Emerging Trends in School Foodservice

Fresh. Healthy. Scratch cooking. These buzz words dominate today’s school foodservice industry. But what impact can these trends have on operations that were doing little more than heating and serving meals until now? Read on to find out.

 

From kindergarten through 12th grade, students across all grades want more fruit and veggie smoothies, Mexican food and fresh, fast food made from scratch. They also want more food choices in general, according to the results from a recent leadership discussion and survey of school foodservice professionals by Y-Pulse, the foodservice research arm of Olson Communications. And these developments continue to have an impact on school foodservice operations.

Students also find made-to-order foods prepared in plain view particularly appealing, Y-Pulse found. Hand-held foods for on-the-go eating appeal to students of multiple ages, though portion sizes should vary from young to older children.

Children of all ages like pizza, chicken, sandwiches, salads and fruit. Younger students, however, tend to prefer simpler foods rather than combinations or dishes with complex ingredients, and they enjoy sticking with their favorite foods. But as they move into middle and high school, their tastes become more adventurous and diverse to include more ethnic flavors and dishes.

By high school, students’ eating habits begin to look very similar to those of college students as they become more conscious of food, nutrition and ethical values associated with food production and delivery. While only 39 percent of school foodservice professionals surveyed said their elementary school students had a greater understanding of nutrition than the previous year, more than half said middle and high school students had a far greater appreciation of nutrition, at 52 percent and 57 percent respectively.

Herein is where the challenge for kitchen staff lies: balancing menu planning and other requirements with nutrition targets, and, of course, taste. “You have to offer items that reflect a perfect diet, serve within 5 minutes and hold the food less than 30 minutes, while the total cost for food and labor must be around $2.50 for an entrée that includes 2-3 grains, 2 vegetables, 2 fruits and milk ... and the menu mix must attract 80 percent of the students to participate,” one survey participant detailed in the report.

These emerging school foodservice trends create new opportunities for kitchen design and equipment. While some may seem too far out for school foodservice operations today, that could change in the near future as school leaders, parents and now the students, push for fresher, made-from-scratch food. Here’s a quick look at the equipment implications for a few specific school foodservice related trends.

Trend: Fruit and vegetable smoothies

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered, noise-reducing blenders and extra green-colored chopping boards for prep work
  • Design considerations: More countertop space for placing blenders on the serving line to make the action associated with making smoothies visual to the students; under-counter or added refrigeration can keep fresh fruits and veggies within reach of staff during busy periods; locate this task near a sink or water line for quick and easy cleaning between smoothie-making
  • Equipment considerations: High-powered blenders for made-from-scratch salsas; stock pots or combi ovens for braising proteins such as carnitas and barbacoa; flat-tops that staff can use to make quesadillas, tacos and burritos to order; tortilla presses and warmers
  • Design considerations: Flexible equipment and workspaces that can accommodate Mexican and other foods; refrigerated sandwich prep tables for holding different ingredients that can allow students to build their own Mexican-inspired meal one day and sandwiches or build-your-own pizza the next
  • Equipment considerations: High-powered gas ovens with aesthetic appeal or conveyor ovens in open view; pizza peels and dough presses
  • Design: Refrigerated sandwich prep tables with different toppings for students to build their own pizza with the meats, cheeses and veggies they want
  • Equipment considerations: Extra cooler space and prep tables
  • Design considerations:  Expanded, build-your-own salad bars with fresh fruit options, proteins like hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas and tofu, and pre-made salads and other vegetable-forward dishes for faster grab-n-go and for younger children that might struggle with building their own meals
  • Equipment considerations: Refrigerated grab-n-go display cases for pre-made sandwiches and wraps; hot-holding units for pizza slices, empanadas, breakfast sandwiches, tacos and other pre-made, hand-held items made just before the lunch rush
  • Design considerations: Expanded grab-n-go, retail-like space and displays positioned so that students can bypass the main line

Trend: Authentic Mexican food

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered blenders for made-from-scratch salsas; stock pots or combi ovens for braising proteins such as carnitas and barbacoa; flat-tops that staff can use to make quesadillas, tacos and burritos to order; tortilla presses and warmers
  • Design considerations: Flexible equipment and workspaces that can accommodate Mexican and other foods; refrigerated sandwich prep tables for holding different ingredients that can allow students to build their own Mexican-inspired meal one day and sandwiches or build-your-own pizza the next 

Trend: Made-from-scratch pizza

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered gas ovens with aesthetic appeal or conveyor ovens in open view; pizza peels and dough presses
  • Design: Refrigerated sandwich prep tables with different toppings for students to build their own pizza with the meats, cheeses and veggies they want 

Trend: Salads and Fruit

  • Equipment considerations: Extra cooler space and prep tables
  • Design considerations:  Expanded, build-your-own salad bars with fresh fruit options, proteins like hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas and tofu, and pre-made salads and other vegetable-forward dishes for faster grab-n-go and for younger children that might struggle with building their own meals

Trend: Hand-Held Foods 

  • Equipment considerations: Refrigerated grab-n-go display cases for pre-made sandwiches and wraps; hot-holding units for pizza slices, empanadas, breakfast sandwiches, tacos and other pre-made, hand-held items made just before the lunch rush
  • Design considerations: Expanded grab-n-go, retail-like space and displays positioned so that students can bypass the main line 
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