The peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich was a brown bag staple when I was a kid, but now that I have my own children, packing a lunch with actual peanut-based ingredients will land your kids’ meals in quarantine, and you’ll get stern warnings from the teachers and it will hardly win you (peanut-free) brownie points from the moms whose children suffer from this extremely serious food allergy. True story. And you can’t really blame the teachers and PTA for laying down the law with no-peanut zones, because an allergic reaction to peanuts can be life-threatening.
Our moms liked to pack PB&J because it was easy to make, delicious and protein-packed. We can still give our own kids the benefits of this now-retro sandwich, without risking anyone’s health—or risking your child’s embarrassment when her lunch is seized and destroyed.
Here are 6 great peanut-free options that are as nutritious and scrumptious as the real, peanut-packed thing:
1. Sunbutter sammie
SunGold Natural Sunbutter is made from sunflower seeds, and contains no hydrogenated oil or trans fatty acids. It’s got a buttery, yummy taste, and similar nutritional stats to peanut butter: 7 grams of protein per 2 tbs. serving. Choose from crunchy or natural, and spread it on your child’s favorite bread. Serve with jam, fruit or honey.
2. Ahhh…almond butter
The almond butter I love is raw and gritty—and my kids aren’t fans. But Barney Almond Butter is smooth and kid-friendly (though the name has nothing to do with the giant, purple monster known for singing nursery rhymes.) It’s delicious in sandwiches but also good mixed in oatmeal, with sliced bananas wrapped in a tortilla or as a topping to pancakes.
3. Hummus happiness
I didn’t know what hummus was when I was a kid, but it’s my 2-year-old’s favorite snack. Creamy and smooth, hummus is much lower in fat than nut butters, while being relatively high in fiber, protein and iron. Fantastic Foods Original Hummus is an easy-to-make mix, and you can also make your own with garbanzo beans, garlic, olive oil and tahini. Hummus is especially yummy with fresh avocados and some thinly sliced cucumbers in a whole wheat pita.
4. Wowbutter on wheat
100% peanut-free, made from non-GMO soybeans, Wowbutter tastes startlingly similar to peanut butter and was designed specifically for peanut- free lunchrooms. Nutritionally speaking, it’s nearly identical to peanut butter, with 15 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein per 2 Tbsp. serving. Kids love it—and the product even comes with stickers!
5. Go Nuttzo
No peanuts? No problem. One jar of NuttZo contains pretty much every nut except peanuts, including cashews, almonds, brazil nuts and hazelnuts. It’s also got chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Clearly, the omega-3 content is enough to make this product a nutritional winner. Warning: there’s no added sugar, so you might want to add a little honey to your child’s NuttZo-on-bread to make it kid-friendly.
6. Chocolate + hazelnut = yum
The best thing about making your child a choco-hazelnut sandwich is you get to lick the knife. This decadent spread by Justin’s is made from skim milk, cocoa and hazelnuts. With more sugar and a bit less protein than other nut spreads, it might not be the healthiest alternative to PB&J out there…but it’s a nice, wholesome, once-in-a-while treat, and did we mention you get to lick the knife?
Jorie Mark is Vitacost.com’s director of marketing communications and mom to three kids, ages 2-10.