10 menu winners and losers at colleges

By 
Jill Failla, Editor, Consumer Insights

college students meals

What foods are college students craving these days? Now dominating campuses, Gen Z has a few surprises that could impact college dining programs.

Spoiler alert: Some all-time favorites (smoothies, anyone?) may no longer be top picks. Here are seven menu items that students are noshing on more now than they were two years ago, and three unexpectedly falling from favor, according to Technomic’s new College and University Consumer Trend Report.

1. Oui oui, French cuisine

escargot

Not too haute for college students these days, a growing number say they are interested in ordering French menu items. About three in 10 college students (28%) say they’d be likely to order French food at least occasionally if offered, up from 23% in 2015.

2. Spicing it up with Indian

chicken tikka masala

A world away from French food, Indian options are also increasingly piquing college students’ interests. Three in 10 college students (29%) say they’d like to order Indian menu items every so often if offered, compared to 24% two years ago.

3. Street foods move inside

chicken gyros

College students look for portability, authenticity and ethnic fare on the menu—three attributes that come together in street foods. More than two-fifths (42%) of students say they are likely to order international street foods, a percentage that should continue to increase along with the snacking trend.

4. Snack foods for lunch

bao basket

Nearly a quarter of college students (23%) say they prefer to make their lunch out of snack foods or appetizers, compared to 18% in 201—think nachos, samosas, bao buns, empanadas and other international street foods, as mentioned before.

5. Sipping on sports drinks

whey protein shaker

Functional sports drinks are gaining traction among students at both lunch and dinner. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they prefer to drink sports drinks with these meals, up from 18% who said the same in 2015.

6. Chicken for dinner

chicken parmesan linguine

Chicken is hot these days, and that trend rings true among college students as well. Almost half of all students (46%) say they most prefer chicken for dinner, up from 39% in 2015. Chicken satisfies protein and health demands, especially in light of the recent industry movement toward antibiotic-free poultry.

7. Fruit gains as a snack

fruit display

The growing interest in healthier choices also extends to snacking—36% of students look for healthy options when seeking a snack. Fresh fruit now tops the list as the most popular, with 43% of C&U students saying they prefer fresh fruit as a snack, up from 34% in 2015.

8. Fruit juice is down

fruit juice cups

When it comes to fruit, students are looking for whole fruits and fresh fruit combos, not juice. Fruit juice has declined as a beverage choice for breakfast, falling from 50% to 43%, with water claiming the No. 1 spot at 56%. The high sugar content of fruit juice may be a turnoff with today’s health-conscious young consumers.

9. Smoothies are losing fans

juices smoothies drinks

Along with fruit juice, smoothies are on the downturn. Only 19% of students would choose a smoothie for breakfast, a drop from 26% in 2015. Perhaps the all-day breakfast focus on many campuses is providing students with more substantial and less expensive choices, pushing smoothies to the back burner.

10. Bye-bye, breakfast burritos

breakfast burrito

Also relegated to the back burner are breakfast burritos, sandwiches and wraps, which have fallen in favor from 31% in 2015 to 24% today. Again, all-day breakfast programs are bringing more varied and exciting fare to the menu, displacing some of the items that have been around since Gen Zers were kids.

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