What Will Kids Be Eating in 2022? Chartwells K12 Reveals Top 10 Food Trends

In the News

School chefs and dietitians share insights from serving 2 million meals a day on the flavors, meals and menus kids love to eat

“I’m hungry!” “What’s for lunch?” These may be some of the most common phrases heard from kids throughout the year, but knowing what they are craving is a puzzle all its own. Today, culinary experts and registered dietitians from Chartwells K12, a company that creates custom dining programs for 4,500 schools across the country, unveiled the top 10 food trends for kids and their families in 2022. From all-day breakfast to cultural dishes and culinary comebacks, these trends continue to represent kids’ favorite foods now and in the future.

“Every day, our team serves millions of kids in thousands of schools across the country,” said Belinda Oakley, CEO, Chartwells K12. “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.”

This is the second annual list Chartwells K12 has compiled based on decades of experience and expertise in understanding what kids like to eat. The result? Fun, delicious and flavorful creations – that are healthy. Don’t believe school lunch is nutritious? A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “schools are now the single healthiest place Americans are eating.”

“Knowing that many of our students get the best meal of their day at school, our entire goal is to make sure they leave the cafeteria happier and healthier than they came in by creating foods and experiences they love,” said Chef Peter Gilhooly, Vice President – Culinary, Chartwells K12. “This list was curated by our own research, along with input from students, and we’re excited to share what they’ll be eating next year.”

Chartwells K12’s top 10 food trends for kids for 2022 are:

1. Breakfast All Day, Here to Stay! – As days continue to bring hectic schedules and early starts, breakfast, brunch, and “brinner” keep trending for kids! Traditional favorites like a Breakfast Burrito, and a Sausage, Egg & Cheese Biscuit are just as likely to be seen on menus as creative offerings from Chartwells K12’s all-day breakfast concept, Rush Hour, as a Spicy Chicken & Tater Tot Breakfast Biscuit Sandwich, Breakfast Fried Rice or Ham, Mozzarella and Spinach Whole Grain Breakfast Popover. Rising in popularity this year is the smoothie for the great-tasting combination of fruits and yogurt ready to be eaten on the go!

2. No Fork, No Problem – Breakfast isn’t the only meal kids are eating on the go these days as handheld items make for an easy option at lunch, as well as between school, sports, and fun with friends! 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.

3. Power Your Performance – Whether it’s competing on an athletic team, staying active with friends, or looking to improve overall wellness, Gen Z continues to prioritize healthy, nutritious meals that help them establish a mind-body connection and eat to compete! Kids are focused on staying fueled and hydrated by eating meals like Fajita Chicken & Rice Bowls and Hummus Dip with Veggies & Flatbread to power through their day.

4. Veg-Out! – Moving beyond #MeatlessMondays, vegetables and plant-based foods are taking center stage! With kids placing a high priority on personal health and the health of the planet, protein replacements and vegetarian options are the star of the meal. 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 a Vegetarian Sweet Potato and White Bean Chili.

5. Grown on Your Own – With special events and cafeteria menus celebrating fresh produce coming from local farms all year long, kids are developing a lifelong connection with their fruits and vegetables, along with a desire to know where they came from. In the past year, the number of kids and families growing their own produce and herbs in their backyard has increased, but through hydroponics and other modern technology, gardens are also sprouting indoors at schools across the country. An indoor, hydroponic garden like Farmshelf enables students to grow their own produce at school and brings the latest innovations and the freshest flavors to the cafeteria.

6. Culture Cuisine – Eating meals at school is often the first place a child will get to taste and learn about foods from outside their family’s recipes or traditional cultural dishes. The power of food in connecting people with each other and with different heritages is more prevalent than ever as kids seek new ethnic flavors from around the world and look for foods that represent their own traditions to create deeper bonds and share more of themselves with classmates and friends. From Curry Masala Roasted Chicken Wings from Chartwells’ Chaat House concept 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.

7. Eating Together – As students returned to school this fall, kids also returned to cafeterias to enjoy meals together once again. Thanks to flexibilities provided by the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, students have the opportunity to enjoy meals at no cost throughout the 2021-2022 academic year. Dining together at school presents the perfect opportunity for students to enjoy their favorite meals together and get inspired to try new foods.

8. Let’s Go Retro – Scrunchies, fanny packs, and tie-dye aren’t the only things making a comeback! 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 and other sandwiches including a Pulled Pork Ham and Swiss Cubano and Sonoran Chicken Torta, both of which were recently named to Food Management magazine’s Best Sandwiches awards list.

9. Oodles of Noodles – Whether a cozy meal at home or a night out to eat, noodles in any form top the list of menu picks and have long been a culinary favorite for children and adults alike. 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. Favorites include Korean Bulgogi Chicken & Soba Noodle Bowl and Butternut Squash Mac N Cheese from Chartwells’ new Revolution Noodle and Mac & Cheesyology concepts.

10. Build Your Own – Not only are students helping to shape menus and reimagine their school dining experience through programs like Chartwells’ Student Choice, but customization is king as kids create their favorite combinations with build your own concepts in cafeterias across the country ranging from noodle bowl and burger bars to deli sandwiches, pizza, Mexican favorites and more.

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