Kids these days. Referred to as Generation Z, today’s student body is culturally diverse, tech savvy and on-the-go. They also possess a distinct set of expectations and attitudes when it comes to the food they eat, opening up new possibilities for school menus down to the snacks they choose.
“Serving cookies and chips alone will not cut it anymore,” says Gloria VanDenBroeke, consumer insights senior associate at General Mills Foodservice. “These independent thinkers know what they want, have a broader palate and are seeking out convenient foods as well as healthier options.”
VanDenBroeke helps to break down Gen Z—from their eating habits to their flavor preferences—and discusses how K-12 foodservice professionals can rethink their menus to appeal to a new generation of snackers.
Who is Gen Z?
Gen Z includes kids born since 1997 (ages 0 to 19) and is the most multicultural generation, with a large percentage of Hispanics as well as African Americans and Asian Americans.
According to VanDenBroeke, this generation has grown up with the Internet at their fingertips. They rely on technology and social media and are great multitaskers, often texting, talking and listening to music all at the same time. She adds Gen Z is more ethnically blended and exposed to a diverse menu of fusion dishes that inform their cultural identities. They are more open to trying new foods, flavors and cuisines than previous generations.
“For kids today, food is an adventure. Like their parents, these kids are seeking out new experiences with food,” VanDenBroeke comments. “This opens up endless possibilities when it comes to snacks.”
It’s a Balancing Act
Gen Z and their parents reject hard and fast rules around food. Instead, VanDenBroeke says they embrace a positive “balance” in which all things, including indulgence, are healthy in moderation.
- Menu callouts such as “natural,” “organic” and “sustainable” resonate with Gen Z more than any other generation, according to Flavor & The Menu’s “Generational Flavors” Report.
- One size doesn’t fit all so it is important to understand that older kids prefer larger portion sizes. Yoplait Go Big Yogurt is a great snack option for bigger appetites.
- Serve more bold flavors and ethnic foods to appeal to diverse palates. Also consider more variety in flavors, sweet to savory to extreme, as well as textures, from soft to crunchy to chewy.
Convenience and Healthy Can Go Together
“Convenient and portable” is no longer shorthand for junk food, according to VanDenBroeke. The more parents want their kids to move, the more they need their food to move with them; however, they don’t want to compromise health for the sake of convenience.
- Hand-held foods for on-the-go eating have broad appeal with parents and kids. Some examples include fruit snacks, granola bars or snack mixes.
- Take inspiration from quick-service restaurant foods, which this group enjoys, to provide easy-to-eat, grab-and-go formats such as yogurt smoothies and parfaits.
Take Note of Cross-Generational Trends
Regardless of age, the following categories are trending and should be taken into consideration across school menus, according to VanDenBroeke.
- Fruit and veggie smoothies
- Mexican foods
- Fresh, fast and made from scratch
- More choices, variety
“The important thing to remember is that kids want more choices so broadening your snack offerings, or changing out the snack menu will keep them coming back for more,” adds VanDenBroeke.