Chartwell K12 creates custom dining programs for more than 4,500 schools ranging from public institutions to small charter and private schools serving meals to millions of children throughout the US.
"Because of this, we have incredible insights on what kids like to eat. Not only does it help us shape school menus, but it encourages even more students to eat in the cafeteria, which recent research confirms is the healthiest place Americans are eating," said CEO of Chartwell K12 Belinda Oakley.
With in-person learning back in play, schools are a source for learning and key nutrition, noted chef Peter Gilhooly, vice president, culinary of Chartwell K12, who shared that the list was compiled with input from school chefs, dietitians, and students.
Breakfast all day
Breakfast foods served all day continue to be a crowd pleaser for school-aged kids and a solution to hectic schedules, according to Chartwell's research who called out favorites from its menu including breakfast burritos, sausage, egg, & cheese biscuit sandwiches, and breakfast fried rice.
"Rising in popularity this year is the smoothie for the great-tasting combination of fruits and yogurt ready to be eaten on the go," added Chartwell.
Handhelds and eating on-the-go
Handheld items that don't require utensils are a major theme in kids eating as they make for an easy option at lunch and between school and after school activities, noted Chartwell.
"Bento boxes filled with meats, cheese, veggies and hummus top the list of favorites, as well as creative wraps like a vegetarian rainbow hummus wrap, walking tacos and chicken fajita shawarma make finger food popular for all ages," said Chartwell.
Plant-based for kids
In terms of the plant-based trend for kids, 'Meatless Mondays' and plant-based foods made with alternatives to animal protein will take center stage in 2022, according to Chartwell.
"Veggie burgers are more popular in schools than ever before along with creative vegetarian and flexitarian twists like a watermelon edamame poke, kung pao tofu stir fry, and vegetarian sweet potato and white bean chili," said the company.
The school setting is often one of the only occasions a child may be exposed to foods outside of their family's typical meals and recipes. Because of this, global dishes and flavors for kids will become more prevalent in 2022.
"From curry masala roasted chicken wings to a Middle Eastern breakfast scramble with potatoes, caramelized onions, spiced tomatoes and scrambled eggs, students are finding school lunch menus represent a world of flavors," said Chartwell.
Retro with a healthy twist
Dishes popular from decades past such as sloppy joes, pulled pork sandwiches, and grilled cheese are being elevated with new ingredients and flavors, according to Chartwell.
"Look for healthy twists on kid favorites from the 70s, 80s, and 90s as grilled cheese gets a gourmet glow-up to an eggplant, zucchini, tomato & provolone panini, cheese and crackers become on-the-go protein packs, the sloppy joe is elevated to a sloppy joe pie with mashed sweet potatoes."
Beyond buttered noodles
Noodles in any form have been a long-time favorite for children and adults alike and a serve as a great base to culinary-inspired dishes, noted Chartwell,
"By adding a variety of vegetables, discovering new ethnic flavors, and customizing their ideal combinations, kids are loving the elevated comfort food options beyond plain noodles."
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