With all three of my children, I was so paranoid about the danger of peanut allergies, I gave each of them their first taste of peanut butter while parked in front of their pediatrician’s office. There they’d be, strapped into their car seat, on the receiving end of a teaspoonful of peanut butter. Then we would wait, taking up precious San Francisco parking, as I scrutinized their little faces for any signs of anaphylaxis. I figured the safety of our doctor’s office was just a few steps away in the event of a swelling tongue or itchy throat.
Looking back, it seems a little, well, nutty. Fortunately, none of my children developed food allergies of any kind, which is a good thing because nut butters happen to be among my favorite foods. They’re also one of the handiest pantry items for a mom.
I feel for families with kids who have peanut or tree nut allergies. The good news is, there are now a huge variety of options available from pumpkin seed to soy nut to brazil nut butter, making it possible for most folks to work around the challenges of allergies.
Friends sometimes ask me, “What’s the healthiest nut butter for kids?” My feeling is, like so many wholesome foods, from dark leafy greens to summer berries, they’re all good. Choose what you like, and go for variety. Peanuts, tree nuts and seeds all have a somewhat different nutritional profile; all have benefits to offer. Almonds, for example, are high in vitamin E; walnuts are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids; and peanuts supply a healthy dose of folate. I usually keep a couple of different ones on hand at any given time and rotate them in my food prep.
All nut and seed butters are rich in both protein and fat, which is one of the reasons I like to feed them to my kids: they stave off hunger over the long haul. And while most of the fat in nut butters is the “good” kind, it does make them calorically dense, roughly 90 to 100 calories a tablespoon. So enjoy your nut butters, but keep the portion reasonable. Also, look for natural nut butters without added sugar or hydrogenated fat, two additions that diminish nutritional value.
The most common way for kids to eat nut butter, is of course, on a PB&J. But a little imagination and the options are endless. Grab a jar of sunflower seed butter, or almond butter, or yes, peanut butter, and get smearing.
APPLE & NUT BUTTERWICH
Using an apple corer, remove the core from the center of an apple. Cut the apple crosswise to make two 1/3-inch thick slices. Spread one apple slice with your favorite nut or seed butter. Sprinkle with granola. Set the second apple slice on top. Great as a main course for breakfast or lunch.
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER GRAHAMS
Snap a whole-grain graham cracker in half and scatter 8 or so chocolate chips on top of one half (the darker the chocolate, the better for you!). Heat in a toaster oven until the chocolate softens (less than a minute). Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate over the graham cracker. Smear the other half with peanut butter and sandwich the two together. A healthy and filling sweet.
ALMOND BUTTER & JAM SANDWICH
Cut the crusts off 1 slice of whole wheat bread. Cut the slice in half lengthwise. Soften the bread in the microwave for 10 seconds. Spread a thin layer of almond butter and jam on both slices. Roll up like sushi and eat with chopsticks. A fun alternative to a standard sandwich.
CASHEW NUT BUTTER BITES