Spreading the word: kids are stuck on peanut butter

February 17, 1993|By Ginger Munsch Crichton | Ginger Munsch Crichton,Dallas Morning News/Universal Press Syndicate

Kids are nuts about peanut butter. So nuts that a school-age child eats about 4.8 pounds of it a year -- compared to just over 1 pound for the average adult, according to Peanut Advisory Board studies.

But should health-conscious parents be shell-shocked by peanut butter's high fat content?

No, say nutritionists -- it's OK to keep stuffing those PB&Js into school lunch bags. They're cheap, easy to make and, with some simple additions, can be part of a nutritious meal.

"I think it's fine. It has protein in it; it's something children like. It is a little higher in fat than some lean meats you could put in a sandwich, but it's not nutrition if it's not eaten," says Neva Cochran, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"If you keep everything in balance," she says, "then something a little higher in fat can still be eaten in the context of a healthy diet."

Registered dietitian Jo Ann Carson, who has 8- and 12-year-old sons, also says peanut butter can be a good choice.

"I send peanut butter and jelly in my kid's lunch because he eats it," says Ms. Carson, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "It's certainly ahealthier option than a bologna sandwich or something like that."

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even got a nod of approval recently from Consumer Reports magazine, which rated a PB&J vs. Oscar Mayer's Lunchables and similar packaged meals.

The result: Peanut butter and jelly was "better than the combos nutritionally. Cheaper too," the magazine says.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with two slices of bread, two tablespoons of peanut butter and one tablespoon of grape jelly costs roughly 34 cents to make and has about 345 calories and 18 grams of fat, with 47 percent calories from fat.

The fat and calories can be lowered substantially by spreading the peanut butter a little more thinly -- using one tablespoon instead of two, for instance.

But there's no getting around the fact the peanut butter is high in fat. About 75 percent to 80 percent of its calories come from fat. Nutritionists recommend that diets contain no more than 30 percent calories from fat overall.

"My first thought of peanut butter from an adult standpoint is it's a high-fat option," says Ms. Carson. But, she says, "from a child's standpoint, we're concerned about fat but not quite as much."

Also, she points out, about half the fat in peanut butter is mono-un-saturated -- "the type that is probably the healthiest type of fat."

Parents could opt for peanut butter with no added sugar or salt, but "that's really just a matter of personal preference," says Ms. Cochran. "I don't think there's that much difference in the nutritional value."

Still, parents can help their kids eat a balanced lunch by choosing a few low-fat, nutritious accompaniments.

Ms. Cochran suggests sending carrot sticks with low-fat dressing for a dip, low-fat milk and low-fat cookies such as animal crackers. Another day, pack pretzels and an apple.

Ms. Carson says she sometimes chooses a small carton of yogurt to go with a PB&J. She'll put it in the freezer first for an hour so it will stay chilled. Jicama sticks, bananas or seasonal fruit are also good choices, she says.

As for the sandwich itself, Ms. Carson suggests using fruit-only jams and jellies. And, "I think it's better to use whole-grain bread if you can -- meaning, if your child will eat it," she says.

Parents can also consider combining peanut butter with somethingother than jelly.

In "The Creative Lunch Box" (Crown Publishers, New York, $7), author Ellen Klavan suggests making a sandwich spread out of two tablespoons peanut butter mixed with one to three teaspoons of canned crushed pineapple, applesauce, flavored yogurt, mashed banana or grated carrots.

Or, she writes, sprinkle raisins, diced dates, sliced banana or diced apples on a peanut butter sandwich.

Parents can also experiment with bagels, pita bread or tortillas instead of sandwich bread. Ms. Cochran suggests spreading a flour tortilla with peanut butter and sliced bananas, then rolling it up like a burrito. Or, put peanut butter in celery sticks and dot it with raisins -- the classic "ants on a log."

Peanut butter or peanuts also can be used as an ingredient for quick bread, snack mixes, vegetable dip or even "peanut slaw" -- for lunch boxes or treats at home. For an indulgence, bake some variety of peanut butter cookie.

The Peanut Advisory Board (P.O. Box 7528, Tifton, Ga., 31793) recently published a free pamphlet called "Peanuts and Peanut Butter: Low Cal Style," with eight recipes that have fewer than 300 calories per serving and 30 percent or less calories from fat. No cookies here, though.

Despite peanut butter's kid appeal, parents shouldn't send their children to school with it all the time.

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