Peanut Butter in Schools: Friend or Foe? Kimberly Maher and Pam Zimmer

In today’s age of metal detectors at school doors, security guards, and ID cards, parents would think student’s safety assured, but an increased threat to student’s health and safety has infiltrated all of these measures. Peanut butter sandwiches have long been a staple of student lunches, but recently parents of children with peanut allergies have begun to question the safety of allowing them in schools. A recent New York Times article looked at school policies that have changed the availability of peanut butter to students.

“Prodded by parents warning of lethal allergies, by the contentions of some researchers that peanut allergies are on the rise and, not least, by a fear of litigation, growing numbers of public and private schools across the country … have banned peanut butter from their cafeterias. Others have declared peanut-free zones or set up committees to figure out what to do. (, 1998)”
While some schools have chosen to ban the substance all together, others have made it available in sealed packets with separate utensils away from other foods, and others still have created peanut butter free tables that are cleaned down after meals and kept away from any peanut butter, or peanut containing products.
These requests to ban peanut butter, or reduce its presence in schools were once contained within the alternative school spectrum. However, with the rise of peanut allergies, these bans have extended into mainstream school systems, often within districts having large parental influence. Parents of students with allergies have strongly pushed school boards to reconsider food regulations with the threat of litigation.    After Peanut Allergies were ruled a disability within the airline industry, parents were given the legal backing to request peanut bans within their child’s school as per the American’s with Disabilities Act.

For these parents, the danger of their child going into anaphylactic shock is very real.  Their children are forced to carry Epi-Pens with them at all times in school.  Epi-pens administer a potentially lifesaving dose of epinephrine, but it must be administered immediately, and even then there is no guarantee that it will stop anaphylaxis. Even a well informed child can still be in danger.  A child may be trained from a young age not to touch peanut butter, but it is often from a hidden source that they risk exposure.  Cross contamination is very common in schools, particularly in the younger grades.  If a classmate has a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and then touches a doorknob, or toy, the child with the allergy is now at risk.  A simple touch to the eyes or nose, and that child could die.

In many schools, these requests have been met with a strong backlash from other parents in the district.  The ban on peanut butter has been seen as outrageous, unnecessary, and detrimental to their child’s well being.  For a parent whose child only eats peanut butter, they are faced with the dilemma of finding a suitable alternative, or having their child go seven hours without eating.  Others feel that peanut bans give children and parents a false sense of security.   Parents in an MSNBC article commented on how schools should prepare students for the real world, and would need to learn how to coexist with peanut butter throughout life and that a ban would be doing them a disservice by putting them off their guard.  And so the battle continues back and forth.

Parents with an afflicted child often takes the stance of “What is more important, my child’s life, or your child’s lunch?” (, 1998)” It seems simple, why should they put their child’s life in jeopardy because another child is a picky eater?  Other questions must be raised however.   What if that other child is from a poor family? Peanut butter is the most inexpensive protein available and often the only source of protein in a child’s diet.  For parents who can’t afford to provide their child lunch, peanut butter offers school systems the ability to provide lunch for those children without depleting their already shrinking budgets.   What if a child is a picky eater, but they are also hypoglycemic or diabetic? These children must eat lunch or else they can have dangerous drops in blood sugar and blood pressure.  Shouldn’t these children also be covered under the ADA? And lastly, why should an entire school of children conform for the sake of one child? The real world does not function that way, why should the school system? As questions continue to be raised, parents are pitted against one another, leaving school districts caught in a very difficult position. This is not an argument that will resolve itself any time in the near future, but with allergies on the rise, and parents gaining ground, its an argument that people will be hearing far more about.

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30 responses to “Peanut Butter in Schools: Friend or Foe? Kimberly Maher and Pam Zimmer

  1. This article raises some very interesting questions; I can sympathize with both sides. On one hand you have a child’s health and well-being; on the other hand you have an entire school conforming to meet the needs one or two students. The article stated that removing peanut butter from the school is not the way the real world operates. I believe that to be true. What about restaurants, fairs, birthday parties, supermarkets, parks? Children are exposed to all of those places. I don’t think it is fair that other children in school should have to sacrifice their lunches for one student. My daughter eats peanut butter and jelly almost everyday. It is a healthier alternative to cold cuts. I think special arraignments for the students with the allergy should be made, like peanut free areas. When this child grows up and gets a job, the work environment won’t be peanut free. And if the allergy is so severe, as the article mentioned, that a contaminated door knob could trigger an attack, then your child is never safe. What if a child eats peanut butter for breakfast? Or when they get home from school, and it gets on their jacket and they wear that jacket to school the next day? Having a peanut free school does not ensure your child’s safety if the allergy is severe. I don’t think banning peanut butter in schools is the right action. However, I feel terrible for the parent and children that have to go through this, and I probably would feel differently if it was my child who had the allergy.

  2. I don’t agree that banning peanut butter from school is the answer. I firmly believe that schools should have peanut free tables. I can also agree with asking parents in the childs class that if they send in special treats, for birthdays and holidays that if be peanut free. But you can not rely on everyone else to take care of your child. Like it stated in the article that is not reality. Resturants, hotels, theme parks,and many other places that you take your child to are not nut free. I understand how scary and frightening it can be, but if the allergy is so severe how could the child ever go anywhere in a public place? I think these parents should take a different approach. Instead of making this everyone elses responibility why don’t they start at home by educating their child on how to read labels and be conscious of washing there hands often. I know this sounds a little harsh, but I am also a mother of a diabetic, and peanut butter happens to be a great snack for him when his blood sugar is low. The nurse in his school keeps some peanut butter crackers in her office for an emergence, but always makes sure that he washes his hands before he leaves her office. If peanut butter is banned in schools what good is that for him?

  3. Unfortunately, the amount of children allergic to peanut butter or any peanut related product, is growing significantly. Having this specific allergy or any allergy is extremely frightening. While I agree that sometimes it may seem inappropriate for a school to conform on the account of one of two students, this allergy is life threatening. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request if peanuts pose a life threatening situation to some children, that a school bans students from bringing in foods containing peanuts or traces of peanuts. Schools first priority should be their students safety.

  4. It seems to me that people are being way too overprotective of their children. I agree with the parents in the MSNBC article, school should prepare children for the real world, there will be peanut butter in public and private places that these kids are going to come into contact with! You cannot put your children in a bubble, you must educate them as to what they can and can’t eat or come in to contact with. This is coming from someone who has a food allergy to shrimp which affects we very much like the peanut allergy, but you don’t see me trying to ban seafood restaurants…

  5. Being a parent of a child with a nut allergy and someone who runs a school I can see both sides. At the risk of sounding like polyanna, I think the answer is in education. Rarely when these issues arise and in the article posted above are medical professionals involved. There are many types of nut allergy and each has its own level of severity. It is vital that schools and parents make sure they have proper medical information before going to attempt to change school or district policy. Too often we worry about litigation and fear rather than finding facts – not a good way to teach our kids about solving problems and finding amicable solutions. Schools have managed to welcome students with many different medical needs. We should get the medical community involved to find the best way for schools to move forward.

  6. I think if schools were to ban peanut butter because of it’s risk for allergies, they would also have to ban milk, soy, and chocolate, among the other foods which can cause allergies. I can understand how the parent of a child with peanut allergies might be quick to say “lets ban peanut butter!” but is it fair to the other children and parents? Like the article mentioned, peanut butter is a cheap source of protein. Many parents might not be able to afford cold cuts or even if they could, their children would not want to eat them. As a vegetarian I would have had a hard time if I wasn’t allowed to eat peanut butter in school. Instead of focusing on banning peanut butter, the parents should be teaching their children and their classmates to be considerate and wash their hands if they are going to eat peanut butter, and that certain kids may have allergies so never share your lunches.

  7. As a person with anaphylaxis allergies, I feel that it is something that you must learn to deal with at an early age so that it does not hinder you as you go forward with your life. It is important that children who have severe allergies, whether it is to peanut butter, chocolate, or wheat, learn how to cope with this and be able to function on a daily basis. If they do not their transition into the real world will be a very difficult one. Peanut allergies is not a new disease or some new virus. Severe allergies have been around for a long time and many people and children have dealt with them over the years. I think it is important to not shelter children to the point that they cannot function outside of their sheltered environment. Parents must take the proper precautions and let the school know of their child’s allergy and the severity of it. They must also educate their child on his/her own allergy and explain to them what to do if they are feeling any symptoms. But banning peanuts or therefore any other food that children could possibly have severe allergies to is a bit extreme and does not constitute a healthy environment for children to grow up in.

  8. I feel that this article raises more issues then just a peanut butter ban. I feel that the fear of the legal ramifications on the part of the school board is more of the issue. Today we live in a world that is dire need of major Tort reforms. It is not only the child with a peanut butter allergy that would sue the school if some horrible happen, but also the child with asthma that was exposed to some smoke from a science experiment set off an asthma attack. Maybe the child that got his feelings hurt in a dodge ball game might sue. There ARE schools that have banned Dodge Ball. What, no peanut butter and Dodge Ball in school? I do feel for the child with the allergy, but it is not the schools job to isolate him or protect him. It is the schools and parents job to educate him and others about how to handle the allergy attack and the complications that can occur. Teachers and other school staff should be trained in use of the epi-pen and CPR. While we are at it, we should get Dodge Ball back into the schools. Let children be children!!!!!!

  9. Before reading this article I was unaware of how many children suffer from a peanut allergy. However, I do not feel as though schools should all together ban peanut butter. I agree with the MSNBC article, the real world is out there and children need to get ready for it. However, I feel schools should have peanut butter free tables available at lunch. This will be make a safer environment for those children who have an allergy. If students have to wash there hands after eating lunch this will also decrease the chances of spreading peanut butter on doorknobs and other areas of the school. If this Issuse however becomes longer I feel as though other institutes should get involved to make it known how many children are affected and action needs to be taken.

  10. Although I understand the arguments of both sides I do not agree with the ban of peanut butter in schools. There are many food items that people are allergic to and if you ban peanut butter would have to do the same with all of the other foods. I think the schools are being extremely accommodating by having “peanut butter free zones”. By coupling these “free zones” with proper cleaning and the education of the child and staff of what to do if a reaction takes place will help minimize any risks. I know a little girl that is extremely allergic to cheese, she came in contact with some by accident her face blew up and you can not even see her eyes she was rushed to the hospital and her face was bruised with black and blues from the swelling for weeks. She is not sitting in a “cheese free zone” at school, her mother educated her on what she should and should not do and she goes about here life. On a daily basis we are all faced with a world filled with many hazards, from allergies to contagious illnesses, if we thought about and accommodated everyone one of them no one would ever leave their homes. We all just try our best to stay educated on the risks, preventions and responses and we should teach children to do the same.

  11. Nut allergies are becoming more and more common. I work at a “peanut free” camp where they check every food item to make sure that every child would be able to eat what is served and there is no outside food allowed to be brought in. In doing this, they create an environment where parents can send their children and not fret about whether or not their children will experience an allergic reaction. It also helps to not single out children who have nut related allergies. While this is a good idea to help keep these select few children safe, it also can create problems for other children. However, there are also children who are allergic to soy and other products, that are still singled out because they have a hard time eating the food there and still need to be careful. Peanut butter and jelly is a staple food for young children. Children are picky and don’t eat many types of food. This creates problems for some children because they have a hard time eating. It also creates a problem for the parents because they can not bring in food for their children if they do not like what is being served. Camps and schools try to help serve nutritious meals to the kids, however they serve fried chicken and pizza that they claim to be healthy because they have no trans fat. While I am by no means a nutritionist I feel that peanut butter may be a healthier option for a lunch with good nutritional value rather than these fried, greasy foods. Instead of banning foods such as peanut butter, schools should try to make all children and parents aware of these allergies and make students conscious about what they bring in and use it as a way to help promote proper hygiene and to teach children how to react in dangerous situations. It is important to always be aware of the safety of children, however there are so many allergies that if we started to ban everything someone was allergic to then what foods would we be left with?

  12. I think this is a very informative article. This article depicts the environment us teachers will be subjected to. The school environment is constantly changing due to new and upcoming issues. In this case, peanut butter allergies are the issue. I think both sides have legitimate points in this article, but I don’t think banning peanut butter is the answer. The fact is these kids can come into contact with peanut butter outside of school, so should we just ban peanut butter all together? Children with peanut allergies need to be aware of how to treat their allergy when they come in contact with it. All teachers should be aware of their students’ medical histories. These children do possess a serious allergy, but they have to learn how to deal with it in everyday life. When these children graduate the real world will not ban peanut butter for them.

  13. I understand both arguments pertaining to this article. Many children today are highly allergic to nuts and I do feel that schools should be compassionate towards them. At the same time I also feel that many students only eat peanut butter and or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The school that I work in has peanut butter free tables and that is where children who are allergic to peanuts sit. The outside world does not ban peanut butter so therefore I like the way the school I work in handles this situation.

  14. Society never seems to stop amazing myself. When I sit and think back to when I was a child there was never such a craze on food allergies, allergies, special Ed, tracking and many others that exist today. It actually amazes me; especially for how such situations can develop just seem to be a little mind-boggling. Then in fact when you take all situations into account how can you be sure that you will be fine at every moment? In the educational setting schools are able regulate it, but even so are they really. Because depending on the allergy sometimes being in the same presence is not sufficient, or other products might contain the nut products without realizing it there could be a simple trace. When you read many labels you see that it says they are made in factories where nuts are present or use the same machines. That is something possible to spike the allergy attack. So thus how does one regulate it, in addition to making the children without the allergy suffer. This problem also becomes an issue because as children grow they do not want to be isolated to sit at their own table, or pulled out or the room due to their allergy, which raises a point for science. As Mindy mentioned, how it is possible to control in the outside world, I understand asking about your own personal food you are ordering or the ingredients but still it is not possible to control the surrounding people or the restaurants combination of appliances or containers. This raises a scary point to consider but hopefully validity that doctors can research for a preventative.

  15. I definitely think children need to learn how to deal with their allergies, but they are also just children. Can you really excpect a six or seven year old to always be aware of their allergy? For those parents who disagree with the ban because their children don’t like anyother food, then maybe they should prepare their children for the real world. I think they’re being selfish.
    The separate table sounds like a good idea, but it is also segragating the children. These children might feel like they are being punished for their allergy because they have to sit at a separate table. It might be embarrassing and prevents them from sitting with their friends.

  16. I can agree with both sides to this argument and it is indeed a very controversial issue. I currently work at a school with Autistic children and we have a “peanut free” building, however, there are circumstances where some students and or staff members come into the school with food items containing peanut items.
    Being that some students have such a strong allergy which could ultimately cause death, I feel that schools should make it a rule that there should be no peanut items allowed into the school building. However, in the same sense, why should non-peanut allergy children suffer?? When I was younger, I always had a PP&J sandwich for lunch and we never had any problems in my school? As a previous blogger also stated, peanut butter is a relatively cheap yet nutritious way to incorporate protein into a diet. I don’t know if this is a recent health issue, but I cannot recall when I was younger having such strict rules when it came to our lunch preferences. If we continue to ban peanuts from schools, what’s next?? It sounds like a good idea to have students who wish to eat peanut butter food items sit at another table or lunchroom, but wouldn’t that be isolation? I feel that those students would get made fun of and ridiculed for being different and sitting at another table.
    This is a highly debatable issue and I am curious to see what the future brings with schools and peanuts?

  17. If we ban peanuts from schools that means that we should all of the other foods that people are allergic to such as wheat and soy products. What I do think schools should do is create an area in which children may eat peanut butter. This way those who can eat peanut butter may eat it and those who cannot will not be subjected to it. Additionally, I feel that schools should be equipped with antihistamines such as the epipen in the event of an emergency.

  18. ‘An ounce of prevention is a worth a pound of cure,’ so students who have allegies to peanut butter should carry epipens without a doubt. Having them around the school can also be useful but epipens should be on the person’s person for immediate action if necessary (-:).

    Banning peanut butter at schools should not be up for debate, in my opinion. It is clearly a life threatening substance that can kill! I believe that cooperating with a ban on peanut butter is teaching good citizenship (concern for the good of mankind), as opposed to concern for self (or a few) for those who desire peanut butter as the ultimate in lunch time enjoyment.

    We don’t bring guns to school because people can get hurt very seriously but if a person chooses to shoot wolves, she/he can play with guns/hunt in the right environment. Peanut butter is on the list of life threatening things that can harm children too. Eat peanut butter at home.

    My children do not have allergies to Peanut butter and when I found out that they were not allowed to take it to school for lunch at Westbury Friends School, I didn’t perceive it as an inconvenience because there are so many other wonderful choices like tuna fish, egg salad, cold cuts, Lunchables, tortellini and salad with chicken bits from which to choose. Peanut butter makes for a great afterschool snack if it’s something that you feel your child must have during the course of the day.

  19. My first thoughts before reading the entire blog were that the parents whose children had a peanut allergy should have the overriding decision in banning peanut butter, after all; it is their child’s life that is at risk. However, after reading the other points about how many children cannot afford a more expensive lunch of meats, or even some kids who may be vegetarians; peanut butter may be one of the only options for them to eat. It is unfair that they will not have this option and either will go hours without eating which can have negative health effects and negative effects on academic performance as well. There should be some type of compromise such as a section of the lunch room for peanut butter products. Also, if these children have a peanut allergy, it is not only peanut butter they will need to stay away from but many snacks contain peanut oil or are produced in factories with peanuts and soy. Therefore, banning peanut butter alone will not solve this issues. If accommodations are made for these children that should be appreciated, after all everyone’s lifestyles need to be taken into consideration.

  20. I think a ban on peanut butter in elementary schools is reasonable, where children with peanut allergies are present in the building. Especially in the lower grades. Teaching your child can only go so far. It is especially hard to send your Kindergarten child to school with such a serious allergy. One child, at my son’s school, would have a reaction to the smell of peanuts.

    A friend of mine had a serious incident happen in her class. D was allergic to tomatoes, he sat near A who had spaghetti for lunch. D knew only to eat what was on his plate and there was a chair separating the two children. A got mad at D and leaned over and bit him, breaking the skin and D had an allergic reaction to the tomato sauce in her saliva. D was treated and was okay, but really better precautions could have been in place to protect the child from this situation. It is only inconvenient and unnecessary until someone is seriously hurt or dies. I would rather be safe than sorry any day of the week, especially when it comes to children. Let them learn about the real world with their parents, in the real world. Lets keep them safe at school.

  21. I think one of the reasons peanut butter is an important food in school is because it’s a food that many kids will eat as an alternative to the regular meal. I think that if the schools could come up with another kid friendly food alternative there would be less opposition to removing peanut butter sandwiches from the menu.
    I also think its hard to force schools to remove peanut butter from the cafeteria because food alergies are not something you can always be protected in the real world. Restaurants, that many people will eat in when they are not in school do not provide the same protection. There are many foods with a peanut derivative served at restaurants and the patrons do not always know what is being served around them.
    I think if your going to limit what’s being served it has to be globally and not on a one building at a time basis to protect everyone so there are never any allergy surprises. When someone dies of anaphylaxis in a public place from an airborne irritant things will have to change everywhere. This is a step in the right direction, if it’s done correctly.

  22. I do not think that peanut butter should be banned from schools. I agree that if there are children with high risk allergies they should be provided with an area where their health can be protected but other children’s rights to eat peanut butter should not be taken away. If a child has such a high allergic reaction that they cannot be in the same building as peanut butter then it should be treated differently and that child’s family must find a school or a program that suits this students, or a special school that can provide the family with services to fit their needs. I know that this may not seem fair but I agree with the first person who posted that said that in the real world restaurants and stores are not going to stop having these products because of a few people if the majority still demands the product. As food allergies increase we will find that there are more places created to fit and serve people with certain food allergies.

  23. First of all, to my knowledge, families who are unable to provide or pay for suitable lunches for their children have it provided for them through either the state or the district. So this is not an issue. Constantly comparing the real world to school is inappropriate. How do you compare the conscious choice of an adult to stay away from dangerous personal allergens to those of a young child in elementary school? The analagous notion of, “I grew up without seat belts and I’m still here, so why can’t these kids tough it out” is also nonsensical. what about all the children who have died or gotten injured because no car seats or seat belts were available. The only people who can afford to completely Darwinian in their world assessment, are those who have absolutely no external needs or internal irregularities. Do any of us honestly know anyone who qualifies as such? Pesticides, environmental hazards, impurities that now exist in the foods we eat, the items we buy all deem it necessary to rethink our irreverant consumption and universal acceptance. As pointed out in this essay, it’s never an issue unless you’re directly affected. The ever widening spread of substandard food and product production cannot be taken lightly, lest you or someone in your family becomes victim.

  24. This article raises a very interesting question about how to address the specific health needs of children in a school system. While it seems extreme to ban peanut butter from an entire school due to the needs of one child it must also be taken into account that the severity of this allergy could be life threatening. With that in mind, is it really fair to put a child’s life at risk so a parent of an unaffected child does not have to alter their lunch routine? As pointed out in the comment above, an issue never seems to become prevalent to someone unless their family is directly involved. Yet in the case of a child’s life, we cannot simply ignore it. Due to the severity of the stakes involved I side with the family of the allergic child. If a student in a school has an allergy that could take their life if they are exposed to it, the school should create a safe environment for that child by banning the allergen from school grounds.

  25. Peanut allergies is something that has definitely become a great concern in schools. I believe that there is a certain age where students are just not ready to be thrown into “real life” situations, like making conscience decisions on wheter to say yes or no to the friend who offers him/her a cookie that might have peanuts. Kids are kids and at the age of four or five they usually make decisions on instict not thought out ones. I think that when a school has a considerable amount of children with peanut allergies, this product should be banned from the school. When it’s only one child in the entire school, the measures taken shouldn’t be as drastic, there should just be a greater focus on that child. Decisions always depend on specific situations in every school so of course, this will be different everywhere. In middle school and high school students are then old enough to know how to care for themselves and know to be careful not to come in contact with something that can harm them.

  26. This was an interesting article. I did not think that peanut butter was that big of a deal until I read this. I didn’t realize that so many children suffer from potentially fatal peanut allergies. I can understand both sides of the argument. Parents with children who suffer from this lethal allergy push for a complete ban with the threat of litigation. After Peanut Allergies were ruled a disability within the airline industry, parents were given the legal backing to request peanut bans within their child’s school as per the American’s with Disabilities Act. But certain parents find this ban to be ridiculous. They feel that schools prepare students for the real world and there is peanut butter in the real world. So the students and parents should learn to deal with peanut butter in schools. I feel particularly badly for the people who use peanut butter because it is a cheap protein. Peanut butter has been used as a lunch staple for years because it is a low cost food option. If there is a ban in their school, they will now have to spend more money to find a suitable alternative.

  27. I understand both sides to this article but I don’t believe that banning peanut butter from schools is helping the situation. If you were to ban peanut butter who is to say it would stop there. The child has to be aware of their surroundings and learn at an early age what their allergies are. I know in my niece’s school that they have peanut free tables in the lunch room, which I think is a great idea. If you want to sit there you have to write a note saying you will not bring anything peanut like to the table

  28. Peanut allergies are one of the highest allergies amoung children in schools. I think its important to protect these students. There are plenty of food alternatives like jelly, cream cheese etc. Students are not hte only one who suffer from peanut allergies, many adults do to. I think that all schools should be peanut free.

  29. Allergic reactions to peanut products are a very serious issue we should recognize and understand, however you can not stop a parent from making peanut butter sandwiches for your children. Well, in my opinion every school should have a peanut free zone or a specific table where children whom have the allergies can eat in peace. I myself suffer from really bad allergic reactions to food, not to peanut butter but to mussels… and I carry an epi-pen on me at all times as well. It is a very scary situation to be in and especially for a child, so I do think it is important to acknowledge their needs. I also agree, somebody had made a comment above that parents who do bring in treats for the class, should make them peanut free and only store bought products with a label. You should not chance the life of a child.

  30. It is the school’s job to keep every student in the building safe. If a child has a severe life threatening alergy, that school should take all precautions necessary to protect that student. It may seem silly to completely ban peanut butter from schools, but it also seems selfish if parents have a problem in doing so. If a child can die if exposed to peanuts, then peanuts should not be around that child. If the parents in the school complain about this it just seems selfish on their parts. There are plenty of foods for them to send to school with their kids to eat, which will ensure the safety of all students.

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