Chartwells Gives K-12 Students the Vote on Trendy Menu Items


Middle and high school students across the country are voicing their opinions on new menu offerings from Chartwells K12. They’re at just the right age to feel empowered by food choices, and the Student Choice program is a way to draw them into the cafeteria, according to Belinda Oakley, CEO, Chartwells K12.

“Kids today are smarter and savvier than ever about their food and we want to make sure the cafeteria is place they want to be, not where they have to be,” Oakley said in a statement, adding that she hopes the voting idea, piloted at a few schools this spring and now expanded, will “change the in-school dining experience.”

The program is now nationwide, and participants include Ann Arbor (Mich.) Public Schools, Woodbridge Township (N.J.) School District and Saddle Mountain (Ariz.) Unified School District. Chefs from each school prepare cool new menu items, students vote and then new restaurant-inspired stations are introduced the following week. Talk about instant gratification!

New food station options include:

  • Bok Choy: Asian concept inspired by celebrity chef and friend of K-12 cooking, Jet Tila;
  • Build: Pizza station with a variety of unique toppings;
  • Create: Build-your-own lunch station with rotating selection of sandwiches, pastas and burgers;
  • Made to Melt: Comfort food combined with regional ingredients with a focus on cheese;
  • Roost: Chicken prepared many ways, including roasted, baked, grilled, braised and pan-seared; and
  • Sono: Latin and Mexican cuisine with seasoned meats, grilled veggies and fresh salsas.

While students are trying the new menu items, chefs and dietitians share information about the new concepts and the ingredients being used in each recipe. Each school has appointed student ambassadors to help promote voting, which is done with the help of a staff member with a tablet device where students can vote “love it” or “lose it” on each item they try.

And here’s a fun fact: One of the sandwiches from the Made to Melt station, the grilled chicken Cobb sandwich, was a winner in FM’s Best Sandwich competition this year, for the Kids category.

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