Make a Healthy Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Woman spreading jelly on bread.jpg

Peanut butter and jelly is a classic favorite among kids and adults. And, good news, UnityPoint Health Dietitian Tricia Leininger says it’s an excellent snack or quick meal. If you’re wondering how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich healthy, Leininger gives these suggestions.

How to Choose Healthy Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a source of healthy fats, protein and vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium and phosphorous. Nut butter, including peanut butter, is a general term used to describe nuts that have been crushed and made into a spreadable paste. While peanut butter is the most popular, there are a bunch of others, including almond butter, hazelnut butter and cashew butter. Leininger says it doesn’t really matter which kind of nut butter you select because they are nutritionally very similar.

“Two tablespoons of nut butter add up to approximately 200 calories with significant amount of fat at 18 grams, Leininger says. “However, most of the fat is the unsaturated type, which is healthier. Two tablespoons of nut butter will also provide about 5 grams of protein, which is about the same amount as two-thirds cup of milk.”

Leininger says the nutritional difference between crunchy and smooth is minimal, and you should eat whichever you prefer. Sunbutter is another spread that works on the sandwich. It’s made from sunflower seeds, so it’s not technically a nut butter; however, Leininger says it is similar in nutrition to other nut butters.

Understand Peanut Butter Nutrition Facts

Leininger says whether you’re buying peanut butter or other nut butters, look at the ingredients on the back of the label because many nut  butters contain added sugars or fats.

Try to avoid added ingredients such as:

  • Hydrogenated oil
  • Palm oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup

The front of the label can give you some clues about the product, too.

  • Natural Peanut Butters. The term “natural” may give you a clue it has the least amount of added ingredients. These butters may separate into peanut oil on the top and nut solids at the bottom, but that’s normal. Leininger says to give it a good stir, and keep it in the refrigerator to help prevent separation.
  • Reduced Fat Peanut Butters. This usually means one-third less fat, but the calories are almost identical to “normal” peanut butters.
  • Powdered Peanut Butters. These products have half the calories of regular peanut butter because most of the fat are removed. Powdered peanut butter still contains all the protein of regular peanut butter. It can be added to smoothies or reconstituted with water to make into a spread.

How to Choose a Healthy Jelly or Jam

“The difference between a jam, jelly or preserve is how much fruit is retained in the final product,” Leininger says.

  • Preserves. Usually have the biggest chunks of fruit.
  • Jams. Contains fruit pulp that is often smaller than the pieces in preserves.
  • Jelly. Contains only the juice from the fruit.

Leininger says there is minimal difference found in the nutritional aspects of these different products. The products simply spread differently. Also, the fruit type, including peaches, berries or grapes, is all up to preference too.

“Two tablespoons of most spreads contain 50-60 calories, which all come from sugar. Low sugar or no sugar added varieties have about half the calories and may be a good option, if you’re trying to reduce calories from sugar,” Leininger says.

How to Choose a Healthy Bread

“Bread provides carbohydrates and B vitamins, which are important in providing energy to your body. If you use whole wheat bread, you’ll get a fiber boost, which is healthy for your heart and digestive system. Two slices of whole wheat bread equal about 150 calories,” Leininger says.

Leininger understands not all kids like the crust, and she says it’s ok to cut it off. If you select pre-made, frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, she suggests trying to find the healthier options made with whole wheat bread and with reduced sugar jelly.