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Putting peanuts on the menu: Best practices and culinary inspiration for school foodservice operators

Peanuts are an affordable, adaptable ingredient for adding protein to school meals, but parents may have questions regarding allergies and what schools are doing to minimize risk.

5 min read


Students eating lunch;putting peanuts on the menu

This post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board.

Plant-based proteins are increasingly in demand as consumers look for healthful, high-protein foods that maximize flavor while minimizing environmental impact. Peanuts are an excellent source of plant proteins and other nutrients, and may prove especially appealing to operators as the trend trickles down to school foodservice. From peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to breakfast options such a peanut granola and inventive, globally-inspired lunch options, peanuts are a popular choice with students.

SmartBrief interviewed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Sherry Coleman Collins and Gitta Grether-Sweeney, director of nutrition services at Portland Public Schools, about how peanuts fit into nutritious school menus and what school foodservice operators can do correct misconceptions about peanut allergies and minimize the risk of allergic reactions.

Demand is growing for plant-based proteins. What are the protein benefits of peanuts and how can school foodservice operators maximize these benefits in menu items?


Grether-Sweeney: Peanuts are an excellent source of protein for our students.  Students, especially K-5, enjoy eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch because they are familiar with them. In addition, they are a great option for our students who are vegetarian.


Collins: Schools really have to hit three key things to make any food successful on their menu — nutrition, value and acceptability.  Peanuts provide 30 essential vitamins and nutrients, including good fats and 7 grams of protein per serving.  When it comes to value, peanuts can’t be beat, because they allow schools to stretch their dollars using peanuts and peanut butter in a variety of ways on menus.  Finally, we know peanut butter is a food that children love and eat with great enthusiasm.

What are some new and inventive ways to put peanuts on the menu that maximize their taste and nutritional benefits?

Collins: School foodservice professionals continue to be innovative in meeting the changing and complex palates of students.  Some of the interesting and nutritious ways we have seen peanuts and peanut butter incorporated into school recipes — aside from the ever-popular PBJ — include: chicken mole, yogurt parfait with peanut granola, Thai peanut noodle dishes (including wraps!), peanut butter smoothies and peanut butter breakfast cookies.

When serving a potentially allergenic food like peanuts, how can operators reduce the risk of a reaction?

Grether-Sweeney: Our district made the choice to offer pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our students.  They are convenient, affordable and our students love them.  They have the added advantage of coming to us sealed so we don’t have to worry about any cross-contact in preparation.  However, we could prepare them from scratch too with the proper training of our staff.

Collins: Since any food allergen has the potential to cause anaphylaxis in allergic individuals, policies should be comprehensive — incorporating plans to reduce exposure, as well as to be prepared to respond when accidental ingestions happen.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide the Food Allergies in Schools Toolkit including voluntary guidelines, tip sheets, turn-key training, and even downloadable podcasts.  St. Louis Children’s Hospital has developed the Food Allergy Management & Education (FAME) toolkit, which also provides great resources for all stakeholders, including students and their families, staff and faculty.

What can schools do to correct misconceptions about peanut allergies and create an environment of understanding?

Grether-Sweeney: Education is key in correcting misconceptions about peanut allergies.  It is important to have a district policy regarding allergies.  However, we need to be sensitive to families and their concerns.  Therefore, it is important to meet with the student’s family, teacher and nurse to establish guidelines and a clear understanding of how the district will help the child successfully navigate their allergy at school.

Collins: Schools should understand the actual versus perceived risk of casual contact; the fact that food bans are not recommended by experts and that risk is not necessarily reduced because of them; and that every student with food allergies should have an emergency anaphylaxis plan and up to date medications easily accessible at school. is a wonderful resource for school professionals and others interested in learning more about food allergies.

Gitta Grether-Sweeney received her Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degree in Nutrition from Texas A&M University.  She is a registered dietitian and has been instrumental in impacting child nutrition for the past 28 years by leading school district child nutrition programs. She joined Portland Public Schools in 2003 as an Assistant Director and has been the Director for the past five years.   

Sherry Coleman Collins is an award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist passionate about making the delicious choice the healthy choice and converting the science of nutrition into bite-size nuggets for consumers and professionals. Sherry has previously worked in school nutrition and is an expert in food allergy management and training for various audiences. She is a writer, speaker, social media savvy, recipe developer, and lover of good food. Sherry is active with her local and national dietetics professional associations and currently serves as the Georgia representative to the Academy of Nutrition House of Delegates.


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