15 May Lessons in Flavor: School Menus Adapt to Keep Up With Culinary Trends and Cultural Influences
Gone are the days of trays filled with bland chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches being shuffled along the cafeteria lunch line. School lunches are starting to take on a new meaning as administrators adapt to meet flavorful culinary trends and the cultural influences that may have inspired them.
We have already seen several school districts around the nation implement more robust menu planning by offering USDA nutritionally-compliant meals with a twist: chef-inspired school lunches that appeal to students’ newly-evolved preferences in tastes.
Here are three successful programs that have helped add expanded flavors to school menus:
- The Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland have initiated a program called “Tasting the Rainbow”, where kids are given the opportunity each month to sample different fruits or vegetables through their school lunches. The program encourages children to try foods they may not have tried before at home, such as eggplant, jicama or plantains.
- Schools in Idaho have used their own students’ opinions as research for the new Chef Designed School Lunch menu. Every item on this list receives the children’s stamp of approval prior to its launch, with dishes like Thai Chicken & Basil Barley, Fish Tacos and Cilantro Pork Salad Wrap now starring as several of the newest entrees.
- As part of the “Let’s Move” initiative by First Lady Michelle Obama, kids across the U.S. participated in the annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, where 55 student-submitted recipes were selected based on the criteria of healthfulness, taste, originality and affordability. Based on the winners—dishes like ‘Mango Cango Chicken’ and ‘New Mexican Style Layered Tostada with Cauliflower Tortilla’—it is clear that today’s creatively culinary youth are eager to expand their palates inside and outside the home.
Why are students’ flavor preferences evolving?
The expansion of taste preferences in children and young adults may be attributed to the increased exposure to more flavors both from the media and in everyday life, as well as the recent shift in demographics of school-age kids in the U.S. from white to non-white.
Children are exposed to new tastes daily through multiple media streams, from celebrity chef cooking shows to local fusion restaurants to expanded ethnic and specialty sections in the grocery store. While years ago, traditional “American” food like McDonalds or Burger King may have reigned supreme for young adults, Mexican-inspired chain Chipotle is now the third most-trusted brand in the U.S. for teenagers. Food that once may have seemed “weird” or “foreign” has become a go-to choice for kids.
Secondly, the demographics of children in the U.S. are changing. This past year, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that minorities were likely to characterize 50.3% of students, the first time that non-Hispanic white students no longer represented the majority in our schools. This group may prefer dishes like those made at home when selecting their lunches at school, which has influenced administrators to consider evolving lunchroom offerings to accommodate the shift in preferences by preparing food with tastes beyond the lunches provided in the past.
How can new flavors be introduced into your school lunch menu?
For school administrators and those making the culinary decisions for an educational institution, altering the menu can be as simple as serving sweet plantains in place of a typical starchy vegetable food requirement or hosting a month-long contest where students submit their own favorite entrée and adopting the winner’s dish on a future school lunch.
Need some inspiration? Check out our recipes page for some great ideas! Join the movement and flavor up your school menu for the 2018-2019 school year!
MIC Food specializes in value-added frozen tropical products and has been serving school districts throughout the nation since 1991. Our 100% natural ready to heat-and-serve sweet plantains are easy to use and qualify as a starchy vegetable in the USDA Child Nutrition Program. To learn more, visit us at www.micfood.com.