A world of alternatives to peanut butter
Few things can transport us back to childhood days quite like the classic peanut butter sanger. Wrapped ever so neatly in wax paper and packed with love in a bright little lunchbox, the peanut butter sandwich was a significant part of the childhood experience for many of us.
However, those days are long gone. With allergy concerns rampant these days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a primary school that doesn’t have at least one peanut-free classroom. In fact, some schools in Australia 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 made from the following, 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 to your child’s personal taste, and according to school policy.
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 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.
Tree nut butters
Cut the crust off a piece of wholegrain 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”.
Spread onto wholegrain tortilla, place whole, peeled banana on top and wrap up for an easy, nutritious hand-held lunch.
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!)
Use as a dip for sliced apple, pear, celery and other produce.
Halve and core a crispy apple; spread with nut butter (and maybe a few fair trade chocolate chips, if you’re feeling adventurous).
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 personalised to suit your family’s taste buds. Keep in mind the following tips when preparing your own nut or seed butter.
Roast nuts or seeds at 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.
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.
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.
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.
seed and soy spreads
Nutritional highlights (per 1 1/2 Tbsp serving)
tahini (sesame seed)
Stir into a Thermos of hot soup or stew for added creaminess and nutrition.
Take two pieces wholegrain bread. Spread one slice with seed butter and layer sliced strawberries on top. Top with second piece of bread and cut in quarters.
Slather seed butter on top of celery sticks and top with child’s favourite dried fruit (cherries, sultanas, cranberries, chopped apricots) for a modern take on ants on a log.
Spread on wholegrain 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 chicken, 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-fangled peanut butter sanger is actually made with pistachio butter!