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3 ways to bring the restaurant experience to schools

How foodservice operators appeal to kids by applying customization to the cafeteria
Photograph: Shutterstock

When serving K-12 students, it can be hard to please everyone—especially younger diners. By bringing a trend such as customization to the cafeteria, foodservice operators in K-12 settings can make strides in ensuring everyone enjoys their meal. Implementing it is easy, too.

Here are a few ways foodservice operators can bring the restaurant experience of being able to order and eat customizable meals to schools.

Customizable taco bars

Fast-casual Mexican chains have huge followings in part because diners can pick and choose everything they want in their meal. Those options range from choosing the type of protein in their meal to how spicy a salsa they want, whether to add cheese and sour cream and whether to indulge in a scoop of guac. They even offer several format options: tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, etc. By mimicking this setup in schools, kids get to add the foods they like to their plates, ensuring there are no ingredients they’ll have to pick around. When everything on the plate is something they like to eat, kids enjoy their meals more.

Create-your-own salads

Kids getting more vegetables can be a struggle, but with a create-your-own salad day on the menu, it might be a little easier. Offer bases of leafy greens such as romaine lettuce or spinach, as well as grains such as farro or barley. For toppings, the sky’s the limit. Offer an array of vegetables such as sliced cucumber, shredded carrots and beets, green and red bell pepper and more. Also include cheeses, proteins such as chicken or tofu and fun toppings such as chow mein noodles, Goldfish(R) crackers, croutons and more.

Finally, offer a variety of dressings. Ranch, French and Italian are all classics, but mixing things up can also be successful. Think Sriracha- or chipotle-ranch for heat seekers or blue cheese for older students.

Signature soups

Finally, soups are another great way to appeal to picky eaters. By offering a couple of different options (for instance, cream of broccoli, tomato soup, vegetable beef, etc.) and setting up a toppings bar, kids can make their own signature creations on soup days. Operators can also set out signage suggesting combinations of toppings to inspire students. For instance, suggest topping cream of broccoli soup with cheddar cheese and bacon bits; adding croutons, pepperoni slices and mozzarella to tomato soup (perfect for pizza lovers!); and Goldfish(R) crackers and shredded cheese to vegetable soups.

By allowing kids to pick their own foods (much like they can in restaurants), their satisfaction with meals can increase, and with that, so can participation in the foodservice program. Customization is a big trend in commercial restaurants, but it’s not hard to bring that trend over to schools.

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice

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