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Navigating the Latest Trends on School Menus

Today’s savvy consumers have a new set of expectations when it comes to their food. They want to know more about the food they are eating—where it comes from, how it is grown and what ingredients are included. There is also increased demand for gluten-free menu options, organic items as well as healthier and “cleaner” products—those without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

The K-12 foodservice community has always been passionate about serving the best possible products to students, but how do consumers’ evolving eating habits and food values impact school menus?

“We feel a great responsibility in what we serve to students,” said Pam Haupt, director of Food & Nutrition at Richfield Schools in Richfield, Minn., who adds that meeting the diverse needs and preferences of students while serving healthier products or those with a cleaner label is always top of mind.

Nonetheless, Haupt admits it can be tricky to change over to new or improved menu items, even if it is for the right reasons. For instance, some healthier versions of products may not be a hit with students if the items don’t taste the same. In addition, there are a number of factors, from meeting requirements to budgetary limitations, that go into planning menus and make advance planning so critical.

Richfield Schools use a combination of taste-testing, education and communication to manage the expectations of parents and students when making updates to menus. Haupt shares one way schools can demonstrate how they are responding to students’ diverse dietary needs and today’s evolving food values is to use helpful symbols on menus to identify gluten-free, vegetarian and other options.

“We are all working toward the same end goal, to ensure kids have access to nutritious food they will want to eat and is reflective of the way they eat at home,” said Danielle Benson, associate channel manager for K-12 General Mills Foodservice. “As consumer food values evolve, General Mills remains committed to helping schools navigate these changes with products that meet diverse needs and preferences.”

Some ways General Mills Foodservice is responding to changing consumer food values with more choices for K-12 foodservice include:

  • From cup and bulk cereal to several yogurt products, we help schools serve gluten-free options.
  • We are currently revamping the Pillsbury breakfast portfolio to include more options with no artificial flavors and no colors from artificial sources.
  • Last year, we brought one of the leading natural and organic brands into K-12 schools with Annie's Organic Bunny Grahams--a clean-label snack with simple ingredients.