Discover the delicious world of nut and seed butters. With peanut bans in place in many schools, you can expand your child's healthy lunchtime options.

Few things can transport us back to childhood days quite like the classic PB and J. Wrapped ever so neatly in wax paper and packed with love in a cartoon-adorned lunch kit, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a significant part of the childhood experience for many of us.

Going peanut-free

Those days of PB and J sandwiches are long gone. With allergy concerns rampant these days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an elementary school that doesn’t have at least one peanut-free classroom. In fact, many schools in Canada are going completely peanut-free.

Fortunately, there are a variety of healthy alternatives to peanut butter, including those made with tree nuts, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios; seeds, such as hemp, sunflower, and pumpkin; and soybeans.

Tree nut butters

Because peanuts are actually a legume and not a nut, not all people with peanut allergies are allergic to tree nuts, and vice versa. While some classrooms and schools have gone nut-free entirely, others may still allow tree nuts and tree nut spreads.

Generally speaking, nut butters are high in protein and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. They also contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals, as detailed in the accompanying chart.

If your child’s school or classroom is one that allows tree nuts, consider nut butter spreads, available at your local natural health food store. Although we have suggested ways to enjoy each nut or seed butter, any type can be used. Switch them up to your child’s personal taste, and according to school policy.

Tree Nut Butters
Spread Nutritional highlights
(per 2 Tbsp/30 mL serving)
Enjoy it
almond
  • 202 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • high in magnesium and manganese
  • 12 g monounsaturated fat
  • 2 g saturated fat
Cut the crust off a piece of whole grain bread (save crusts for breadcrumbs at a later date), have your child roll the bread out flat with a rolling pin, spread with almond butter and a favourite no-sugar-added jam, roll up into a “sushi” roll, and slice into six to eight pieces of almond butter and jam “sushi.”
cashew
  • 188 calories
  • 6 g protein
  • high in copper and magnesium
  • 9.4 g monounsaturated fat
  • 4 g saturated fat
Spread onto whole grain tortilla, place whole, peeled banana on top, and wrap up for an easy, nutritious hand-held lunch.
hazelnut        
  • 180 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • high in vitamin E, copper, and manganese
  • 14 g monounsaturated fat
  • 1 g saturated fat
Blend with dark cocoa powder and some organic cane sugar for a healthier version of the store-bought chocolate hazelnut spread. (You know which one we’re talking about!)
pistachio
  • 156 calories
  • 6 g protein
  • high in copper, manganese, vitamin B6, thiamine, and phosphorus
  • 2 g saturated fat
Use as a dip for sliced apple, pear, celery, and other produce.
walnut
  • 200 calories
  • 5 g protein
  • high in manganese, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus
  • 2 g saturated fat
Halve and core a crispy apple; spread with nut butter (and maybe a few fair trade chocolate chips, if you’re feeling adventurous).
Seed and Soy Spreads
Spread Nutritional highlights 
(per 2 Tbsp/30 mL serving)
Enjoy it
tahini (sesame seed)
  • 172 calories
  • 6 g protein
  • high in thiamine, copper, phosphorus, and manganese
  • 5.4 g monounsaturated fat
  • 2 g saturated fat 
Stir into a Thermos of hot soup or stew for added creaminess and nutrition.
sunflower seed
  • 186 calories
  • 6 g protein
  • high in manganese, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus
  • 3 g monounsaturated fat
  • 1.6 g saturated fat
Take two pieces whole grain bread. Spread one slice with seed butter and layer sliced strawberries on top. Top with second piece of bread and cut in quarters—a delightful take on the PB and J!
pumpkin seed
  • 200 calories
  • 6 g protein
  • high in magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc
  • 10 g monounsaturated fat
  • 3 g saturated fat
Slather seed butter on top of celery sticks and top with child’s favourite dried fruit (cherries, raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots) for a modern take on ants on a log.
hempseed
  • 180 calories
  • 9 g protein
  • high in iron
  • 1.5 g monounsaturated fat
  • 1 g saturated fat
Spread on a banana pancake with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of organic Canadian maple syrup. Put another pancake on top for a cold pancake “sandwich.”
soybean 
  • 200 calories
  • 10 g protein
  • high in manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, folate, and vitamin K
  • 2 g saturated fat
Spread on whole grain wrap, top with a light layer of honey, sprinkle puffed rice or quinoa cereal on top, roll up, and slice into 1 in (2.5 cm) segments for a healthy after-school snack.

Seed and soy spreads

If tree nuts are banned in your child’s school or classroom, a variety of other seed and soy spreads are available at your local natural health food store.

Seed and soy butters are good sources of protein and high in many essential nutrients.

In rare instances, these alternatives are banned from schools as well, as they often look and taste like nut butters and can be indistinguishable to teachers. If this is the case in your child’s school, stick to good ol’ turkey, lettuce, and tomato. With all these new options available, the thought of peanut butter on a sandwich seems almost passé. If your child’s classroom or school is peanut- or tree nut-free, or if you want your family to try something new, give these alternatives a go. You might just find the new PB and J is actually made with pistachio butter! 


Read the label

When purchasing a nut or seed butter from your local natural health retailer, look for the following on the label.

Minimal ingredients 
A good quality nut or seed butter is made with nuts and sometimes nut or seed oil and a small amount of salt. If salt is an ingredient, be sure to check the sodium content to make sure it is reasonable.

Organic 
Nuts have high levels of protein and fat, thereby causing them to absorb pesticide residue. By choosing organic nut and seed butters whenever possible we can avoid ingestion of low levels of pesticides.

Fair trade 
Whenever possible, choose a product that is certified fair trade. A fair trade seal on your nut butter indicates that nut farmers all over the world, including Malawi, El Salvador, and India, receive a fair income, stable market, and often additional premiums to spend on community projects.


Prepare your own nut or seed butter

Making your own nut or seed butter is a fun way to spend a few hours with the kids. It’s simple, saves money, and can be personalized to suit your family’s taste buds. Keep in mind the following tips when preparing your own nut or seed butter.

  1. Roast nuts or seeds at 350 F (180 C) until golden brown. Time will vary greatly depending on type and size of nut or seed. Keep a close eye on them and stir them occasionally so they don’t burn.
  2. Add roasted nuts to a food processor and blend, blend, blend. Scrape sides of food processor with spatula occasionally and blend until a creamy-smooth texture is achieved.
  3. If desired, add a bit of neutral-tasting oil to make it creamier. Coconut oil is good too, and adds a touch of tropical flavour.
  4. If desired, season with a bit of sea salt. Additionally, you can season nut or seed butter with a variety of other flavours such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, tamari, maple syrup, cocoa powder, or honey. 

About the Author

alive editor Amy Wood is guilty of eating almond butter straight out of the jar with a big spoon.