts are grown and the challenges and opportunities for the future of farming.
During the summit, attendees also learned strategies and success stories for managing peanut allergies in schools, including the resources at PeanutsinSchools.org and the free Peanut Power Toolkit. The event culminated with the opportunity to cook in the CIA kitchens with a market basket challenge where attendees put their learnings into action with recipes like the rockin’ rice bowl with peanut butter sauce & chickpeas and crunchy peanut butter apple nachos.
Attendees represented large and award-winning districts, which collectively serve hundreds of thousands of students across the country, including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Also in attendance were brands, brokers and commercial operators, including Smucker’s and Chartwells K12.
Two of the attendees were Jocelyn Karbo, RD, who is a National School Lunch Program Content Specialist, and Amy Carroll, RD, who is a coordinator for the School District of Lee County.
“The event has been the only opportunity for true connections, fruitful discussions and innovative sharing with like-minded people from across the country,” Karbo said. “It has sparked so many questions and inspirations for me in my current role … and has encouraged me to ask hard questions.”
“They had some amazing recipes using peanut butter …” Carroll said. “Now that we’ve had peanut butter back for a year and a half, and everyone sees that it’s manageable, maybe now I can like start to expand and use peanut butter and some other recipes.”
The gathering was an amazing way to connect with leaders in school nutrition about some of the most important topics and challenges they face and to get ideas and solutions from other movers and shakers.
“Peanuts are such an incredible asset for school nutrition programs because they’re affordable, accessible, versatile and they taste great,” said NPB’s Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD. “This summit inspired and directly empowered school nutrition leaders with the resources they need to serve peanut products while keeping students with peanut allergies safe.”
For more information about managing food allergies in K12, visit PeanutsinSchools.org.