The Trouble with Peanuts

My favorite columnist in Time is a fellow named Joel Stein, with whom I became enamored largely because his “lovely wife Cassandra” was pregnant roughly at the same time as I was, and I felt we were bonding over his satirical take on impending parenthood.  So now Joel and I are navigating the wild world of child-rearing together and I am always excited when his son (Laszlo, if you can believe it) shows up in his column.
Well, it appears poor Laszlo has been afflicted with a nut allergy. (It is worth noting that this revelation has caused Mr. Stein to recant an article he wrote last year satirizing people with allergies, which lead to a firestorm of criticism from the mommy-blogger community.  Interesting.)

I work in a school, and my child attends a school, and so I know firsthand how seriously schools take this truly dangerous intolerance.  It isn’t that peanut allergies are necessarily new, but they are newly rampant, which is concerning.  A good friend of mine in London just announced that her home is now nut-free and she must travel with an epi-pen in order to save her three-year-old daughter from going into anaphlactic shock.  On behalf of mothers everywhere I say simply: NOT FUN.

Fortunately for me, Babyman is not allergic to nuts and in fact requests them as an after-dinner treat (“Coupla peanuts, mommy?  Coupla cashews?”).  I put peanut butter on everything from pancakes to toast to banana slices; I mix spoonfuls of it into his oatmeal in the morning; we ply him with roasted peanuts at the Giants game in order to keep him still.  Nonetheless, come lunchbox time, it is important to think of children like Laszlo and not put their little lives in danger.

Time was, the majority of children in America skipped off to school with a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a cookie in a brown paper bag and they all turned out just fine.  The demise of the peanut butter sandwich represented a sad day indeed for busy moms and dads across the land, making lunches in the darkness of dawn.  (Gone too, incidentally, is the paper bag, and children now expect their lunches in temperature-controlled sacks with freezer packs to keep the milk cold and thermoses to keep the organic chili warm.)

I will be honest and say that some mornings, I’m simply not up to it.  The other morning, in particular, having stayed up too late the night before with an old college friend, ignoring an impending sinus infection and paying no heed to the responsibilities waiting for me at 6am.  So Babyman’s lunch that day consisted of cheese and crackers, some banana…and that’s about it.

Babyman’s new teachers and I are still feeling each other out, and that afternoon the head teacher said to me, “He wasn’t that into his lunch today; it was a lot of sort of snacky food, you know?  And not really a meal?  And he seemed sort of jealous of the other kids’ pasta.  Do you mind me asking, what does he eat at home?

Cut to the core, I stammered that he eats well, that I am actually quite devoted to his nutrition, and then, more defensively, the problem is that the foods he really likes are things I don’t feel I can send to school: carrots are choking hazards and avocado turns brown and he likes nuts, but nuts are like the worst thing in the world…and so on.  At which point she looked at me rather sympathetically and said, “Oh, we’re not nut-free here.  We’re peanut-free.  So you can send him with any kind of nut butter, just not peanut butter.”

And there you have it.  All nuts are not, in fact, created equal…and even more exciting, there is a big wide world of spreads available that will fit the bill.  So here is my guide to non-peanut-butter.

Soy Nut Butter: This is what they serve at the indoor gym/playspace in Potrero Hill favored by San Francisco’s hipster-mommy crowd. Literally nut-free, and therefore safe for schools and playspaces where all nuts are banned.  However there are those who feel that soy is best given to children (and particularly boys) in very small doses.  (Due to the vast amounts of conflicting information out there, I am opting not to include a link on this topic.)

Almond Butter: We eat a lot of almonds and almond butter in our house thanks to their so-called “superfood” status.  With salt, without salt, with flax seeds, marcona almonds, dry roasted…it’s all out there.  Personally I have found that almond butter is by far the easiest of the options listed here to find in mainstream grocery stores, which makes it an obvious default.  Trader Joe’s has good prices.

Cashew Butter: Delicious but a lot harder to find than almond butter.  Also a lot more expensive.

Sunflower Seed Butter: Just for variety’s sake we are eating a lot of this stuff too.  Personally I find that it tastes very sunflower-y and less nutty, per se.  But it has a lot of the same nutritional properties as other nut butters, like fiber, protein, and iron.

Better n’ Peanut Butter:  I include this ONLY because I thought at first that it would work as a peanut butter alternative; however it is important to know that this is a peanut product.  Big cons are the many engineered ingredients and the sugar.  Probably more appropriate as a low-fat alternative to peanut butter for adult snack cravings than a genuine source of nutrition for children.

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