The case for restaurant-quality quesadillas in schools

k-12 whole grain quesadilla

From Foster Farms Prepared Foods.

Based on kid appeal, nutritional quality and operational ease, there is a strong argument for including quesadillas on K-12 school menus. These items offer the kind of simplicity and versatility that school foodservice directors can appreciate.

“Quesadillas are a K-12 staple,” says Jennifer Aranas, project director for Chicago-based research firm Datassential. In fact, quesadillas are the third most popular Mexican item on K-12 menus, trailing only tacos and burritos, according to Datassential. All told, 41 percent of schools serve quesadillas.

The rising tide of Mexican cuisine in America is contributing to their popularity. In particular, fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle Mexican Grill are bringing Mexican flavors and ingredients into the mainstream for families and kids. “A lot of the foods and flavors that kids are exposed to outside of school shape their preferences,” says Aranas. “Quesadillas are very commonly on kids’ menus, even in non-Mexican restaurants, so I certainly think they are getting very heavy exposure.”

Altogether, quesadillas are on the menu of about a quarter of all restaurants in all segments, according to research from the Fernando’s brand of Mexican foods, including 34.4 percent of casual restaurants and 14.4 percent of quick-service concepts.

K-12 foodservice directors can ride along with the trend by menuing quesadillas that are comparable in appearance and flavor to the ones that kids enjoy in restaurants. That aptly describes Fernando’s Quesadillas, popular prepared items that can help schools increase daily participation, meet meal regulations and use labor more efficiently.

These whole-grain rich quesadillas go straight from the freezer to the oven, resulting in a more consistent and labor-efficient result than attempting Mexican entrees from scratch in a school kitchen.

And in addition to the popular cheese flavor, which features a mix of Monterey Jack and American cheeses, Fernando’s Quesadillas are now also offered with beef and chicken fillings. All three varieties include a high-quality, premium-pressed tortilla with great visual toast points.

Quesadillas have an inherent ease of execution that is useful in K-12. “They can be pre-panned and then just popped into the oven,” Aranas says. “They are easy to wrap if you are serving off-site locations, so they are very convenient.”

In terms of nutrition, Aranas notes that manufacturers have adjusted quesadilla formulations to fit the current meal-pattern regulations, incorporating elements such as whole-grain tortillas and lower-fat cheeses, making them versatile vehicles for meeting nutritional guidelines.

While popular with kids of all ages, as well as adults, quesadillas are handheld, portable items well suited for serving to younger students that may struggle with knives and forks. That explains why handheld foods such as chicken fingers and slices of pizza are among the most popular K-12 items, according to Aranas.

Variety, too, is a selling point. Schools can offer quesadilla variations regularly on cycle menus, maintaining high student interest.

Fernando’s Quesadillas are one part of an entire line of restaurant-quality, kid-preferred prepared Mexican entrées, along with Fernando’s Breakfast Burritos, Lunch Burritos, Flautas, Enchiladas and Fiesta Stix. All told, more than 25 Fernando’s items are a fit for the current school-meal rules.

For more information about on-trend K-12 foodservice products, visit Foster Farms Prepared Foods here.

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