What’s Popular with Kids? Bold Flavors, Quick Bites and More

September 2018

Similar to restaurants that cater to children, K-12 operators are gearing up to meet rising demands for nutrition and sophistication. As we transition into fall, here are some K-12 trends to keep an eye on:

  • Students’ flavor preferences are changing beyond hot dogs and grilled cheese. The members of the youngest generation are being exposed to a variety of new cuisines by their millennial parents, and this has led to a demand for bold flavors and ethnic dishes during the midday lunch bell. Many cafeteria directors have taken notice and are menuing more unique dishes, including arroz con pollo, roasted Cuban-style pork and plantains, and Jamaican beef patties. Try this Queso Mac & Cheese for an option that’s familiar yet kicked up with more flavor.
  • Grab and go is growing in the classroom. Students are increasingly snacking between meals, and handheld items have emerged as a popular way to satisfy their cravings without interfering with their busy schedules. Furthermore, many operations are filling grab-and-go carts with these meals in convenient locations near entrances and cafeterias. This Turkey & Fig Panini is an easily transportable solution for those looking to increase their handheld options.
  • There’s a new standard in sodium. In an effort to reduce the level of sodium kids consume at school, the USDA proposed new guidelines for the level acceptable in meals, and the Target 2 requirements have been in place since 2017. Gone are the days when simply serving white meat instead of dark meat will cover nutritional demands, but low-sodium meat—like this Just Perfect Browned in Oil Low Sodium Turkey Breast—certainly will.
  • Breakfast is getting bigger. It’s already growing as an overall foodservice trend. In fact, Y-Pulse reported in a recent School Meal Innovation Lab that all-day breakfast would be one of the biggest hits with the next generation. “It was interesting to see that the kids really gravitated toward items that were great for all-day breakfast, brunch and snacking," Y-Pulse Executive Director Sharon Olsen told Food Management. Items including smoothies, muffins and Breakfast Sliders make for fun options you can serve at any time of day.

Along with the growth of delivery in the K-12 segment, trends like these will be interesting to follow as they evolve year after year. Regulations like those from the USDA are hard to predict, and kids’ taste buds are even less predictable.

Have you changed your K-12 offerings recently? Let us know on Facebook or LinkedIn. To get a taste of what else is trending in foodservice, don’t forget to check out our Resource Center.


Gingerella, Benita. 6 things on the minds of K-12 FSDs in 2018, FoodService Director, May 2018.

5 restaurant trends showing up in K-12, FoodService Director, May 2018.

Grab ’N’ Go Breakfast, Action for Healthy Kids, February 2016.

K-12 students gobble up flavorful foods made with reduced sodium, FoodService Director, July 2018.

Fitzpatrick, Tara. Study: Kids crave all-day breakfast, Food Management, May 2018.

Find Your Broker

Find Your Broker