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Sunbutter In, Peanut Butter Out in the Mehlville School District

The Mehlville School District makes changes to protect those with peanut butter allergies.

Given the upcoming implementation of Sunbutter brand sunflower butter to replace peanut butter in Mehlville School District cafeterias, I decided to imitate the old Folgers’s commercials where they switch out the coffee in a fancy restaurant to see if the patrons notice.

One Wednesday at lunchtime, I sneakily had the plates loaded and on the table before I called the kids in for lunch. I had scooped onto their plates a staple at many of our meals: apple slices. Next to the apple slices was what looked like peanut butter for dipping. My kids almost never eat apple slices without asking for peanut butter.

So, in other words, it all looked normal. It was a challenge for me not to say things like, “How about those apples, kids?” or other sentences that may be linked to why my kids never let me play hide and seek with them. I can’t keep my mouth shut under pressure.

But I did this time, and finally one of the kids mentioned the sunflower butter. My 5-year-old is a pretty tough sell when it comes to new foods and she immediately detected the difference.

“I don’t like this peanut butter, Mommy. It tastes so weird,” she reported. My 7-year-old soon decided the same. The only one who scooped it up with a spoon and devoured it was the one we call the Condiment Queen. She also eats mayonnaise with a spoon, so it wasn’t exactly an endorsement with any merit.

That said, I wonder what would have happened if I would have introduced it instead as “This really cool peanut butter you have to try—it’s made without peanuts in it!”

I’m anxious to see how the district will sell this stuff as a substitute for peanut butter. I know they are pretty slick about whole-wheat pizza crust (they don’t tell the kids) and other substitutions for the kids’ health.

For the record, I think it tastes great. The texture is almost identical to peanut butter and I happen to really like shelled sunflower seeds. 

But for some families, it’s not about a fun trick at lunchtime. There are many kids in the Mehlville School District for whom peanut butter is a serious allergen. It’s even life-threatening for a few.

This is no new news, as peanut allergies have become common across the country. The intensity of the allergy is stunning. For instance, in December my 2-year-old kissed her peanut-allergic friend several minutes after eating a piece of buckeye candy and the little girl broke out in hives.

The changes in the district might seem crazy if peanuts don’t affect your family. They certainly don’t affect mine. We don’t have any known food allergies among all six of us.

Last fall, , I was initially frustrated with what seemed like too much control over the party menu. It seemed like the changes were too restrictive, and took all of the fun out of the party.

I still think that the district should loosen up a bit on the nutritional content for the foods allowed at parties (it is a party, after all). But the allergy aspect was clearer for me. Though there are no allergies at my house, I can easily think of kids we know and love for whom allergies are an issue.

Last school year, we partied on the healthy/allergen-free side, and I was in store for some pleasant surprises as a room mom. Ordering from the birthday treat form was easy and I didn’t have to haul in boxes of treats for parties. And, because my kids are young, they don’t remember cupcake and cookie-laden parties. They don’t know that graham crackers and water bottles are a little on the lame side. They were happy with their party fare.

As kids that are more used to the old party menu and eating peanut butter in the cafeteria age, these changes will become the new normal. Kids will be more protected, and eventually nobody will miss peanut butter.

Of course, this new change won’t completely eliminate the possibility that an allergic kid is exposed to peanut butter. Some kids still bring their lunches to school and there won’t be a peanut butter detector at the door.

But where risk can be eliminated in a life-threatening situation, it seems like an easy decision. It has almost no impact on the rest of the kids and builds in a great safety measure for kids with peanut butter allergies.

I hope that this change in cafeteria practice gives the parents who send their peanut allergic kids off to school every day the opportunity for at least a small sigh of relief.

Until school starts, I’ll be working Sunbutter into our menu plans. I have the feeling that eventually, we’ll all be eating a lot more of this stuff. It’s an easy change. 

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