Chartwells K12 Kicks Off 2021 With 10 Food & Nutrition Trends Just for Kids

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Chefs and Registered Dietitians Share Their Insights from Serving Students Meals in More Than 4,100 Schools Across the Country

What will kids be eating for lunch next year? What are the go-to snacks for 2021? From anytime breakfast to a greater variety of options for vegetarians and flexitarians, these 10 food and nutrition trends for kids are hitting thousands of schools across the country. The trending flavors, ingredients and recipes were created by Chartwells K12 chefs and dietitians who serve more than 2 million meals a day and are committed to turning school cafeterias across the country into happier and healthier places.

“Food is at the forefront of everything we do, and by listening to the students we serve every day, we have a unique understanding of what kids really love to eat,” said Chef Peter Gilhooly, Vice President – Culinary, Chartwells K12. “Our team of chefs is passionate about developing innovative and exciting recipes that not only connect with current food trends, but set them.”

1. Breakfast All Day – No longer exclusively for the early morning hours, some of most popular meals served across the country feature traditional breakfast items for lunch – and even dinner. Throughout the day, kids are looking for greater variety in their breakfast foods, including everyday favorites like Cinnamon French Toast with Apple Compote, Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bagels and Berry Banana Smoothies, to twists on traditional dishes and those from around the world like Scrambled Egg Pizzas, Huevos Rancheros Tacos and Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats Parfaits.

2. Spice It Up – Get ready to take flavor to the next level with a wide variety of both sweet and savory spices, including Cinnamon, Turmeric and Chili Peppers. Kids are more adventurous than ever, interested in exploring exciting new flavors and learning about new spices that can enhance taste and nutrition too! Whether it’s a popular Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich or a Curried Vegetable Quinoa Bowl, students have discovered spice is nice!

3. Plant Power – In addition to vegan and vegetarian, more young people consider themselves flexitarian. In fact, more than two-thirds of Gen Z, those born between 1995 – 2015, prefer a plant-forward diet, according to Produce Blue Book. Kids understand adding more plant-based options to their own diet benefits their own health and that of the planet. That’s why the bar for creative vegetarian dishes continues to get higher and higher. Look beyond the basics for more creative plant-based offerings such as Apple Beet Wheatberry Wraps, Watermelon Edamame Poke Bowls and Vegetarian Sloppy Joe Lentils.

4. Kids in the Kitchen – After spending more time at home in the past year, kids have gotten more involved in meal preparation. This is good news because studies show that giving kids the opportunities to cook at an early age is one of the best ways to inspire healthy eating and a love of family mealtime. It can also be educational, putting math skills to the test by measuring or seeing science in action when blending ingredients. Empowering kids to cook is also a great way to get them to try new foods, quickly turning something you “have” to eat into what they “want” to eat. Get started in your own kitchen with Chartwells’ Discovery Kitchen at Home series:

5. Healthy Snacking – “Can I have a snack?!” might be the most frequent phrase heard from kids in the past year, but it’s not just the pandemic. The tradition of three square meals a day may soon be a thing of the past, as insights show today’s students favor mini meals over a more standard style of eating. Quickly becoming the “snacking generation,” kids are looking for a variety of fun, delicious and healthy snacks, such as homemade beet fries, ranch popcorn, Sunbutter banana rollups, and hummus with veggies to keep them energized all day.

6. Mood-Boosting Foods –Emerging research has found that food can affect mood in addition to physical well-being. By connecting what they eat to how they feel, kids are inspired to make food choices that can help them be more calm, alert, confident, and more. For example, a Spinach and Strawberry Salad fuels Calm, since spinach contains the vitamin folate, which can help to reduce anxiety; and Orange-Glazed Carrots can help you feel Alert, since carrots contain lutein, which contributes to brain health.

7. Regional American Favorites – Families have spent the last year staying much closer to home, but that doesn’t prevent their taste buds from exploring the country. The spirit of the culinary road trip will continue as kids learn about new cities, cultures and heritages – all through the power of food. From New Orleans’ signature Po Boys to the California Cobb Salad and Chicago-style hot dogs, new foods create opportunities to widen horizons.

8. Locally Grown – Or Grown On Your Own – Whether it’s from their own school gardens or nearby farms, kids are developing a lifelong connection with fresh, local produce. Beyond getting to taste new recipes featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables, students are discovering what it takes for a seed to grow. Great food begins with the best ingredients, and kids are learning that fresh and local produce is the foundation to sustainable, healthy habits – and communities.

9. Better in the Bowl – Get in line trays, bowls are here to stay! After rising in popularity over the last few years, grain bowls remain a menu hit. Featuring easy-to-customize flavors and ingredients, kids are eager to eat a meal’s worth of nutrients packed into a single bowl. From a vegetarian option highlighting flavors of the southwest in an Aztec Quinoa Bowl to a traditional comfort food with a sweet and savory flavor in a Maple Pork Barley & Sweet Potato Bowl, the options are endless!

10. Super Sandwiches – Though sandwiches have been around for hundreds of years, school lunch wouldn’t be complete without the old classic on the menu – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t grown up! Kids still love a grilled cheese, but now they’re craving made-to-melt Roasted Eggplant Provolone Panini or an upscale Mojo BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich that delivers a little heat, a little sweet, and a citrus splash.

“Kids want fun and delicious food. Parents want healthy, nutritious meals,” said Margie Saidel, RD, LDN, MPH, Vice President – Nutrition and Sustainability, Chartwells K12, who leads the largest team of registered dietitians in the school nutrition industry. “As we identified the top food trends for 2021, we carefully balanced student nutrition needs with their taste preferences – just as we do with the meals we serve throughout the year.”

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