Mehlville cafeterias to replace peanut butter with sunflower alternative

Mehlville School District cafeterias will introduce a new mainstay when school resumes this fall: sunflower butter.

In an effort to protect the growing number of children and teenagers with life-threatening peanut and tree-nut allergies, district cafeterias will replace peanut butter with sunflower butter and will not sell any items containing peanuts or tree nuts, including those made in the same facility as products containing these ingredients.

“The main purpose for eliminating the sale of peanut butter and other peanut and tree nut items in our cafeterias is to keep our students safe,” School Food and Nutrition Services Director Katie Koester stated in a district news release. “Peanuts are one of the most life-threatening food allergies, and the number of students affected by serious peanut and tree nut allergies continues to climb.”

While the School Food and Nutrition Services Department is not mandating what students can bring to school in their lunch boxes, the switch to sunflower butter is an effort on behalf of the district to reduce the occurrence of food-based allergic reactions. Sunflower butter will be served in the cafeteria at every school, including at the elementary level where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been available as an alternate meal option from the entrée of the day.

To prepare students for the move to sunflower butter this school year, the elementary cafeterias served sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches alongside their peanut butter and jelly counterparts for the last two months of the 2011-2012 school year. Nurses at two elementary schools received parent permission to conduct a taste test of the sunflower butter with their peanut allergy students and yielded positive reactions from many of the students.

Through its participation in the National School Lunch Program, the district always has received peanut butter at no cost from the government, along with flour, pasta and other food items considered commodities. Sunflower butter also is provided free as a commodity because it aligns with the food allergy guidelines implemented at the federal level.

When comparing the nutritional facts of sunflower butter and peanut butter, both spreads contain nearly the same amount of calories, carbohydrates and fiber per serving, while sunflower butter provides more calcium and iron and less sodium than peanut butter. Sunflower butter does have a slightly higher fat content than peanut butter, but includes less of the “bad” saturated fat and more “good” monounsaturated fat.

Besides the removal of peanut butter from all cafeterias, the district will discontinue the sale of any items containing peanuts or tree nuts. Items made in the same facility as foods containing these ingredients will be eliminated from the menu as well.

“The Mehlville School District strives to provide our students with a safe learning environment every day,” Koester stated. “By implementing these new precautions, we are taking one more step towards preventing food-based allergic reactions in our schools.”