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Discover New Ways To PB&J

September 11, 2017

This article originally ran in September 2014, but with the new school year, we know you're on the hunt for new lunches and after-school snacks.

As a defiant response to Sad Desk Lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches—and we want to see yours, too.

Today: Level up your PB&J.

Cinnamon Nut Butter

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Good old PB&J gets a lot of flack for being an uninspired lunch. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them—they’ve been around this long for a reason—but sometimes you need to spice things up a bit. If you’re feeling rushed to throw together a quick sandwich for work, we’ve got some inspiration to help you do one better than the average Skippy and strawberry jam:

1. Pick a different spread. If you just want to slather something on bread and be done with it, mix up your options. You can experiment with different nut butters in place of the peanut butter. You can choose to swap out the jelly for honey, or go even further -- basically, anything nutty or sweet is pretty good between two slices of bread. Here are some awesome flavor combinations:

More: Use a knife that's built for sandwiches.

Tomato Jam

2. Spice things up: Cinnamon is amazing on a PB&J. You know what else is surprisingly awesome? Peanut butter mixed with honey and red pepper flakes (some spicy honey also has the same effect). Or test out your own concoctions, like this spicy Thai version.

3. Add some crunch: Scatter some granola between your peanut butter and jelly for a crunchy sandwich. Or use dried fruit for another interesting texture. If you want a sweeter combo, use peanut butter with some chocolate chips thrown in for good measure. And if you walk on the wild side, put some potato chips in that PB&J.

Or, you can ignore all of this advice and add some ice cream in between two slices of bread for an ice cream sandwich and call it lunch. Just kidding! Sort of.

Tell us: What's your favorite PB&J-style combination?

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • trvlnsandy
  • cnealon
  • Nicole S. Urdang
    Nicole S. Urdang
  • witloof
  • Peony
I put chocolate chips in 95% of the things I make and am a strong proponent for lunch dessert.


trvlnsandy September 23, 2017
I bought a hot-sweet balsamic mustard (Fox's) ages ago that I loved on a PB sandwich. Can't find it where I live, so used a whole grain mustard recipe - used balsamic vinegar and brown sugar instead of regular, added ginger, and now use that. The heat and sweetness are perfect on a PB sandwich
Nicole S. September 23, 2017
Sounds excellent!
One question: fresh or powdered ginger?
trvlnsandy September 23, 2017
I use powdered when I make the mustard. Search whole grain mustard recipes - and substitute and add. Or I would expect you could just add some to some whole grain mustard, but once I found out how easy it was to make, just made it.
trvlnsandy September 23, 2017
Even better as a PB and mustard on Vollkornbrot
Nicole S. September 23, 2017
Thank you!
cnealon September 19, 2017
Take a hot pancake, spread PB then maple syrup....absolutely wonderful!
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
I like Peanut butter, sliced avocado and sriracha.
Sherry E. September 17, 2017
I have been wondering about avocado and PB...crunchy no doubt?
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
Definitely crunchy.
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
You also asked about a favorite brand of tahini.
Here's a link to the one I have been buying on Amazon:
witloof September 12, 2017
Almond butter, banana and dried California apricots on challah!
Peony September 11, 2017
Not much to this article; a bit disappointed.
Mae January 6, 2016
My now-87-year-old-father-in-laws standby favorite - peanut butter and dutch-loaf with hot pepper cheese. The man is healthier than I am!!
Butterfield B. January 5, 2016
no one could possibly love peanut butter as much as i do but here's a lunch fav (sometimes breakfast too) sans p.b. Take a really yummy jam of your choice and spread on toast than top with a high quality cheddar (i go for the cabot clothbound)....sweet salty DELICIOUSNESS!
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
Yes! I love sharp cheddar with any jam, sweet or hot.
Al January 4, 2016
Love the range of butters suggested. Love mine open-faced/knife & fork for a sit down lunch--with rhubarb sauce, fresh frozen raspberry sauce or a combo of plum and apple sauce--all from my own fruit trees. For an on-the-go meal--some of those raspberries made into jam--wicked good as we say in Maine.
Maggie January 5, 2016
Kelly January 5, 2016
How do you make rhubarb sauce Al; I love, love, love anything rhubarb :)
Al January 6, 2016
Start with one rhubarb plant and just keep dividing it. Mine's a variety named Macdonald--beautiful and productive with upright growth, red stalks, huge leaves and white flowers. Rhubarb's more than a spring happening. Harvest all summer long and compost what you don't use. I pop off new plants each spring to share or spread around my ornamental and veggie gardens. Chop rhubarb stalks into 1/2 inch pieces, add a little water and stew until soft. Cool sauce a little before adding sugar. Good on its own or with raisins, onion, spices, chopped apples and other fruit for chutney. Great over yogurt, cake, sweet breads, on biscuits and . . . with peanut butter!
Kelly January 6, 2016
Thank you so much! This sounds wonderful and I cannot wait to make some (and try it with many of your great suggestions). I would love to grow my own rhubarb and with your helpful information I might actually try my hand at it! I really appreciate you taking the time to share this :)
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
Very helpful, thank you.
Lted October 10, 2014
feijoa chutney + almond butter. Had this in New Zealand, both were home grown/homemade (even the almonds), couldn't get enough. Oh and our host baked a fresh loaf of bread each day. Heaven on Earth.
Shari F. October 8, 2014
Home made peanut butter (vitamix) and sweet pepper jelly made from habanero peppers. YUM!_
Maggie January 5, 2016
I'm with you 100% on this one - love spicy/sweet flavor combo - and home made nut butter , once you make it yourself you will never buy it again
AntoniaJames October 7, 2014
Inspired by Ruth McAllister's comment, yesterday I sliced the end piece from a Tartine Country Bread boule I'd baked the night before (maximum crust!), spread it with a thin layer of crunchy almond butter and a slick of tahini made from toasted sesame seeds; sprinkled with coarse salt and drizzled a bit of honey on it. That plus a big green salad and a local pear made a truly outstanding lunch, one I'll make again. Thank you, Ruth McAllister! ;o)
Scribbles October 6, 2014
I'm a huge fan of PB&J! When I hiked the AT I ate it almost everyday for lunch - mostly on flour tortillas, swapping honey for jelly most of the time. It's a great protein and good energy. This past month I had a fun experience picking grapes at the Biltmore Estates, we all brought our lunch and out of approximately 21 adults at least 3/4 of us had some version of PB&J for lunch so it's still very popular. I just discovered Sunflower Seed spread - it's delicious!
Maggie January 5, 2016
Pumpkin seed butter too!
Ruth M. October 6, 2014
Tahini mixed with honey spread on crunchy hot toast is like eating halvah.
Dawn M. October 7, 2014
That sounds amazing!
Nicole S. September 17, 2017
Tahini added to hot cereal is also divine.
Sherry E. September 17, 2017
anyone have a favorite brand of tahini?
Michelle M. October 5, 2014
Peanut butter and fresh fruit (apples, blueberries, and/or strawberries are my favorites) on a nutty bread, drizzled with honey. Oh! And some cheerios or granola sprinkled in for crunch! Yums!
MrKevinLei October 5, 2014
I used to pack my dad's lunch for his work, and he too loved cherrios in the PB&Js I made for him! Sometimes I'd alternatively put in dried cranberries and he liked the change in texture too.
MrKevinLei October 5, 2014
This might be a bit radical, but peanut butter & ketchup and peanut butter & mustard work well. For the ketchup combo, you have the balance of fat, acidity, sweetness and saltiness whereas in the mustard combo, you have the same minus sweetness.
PamellaB October 5, 2014
A dense whole wheat/multi grain bread spread with molasses first (so it can soak into the bread) & peanut butter
AntoniaJames October 5, 2014
You're killin' me. ;o)
Sherry E. September 17, 2017
interesting...why not?
Marianne B. October 5, 2014
Peanut butter and bread and butter sliced pickles. Yum
AntoniaJames October 2, 2014
Not exactly an alternative to PB & J, themselves, but a re-formatting: When I was a young lawyer with no kids, on nights when Mr T worked late, I'd steam-warm in the microwave a flour tortilla, spread it immediately with crunchy peanut butter, then a thin slick of raspberry jam, and then roll it up, eating it warm out of hand from one end. Dinner! Oh, yeah. ;o)
BakerMary October 5, 2014
BlkSwan56 October 1, 2014
Crunchy PB, thinly sliced apples, cranberries on toasted multigrain bread.
Crunchy PB, raisins and sliced bananas grilled multigrain bread or in a low carb, high fiber, whole grain wrap. Salt and pepper crinkle kettle chips on the side. MEGA YUMMY!
AntoniaJames October 1, 2014
Another favorite in season is a slice of the "Genius" seed and nut loaf slathered with crunchy almond butter, topped with slices of strawberries - excellent for breakfast.