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Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Oh, those sweet lunch ladies back in the day…they had their special lunch lady secrets, didn’t they? Billy and I still talk about the fabulous soft, chewy peanut butter cookies we used to get at school. What made them so special? Are we just imagining how good they were? Let's face it, nearly every kid would be thrilled to get cookies with their lunch, right? Maybe we were over thinking it, making it all up in our heads. But--he and I didn’t go to school together at all. He moved around when he was a kid, and went to different school districts, and still had those old school peanut butter cookies on his mind.

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

I don’t think we were imagining it. No, I don’t. I think there’s a Lunch Lady Secret Society, like the Masons or Skull and Bones. I think they’re sworn in, given their hairnets and plastic gloves, and then sworn to secrecy. Secrets that they will take to the grave.  Secrets that can only be passed from one lunch lady to the next, in the cloak of darkness, at school cafeterias all over the country. Leaving us all to wonder…”What the heck did they DO to make those cookies so good?!”

Or…maybe if I’d had asked, they would have shared their secret. While I tend to believe the latter, I really like to imagine the former. It’s more fun that way!

I talked before on the blog about cracking the lunch lady PB cookie code. I thought I had. Silly me, I should have known it couldn’t be that simple. Well, it is actually simple--I just didn’t have it quite right. Right after posting those cookies, a long time reader (seriously, like from the beginning of my blog!), Jen B. contacted me and told me she had the secret. When she asked if I was interested, I almost thought we’d have to meet in secrecy, for fear of retaliation from the Lunch Lady Secret Society. Would we need disguises? Should I change cars every so many miles? Have I been watching too many movies?

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

No. Turns out none of that was necessary. Jen said she’d email the recipe to me when she got home from work. So yeah, too much TV for me, I guess. Haha! It turns out that Jen went to school not too far from where I did, and her school district published a cookbook. It seems everyone wanted Velma Houle’s (Jen calls her the “Queen of School Lunch”) PB cookie recipe.

Are you ready for the secret? Ok. Lock your doors, and close the curtains. Be sure no one is reading over your shoulder. Here goes:

14 lbs peanut butter

5 lbs Honey

3 lbs butter

From the school lunch program 1950 – 1985  Velma Houle, retired food service director.

That’s it! Jen assured me that yes, there are only three ingredients. How simple is that? She said they also used that mixture for pb and grape jelly sandwiches, and another treat I’m going to make and share with you later.

I scaled it down and mixed the three ingredients together. It was a lot looser than I expected, but I’m guessing it was because I used an organic peanut butter instead of a major brand. So I used the mixture in my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. I fully intend to try this again using just the three ingredients. I’ll be sure to report back to you how it goes!

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 75 (3 inch) cookies, or a lot of smaller ones.

5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter, room temp
1/2 cup shortening, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Peanut butter mixture (see below)
1 (10 oz) bag Mini Reese's Pieces

Peanut Butter Mixture

16 oz peanut butter (I used an organic peanut butter)
4 oz (1 stick) butter, room temp
1/4 cup  honey

Heat oven to 350 degrees. You can go ahead and mix up the peanut butter mixture first, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside. In a standing mixer or large bowl, cream the 1 1/2 cups of butter, the shortening and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each one, then add the vanilla and the peanut butter mixture. Add the flour mixture by the cupful and beat at low speed until fully mixed.

At this point, it's a lot of dough! Billy wanted some w/out Reese's Pieces, so I took some of the dough out of the bowl to set aside for that, and it made it easier to mix in the candy. This really *does* make a lot of dough, so the larger the bowl, the better.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. I used a 2 inch scoop to make these cookies, so they're a good size, but not huge. Place about 2 inches apart on your baking sheet. Very important!! BAKE FOR 11 MINUTES ONLY! Any more than that, and they'll be overdone. The cookies will still be pale, maybe just a touch golden brown on the bottom edges. As long as your oven is running at the correct temp, this is all the time the cookies need. Remove from the oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula. Even though they’ll look doughy and soft, they’ll set up perfectly, I promise! Let cool completely (yeah, right!) and then store in an airtight container.

  • I made these on Saturday, and now, on Tuesday, they're still as rich and chewy as the first day. The whole family loves these cookies!
  • I did some with cross hatch marks with a fork, and I don't recommend it. They came out too thin and fell apart when stored in the container. The ones you see in the photos have held up beautifully!
  • If you overcook these, they won’t be nice and chewy. I’m serious, folks-only 11 minutes in the oven. Trust me.
  • I know I've said it before, but you actually CAN bribe people with these cookies. Try it.
  • And finally, thank you so much, Jen!

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Cookies

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Reader Comments (65)

These look so good...perfectly lunch lady-esque in the best way!

Bwahaha! I LOVE the original recipe! Hubby said these are now on my to make list. Thanks!

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I remember having amazing peanut butter cookies that were chewy in school too! I need to try these asap!

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica @ How Sweet

These look yummy Elle! It's been a very long time since I had peanut butter cookies and I love them! Bringing back fond memories for me :)

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRenee - Kudos kitchen

Love the recipe. Great photos. I will recommend to others.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkitchen

As the proud granddaughter of a lunch lady, my hat is off to you. :-) Cannot wait to make these!

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSKM

These look faaabulous!!

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA Bowl Of Mush


Thanks Elle!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen B.

Totally want a cookie right now!

Bookmarked, SU'd, and so going on the list to make for my Share Our Strength bake sale! I figure that's the only way I can justify making these. :-D

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRJ Flamingo

I thought I made the best pb cookies. Looks like I'll have to try these and taste test! Love the amounts in the original recipe - 5 pounds of honey - yikes!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucy@acookandherbooks

Love this recipe! I am craving cookies now!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

These look great!

Ha, love these! And love the name...

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFeast on the Cheap

Gotta surprise Matt with a batch of these!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkat

Wow, your photos of these cookies are incredible!! I'm in love. Then again, I'm always a sucker for peanut butter cookies... But these look better than normal :)

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSues

I've never heard of Velma but I'm thinking her secret must have gotten out in the midwest all those many years ago because in our house peanut butter/honey and butter sandwiches were much more popular than pbj sandwiches. We would occasionally switch it up and substitute maple syrup for the honey but to this day, when I'm having one of those moments when I crave something from my childhood; this is often a go to for me. On toast. So...the cookie; well, how can I NOT make them, hmm?

I'm now tempted but will refrain from going through all those old garden/church/school cookbooks from my mom and seeing if I can find that there was a 'recipe' for something I thought she threw together!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara | VinoLuciStyle

Barbara, go thru the old cookbooks....the one that had the peanut buttter recipe in it, I went thru it and next to the ones that had recipes from teachers I had as a kid, I put comments "My 2nd grade math teacher", "My favorite Substitute"... or odd things that i remembered about them or their classes. Hopefully, one day, if one of my kids ends up with it, they will know who the people were and get a kick out of reading thru it.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen B.

I can't wait to see you do the 3-ingredient version - egg-free, grain-free and gluten-free!!!

These look so good. Bookmarking the recipe. Thank you!

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura @ A Little Zaftig

Now that you say it, lunch ladies totally have the cookie thing down! They're always soft and delicious. Mmm...elementary school. haha.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Where have you been all of my life? I love your blog - I was practically rolling on the floor laughing at this post. Does that make me sound weird? Well forget I said that but oh how I love this post. I am making these! I am following you and twittering you and the whole bit. Now I sound like a stalker. Oh well. lol ♥- Katrina

Wow! I'm so glad a lunch lady shared this, because at my school there's no chance of ever -and I mean ever- getting that recipe. School cookies ROCK! Alright. I've got to try this now.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJess

So want some of these right now! Too bad the school I work at is a peanut free zone so I can't take them in to share with my coworkers.. oh well! More cookies for me ;)

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

In case anyone was interested that's about 180 calories for the 3 inch cookie....

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa

Thanks for your input, Luisa.

March 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterElle

Ohh that is way too dangerous for me :)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDelishhh

Love me anything involving PB espcially cookies. These look so good. I'm drooling at my desk for some.

Great post!! Can't wait to try these.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina (Betty Ray)

Thanks for the recipe. I love chewy penaut butter cookies

April 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKat @ Cupcake Kat

I personally can't stand peanut butter but my boyfriend absolutely loves the stuff and I'm sure he'd go crazy for these cookies. Actually, I'm pretty sure he'd eat all of them by himself in a single sitting...

April 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAleida

These look wonderful, Elle! I had the same obsession with cracking the code for Hannaford PB Reese's Pieces cookies, which I think I managed last fall. Yum!

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfooddreamer

I for one am thrilled you got the secret! These look delicious!!

This is so fascinating. I love to make these cookies. This will be a great snack while at work.

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRose Gold

A stack of those and a big glass of milk would sure hit the spot right now!

April 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermegan

Great pics! I love peanut butter cookies :)

April 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I made some of this yesterday for my son's crush and he said that she really likes it. Thanks for your recipe.

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPiano Schoenhut

I just made these the other day for work and let me tell you these are the best PB cookies I have ever had. I had to cookmine for 3 mins longer, I have an electric oven. I think next time I will try to make with chuncky PB to have a little bit more texture. Best PB cookies ever!

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica M

Elle, I just wanted to say hello and tell you that I recently made these cookies, and they are wonderful! However, I do have a question for you. The recipe for the Peanut Butter Mixture calls for 4 oz of honey. I'm not sure if this would even make a difference, but do you measure that by weight, or by volume? Is it 1/4 cup of honey, or 4 oz by weight? I used a weight measurement and the dough seemed quite runny and I wondered how it would be possible to make cookies out of that mixture alone, because I would think they would spread too much. At any rate, I used your full recipe and they turned out delicious, although a bit on the thin side. Mine did not look as great as yours did. I even posted the recipe on my blog (giving you full credit, of course!)

Thanks for a great recipe - these are a new favorite!

Hello Kathy!

In that case, I did weigh by volume. The measurements given to me for the mixture were in ounces, so I just scaled them down. So it was 1/4 cup honey. And that mixture itself is very thin! I tried making a few cookies with just that, and it didn't work, so my advice would be to stick with that mixture added to the cookie dough.

If your cookies were too thin, it could be that your sheet pans were too warm when you put the dough balls on, which would cause them to spread out more.

I hope this helps!

I'm glad you enjoyed them, though! I'll be sure to check out your post, as well.

Have a great day!

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElle

These were phenomenal! Just the way I remembered and everyone raved about how awesome they are!

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

Thanks so much, Cassie! I appreciate you taking the time to let me know!

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElle

The second set of sheet pans filled with these cookies is in my oven now...smelling divine. The first set? Well, let's just say my family approves of your recipe. ;) I own a restaurant & would love to add them to my bakery case. I believe they shall be called 'Lost & Found Lunch Lady PB Cookies'...okay with you?

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl G

Hi Cheryl--Um, sure, I guess so. ;) Happy that you and your family like them!

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElle

I am wanting to make these for a weekend party in a few weeks. What type of butter do you use? Unsalted? Salted? I know this can make a difference sometimes and I hope mine turn out as good as they look. Also, I am confused by the honey question above. Do I pour 4 ozs of honey in a measuring cup? Sorry, but I am a pretty basic cook and like to make sure I follow the recipe as directed.


October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandy K

Hi Brandy! I usually use unsalted butter, but if you only have salted, that's OK, too. For the honey, yes--just pour it into a liquid measuring cup. If you spray the cup with cooking spray first, it'll pour out much easier.

Let me know if you have any more questions! :)

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterelle

I just made these and they came out great. Although they did spread much thinner than urs. I was wondering if it may have something to do with the amount of honey I used. In an above comment it is mentioned that the peanut butter mixture calls for 1/4 cup honey. But, 4 oz honey is 1/2 cup by volume in a liquid measuring cup. I used 1/2 cup, following the 4 oz label in ur recipe. Should I have used 1/4 cup? That's the only thing I can think of to attribute their thinness.

Laura, is was 1/4 cup honey, as I noted in an above comment, but completely forgot to change in the recipe. I'm so sorry!

January 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterElle

I cut the recipe back to only half a batch, as my attention span would wane before I baked that many cookies. (It still made a lot.) I didn't have Reese's Pieces, but used a bag of Nestle chips that were half peanut butter and half milk chocolate. DELISH. The guys loved these cookies and the recipe will be a sure repeat here.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter*Just Fran*

All I can say is 'AMAZING" I did use cold lard for the shorting and did not have a problem with them being to thin as some people did, they were perfect in every way.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Just made these & they taste great! Although mine also were thin little pancakes. I did make sure my baking sheets were cooled. For the brown sugar did you pack it or was it loose?

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkristen

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