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The Nut Butter Dilemma

By Alana Sugar, August 16, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar

The kids are heading back to school, and it's time for packing up those lunchboxes. Of course, you want to pack something that's easy, portable, fresh, healthy and tasty... oh, and also something the kids will love. Is peanut butter springing to mind for you? I know it does for me. Of course, I grew up when peanut butter was the only nut butter option available. And that was before the explosion of peanut allergies in kids and the advent of schools creating "nut-free zones." Those changes, plus great flavor, make it all the more fun to try a variety of nut and seed butters for tasty lunches.

Nut butters can make a good choice for lunches because:

  • Nut butters deliver omega 6 essential fatty acids in an unprocessed form.
  • Most nut butters are packed with healthy monounsaturated fat - the same kind of fat you find in olive oil.
  • Some nuts contain excellent quantities of Vitamin E, including hazelnuts and almonds.
  • Nut butters contain natural fiber and they can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Even if you've got a peanut-butter-picky kid, you may find other nut and seed butters will fit the lunchtime bill just fine. Make sure to check your school's "nut regulations" to be sure if some of these options are allowed before trying them out.

  • Almond butter - very similar to peanut butter - comes in roasted, raw, smooth or chunky. This is a favorite for lunches, snacks and breakfasts.
  • Cashew butter - milder in flavor than peanut butter, this is cashew nuts all the way. Slightly sweeter and it comes in roasted or raw.
  • Macadamia nut butter - this rich delicious nut butter is a favorite in Hawaii. Often mixed with cashew butter, it is great on sandwiches with fresh fruit like sliced peaches, or with veggies like sliced cucumbers.
  • Sesame seed butter and tahini - this nut butter is made from sesame seeds, either toasted or raw. I suggest the toasted variety for lunch. Great with bananas and apples!
  • Sunflower seed butter - this is made from roasted sunflower seeds and is very similar to peanut butter, so kids who are allergic to peanut butter will often enjoy this.
  • Soy nut butter - made from roasted soybeans, soy nut butter is another peanut-butter-like treat.
  • Pistachio butter - if your child likes a tasty green sandwich, this is it! Sweet and roasted, just like pistachio nuts!
  • You may also find hazelnut, walnut and other nut butters as well as combinations of all and more!

Here are some fun ideas for using nut and seed butters. Remember to get creative and mix and match different varieties.

  • Spread nut and seed butters on whole grain bread with fruit such as sliced bananas, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, and plums. Here's a good recipe for an Open-Faced Apple Tahini Sandwich.
  • Mix nut and seed butters with cream cheese and use as a dip for just about any fruit or raw veggie dippers. Here's an idea for Cream Cheese and Cashew Dip.
  • Mix nut and seed butters with honey and vanilla, then spread like frosting over whole grain muffins, English muffins, breads, bagels, or rolls.
  • Add nut and seed butters to salad dressing for great flavor and texture. Here's a Carrot Salad with Almond Butter Dressing.
  • Bake cookies! Substitute equal amounts of any nut or seed butter in place of peanut butter in a peanut butter cookie recipe. Here's a good flourless and Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookie. 4 Try it with almond butter, sunflower butter, or even a combination!
  • Try nut and seed butters in smoothies for a creamy delicious treat! Here's a cooling Strawberry Almond Butter Smoothie.
  • What kid doesn't like a yummy crispy rice treat? Here's what I mean with this Crispy Cashew Rice Treats recipe.
  • Make nut and seed butters into healthy "candy" - here's a favorite recipe for Chocolate Earth Balls. - Remember to vary your butter choices!
  • Stir a spoonful into hot oatmeal or other hot cooked whole grain cereal for a hearty, healthy breakfast.
  • Pair nut and seed butters with chocolate for dessert: Take a square or two of dark chocolate and dip into or spread with any desired nut or seed butter. Or, soften dark chocolate chips on whole grain graham crackers. Spread the chocolate around and then top with a dollop of your favorite nut or seed butter.

And back to that lunchbox. Here are five lunch ideas - one for each day of the week!

  • Almond butter and sliced apple sandwich on whole wheat with celery sticks and vanilla yogurt
  • Cashew nut butter and cream cheese spread with whole grain crackers, baby carrots, cut up cucumbers and ranch dip, and a handful of grapes
  • Leftover noodles tossed with roasted sesame tahini dressing, sliced cold chicken, cut up veggies and fresh fruit of choice. For a quick delicious tahini dressing, whisk together 2 tbsp white miso, 3 tablespoons tahini, ½ cup water, and 3 Tbsp lemon juice. Add a tsp of honey, if desired.
  • Bean dip, natural corn chips, sliced veggies with favorite dressing, fruit yogurt and a Crispy Rice Treat.
  • Get some green for lunch: Stuff celery with pistachio nut butter. Top with golden raisins and pack in a lunch box with crunchy steamed cold green beans, green goddess dressing, and a thermos of a favorite hot soup.

What kind of nut and seed butters are you serving for lunch? Had any nut-free challenges that you've overcome? Let us know how you did it!




Evan Thomas says ...
I make my own nut butters some times. My favorite is french toast hazelnut butter. Completely peanut free! http://www.foodmakesfunfuel.com/recipes/nut-butters/french-toast-hazelnut-butter
08/16/2010 2:41:52 PM CDT
screwdestiny says ...
I love the lunchbox ideas! Wouldn't it be nice if kids actually went to school with lunches that looked like that? As opposed to Lunchables and other junk.
08/17/2010 1:32:05 AM CDT
Chloe says ...
Great ideas. I have started sending my kids to school with Almond Butter because their schools have banned any peanut products. I have found the brand Barney Butter is the only almond butter made in a peanut free facility so I can send it to school with my kids and they absolutely love it, I don't think they even know it is not peanut butter!! Thanks for the great tips!
08/17/2010 8:32:16 AM CDT
Taffy says ...
These are awesome tips for school lunches. As a concerned parent, I lay awake at night dreading the morning lunch-making routine. My kids are so finicky and they can't bring any peanut products to school. But, they can bring nut butters. There's one in particular that my family loves. It's called Barney Butter. You've got to try it. It's absolutely delicious. I put it on everything including crackers, celery, apples and toast. They love it. I buy several jars at a time from Whole Foods because it goes so fast in our household. Enjoy!!
08/17/2010 9:01:23 PM CDT
Cathy says ...
My childrens schools are completely nut free, so almond butter and the other nut butters are banned. My son enjoys soy nut butter much more than the sunflower seed based butters. Packing a nut-free lunch is challenging when one is focused on loading a lunch box nutritionally.
08/18/2010 3:14:59 PM CDT
Holly says ...
I am not sure that these will be able to be eaten at school- they are mostly NUTS. How does this qualify as safe for school consumption?
08/18/2010 3:32:31 PM CDT
K says ...
It's great that this addresses the need for alternatives however many nut allergic children are not just allergic to peanuts and usually need to avoid all or some other nuts in addition to peanuts (the cashew,almond,pistachio butter info etc). Folks who do not have much interaction with someone with such allergy are usually hyper-focused on just peanuts and not aware that there are others that are often just as damaging.
08/18/2010 7:13:03 PM CDT
Lou says ...
Soy Butter from IM Healthy is great. Good for sandwiches and on waffles.
08/18/2010 7:30:09 PM CDT
NutAllergy says ...
FYI, many kids that are allergic to peanuts are also just as allergic to tree nuts (and some kids have tree nut only allergies). Nut butters can be just as life threatening as peanuts or peanut butter -- and kids can be contact sensitive to any of these products. I think your article should at least mention that tree nut allergy is common also so parents understand this if they are packing this in lunches.
08/18/2010 9:34:33 PM CDT
WastedAngel says ...
I have not been able to find Pistachio nut butter in any local market, not even my Whole Foods carrys it. I've been looking since I saw it featured in the movie "Gamer" while it was still in theatre :( I will deffinately have to look into just making it then
08/18/2010 11:22:41 PM CDT
Maverick says ...
We love Barney Butter too..My youngest wont eat "Almond Butter", so when I make lunches, I have to set the decoy jar of peanut butter on the counter, so he thinks he is getting Peanut butter, while his sisters get Almond Butter and jelly. I found BB not only looks just like Jiff, but can fool my 9 yr old. He hasnt had a PB&J in two yrs, Only BB&J ;-)
08/19/2010 5:47:24 AM CDT
maebyn says ...
As a mom to a peanut-allergic child, thank you for bringing some attention to this topic. I hope this helps other parents see that there are plenty of other options. With that said, I will agree with others that have pointed out that many kids are allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts, AND that most tree nuts can be cross contaminated with peanuts. The title "Nut Butter Dilemma" is misleading, since you go on to talk almost solely about nut butters. In my experience sunflower seed butter is the least allergenic and most versatile.
08/19/2010 9:12:12 AM CDT
tdchef says ...
I am glad the comment section had some folks respond to the taglines of the article...I thought it was misleading as well. My daughter was diagnosed with a peanut/tree nut/soy allergy at the age of two. She has had only one severe reaction (to peanut butter), it was the first one, she has had milder ones, hives, coughing, etc., but the first one where her face swelled, eyes swelled shut and nostrils swelled shut, was not something a parent should have to see, let alone for a 2 year old to go through. She is a category five (which is the worst) and does not have to consume the foods to have a reaction...if she touches it, or it touches her, and if she smells it, she'll have a reaction, where we may have to use an Epi-pen. Her school, beginning at pre-school, has designated each of her grade's classes as "nut-free". She has her own lunch-table...and all of the kids in her class wash their hands at the sink in the room. The school and the students are great about doing this. A student each day stands at the sink and watches to make sure everyone does this. We (as parents) have only let the school know what she deals with, they have gotten together to do the rest. We have noticed that educating people and educating our daughter about food allergies has helped. I am an Executive Chef for Hilton Hotels and I have come across plenty of hotel guests from all over the world that have food allergies. I hold a class for my cooks to eliminate any cross-contamination of food products and have a section on the menu for food allergy guests. I have learned so much that I needed to learn, not only for my family, but my guests who eat my food.
08/19/2010 4:30:07 PM CDT
Rebecca says ...
It's great to see kids recipes for health eating. However, the recipes here are high in fat (even though it is healthy fat) and the food combinations are really challenging.In particular, pairing nuts, dairy and fruit together can be really hard to digest. Thanks for keeping this in mind for the future. Happy eating!
08/19/2010 6:59:10 PM CDT
Melissa says ...
As others have mentioned, it is important to remember that many children are allergic to tree nuts as well as peanuts. As a mother of a child who was recently diagnosed with (life-threatening) allergies to all nuts, I truly appreciate the efforts of all parents who pack nut-free lunches for their children.
08/20/2010 8:05:44 AM CDT
Alessandra says ...
my favorite nut butter that is not peanut butter is Mara Natha almond butter- yum!
08/20/2010 3:11:13 PM CDT
Jaimee says ...
My son's school is becoming totally nut free including the snacks I send, they are asking to be pre-packaged from a nut-free facility, etc. I can not send my own baked goodies. DOES ANYONE FOUND THINGS THEY WOULD RECOMMEND TO GET THAT ARE HEALTHY PRE-PACKAGED SNACKS?
08/22/2010 2:06:22 PM CDT
Becky H says ...
My son has a peanut/tree nut/ soy allergy. We use sunflower seed butter exclusively and have no issues, plus it's yummy and better for you than peanut butter. I would love to find some pumpkin seed butter. This is a great option not mentioned in the article and not easy to find.
08/22/2010 3:21:05 PM CDT
Laura says ...
The title needs to be addressed. I only opened the article because of the title and I am still in the nut butter dilemna. As others have mentioned my child must avoid ALL Nuts including soy and sesame. Parents are commenting on worrying about how to pack a lunch for their child, well think about what the parent of an allergic child has to lay awake in bed at night wondering what to feed their child every day at each meal AND please don't let my child come into contact with any of these nuts or butters when we can't be there to protect them. Good luck to everyone packing their lunch. My dilemna is still unsolved. My child eats rice bread with avocado and we are looking for something new too.
08/23/2010 12:28:51 PM CDT
Alicia Morales says ...
I love these ideas for healthier snacks...esp for our kids today, the junk food out there these days is terrible. It is time to bring back healthy eating to our families.
08/24/2010 1:15:01 PM CDT
Jennifer Sykes says ...
I love this page! My daughter is allergic to nuts and I am always trying to get people to recognize comparable substitutes for peanut butter! Our favorite is sun butter. Thanks again for this important topic.
08/25/2010 12:14:49 AM CDT
Katy says ...
I have switched my kids to almond butter too. They love the brand Barney Butter!!
08/25/2010 4:16:13 PM CDT
robert webber says ...
I make my own mixed nut buttet.I buy a blend of almonds, walnuts,hazelnuts,brazilnuts and cashews at the bulk food section at whole foods.After I grind them in my mini cuisinart, I add a few drops of walnut or almond oil until it becomes a smooth UNPEANUT mixed nut butter.I spread it on multi grain bread with organic jam or fruit spread.Add a banana for a delicious healthy breakfast or lunch.Your kids will love it!
08/25/2010 5:11:40 PM CDT
sheri says ...
Thank you for even mentioning nut free lunches. My son is allergic to peanut and treenuts, and his classroom is nut free, which means that no nuts are okay. We love School Safe Soybutter, IM Healthy soy butter, and my husband's favorite is crunchy Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). Thank you to all of the parents who have to take the extra time to make a nut free lunch. It means the world to parents like me, who worry everyday about keeping their child safe, especially when they are out of your care at school.
08/25/2010 6:51:00 PM CDT
sheri says ...
I was so excited to see the topic of the nut butter dilema, thank you for even mentioning nut free lunches. Every article I have seen lately talks about peanut butter being a part of a healthy lunch, without taking into consideration that many schools are nut free. My son is allergic to peanut and treenuts, and his classroom is nut free, which means that no peanuts or treenuts are allowed. We love School Safe Soybutter, IM Healthy soy butter, and my husband's favorite is crunchy Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). Thank you to all of the parents who have to take the extra time to make a nut free lunch. It means the world to parents like me, who worry everyday about keeping their child safe, especially when they are out of your care at school.
08/25/2010 6:58:16 PM CDT