Customized menu selections and the integration of international flavored foods seem to be a growing trend in K-12 dining, according to a recent survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association, which involved 515 respondents from various school districts.
Survey results, reported in the 2017 SNA School Nutrition Trends Report, were collected following the survey, which was conducted just as the new school year began in August and September. Another interesting fact found that of those districts surveyed – about 60% were featuring internationally inspired menu items, while 26% were considering or testing international flavors to determine their popularity among students.
Another popular trend is the move to customized meals for students, with nearly 70% of districts saying they offer made-to-order salads or salad/produce bars. More than 50% of respondents said that their districts provided self-serve entree bars or made-to-order items, particularly in high schools.
Some of the challenges in K-12 dining include getting students to accept whole-grain foods and limiting sodium levels. Because of this, many survey respondents said they were using a variety of tactics to accomplish their goals.
In their efforts to steer students toward healthier options and less sodium, some districts are offering flavor stations where spices, sauces, and no- or low-sodium seasonings are available to create custom flavors. The survey also revealed that some districts were taking unique approaches to meeting federally mandated sodium limits in school meals which include preparing foods from scratch, reducing portion sizes, and making condiments with high sodium levels less available to students. More than 7 of 10 respondents said they were reformulating recipes to meet sodium limits.
Students are reluctant to accept whole-grain foods, particularly noodles and pasta. While about 70% of districts have tried to promote whole-grain options by conducting taste tests among students, others are using white-wheat flour so that whole-grain foods are lighter in appearance.
It’s clear that K-12 dining has changed significantly over the past few years, and that students have become more particular about the foods they eat. Healthier, more flavorful options, customized menu items, and offering international items may be a positive move toward students enjoying a healthier diet and choosing these options over those that aren’t so healthy.
Gourmet Services, Inc. is a contract foodservices company, providing solutions for corporate and K-12 dining, concessions, college and university dining, catering, and more. Fresh, flavorful, high quality ingredients and a focus on excellence is what we’re all about.