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Familiar spins on global tastes appeal to K-12 students

Photograph: Shutterstock

As once-novel global cuisines have extended their reach, more young consumers have grown up accustomed to more flavor-diverse offerings. The explosion in global cuisines has also propelled schools to adopt a more multicultural approach to menus. At the same time, some school nutrition directors have committed to menus that are more representative of the local community’s ethnic makeup.

Despite growing variety across menus, some younger eaters shy away from trying new things. In addition, the stress of the pandemic has led many to gravitate toward comforting, familiar foods. The challenge for K-12 foodservice operators is to provide a mix of foods, but position sometimes-unfamiliar dishes with accessible ingredients that students can recognize.

That challenge is especially compelling now, with most schools seeing a drop in meal participation due to remote learning and other factors. Structuring a globally influenced menu around easily recognized and approachable foods is one way to stir up excitement, add a fun appeal to meals and encourage students to try new tastes. Indeed, a study by the Hartman Group found that “Americanized” international foods ranked among the cuisine styles most preferred by Gen Z.

Weaving favorite and recognizable snack foods into a menu is a convenient way to address these challenges.

Portability is more of an issue currently because of demand for alternative meal delivery methods—three-quarters of school foodservice operators said they were offering meals at a pick-up site, while more than half were serving meals in classrooms and about a quarter provided meals at hallway kiosks or carts, according to FoodService Director’s 2020 State of K-12 Foodservice survey.

The walking taco, a student favorite, is particularly well suited for portability. A cross-cultural twist on a popular item—Walking Taco Tostitos® Reduced Fat Crispy Round Tortilla Chips—is Korean BBQ Nacho Walking Tacos. The tortilla chips provide a crunchy balance to the savory chicken-vegetable filling. The self-contained packaging is a boon for overtaxed kitchen staffs as well.

Offered either as a dine-in or to-go option, Havana Nachos with Tostitos® Whole Grain Rich Crispy Rounds Tortilla Chips, brightens the barbecue chicken flavor with red pepper, pineapple juice and mango chunks, all served on a bed of tortilla chips. And in Asian-fusion Chicken Teriyaki Nachos with Tostitos® chips, deliciously seasoned chicken with Asian inspired slaw and sesame seeds top a tortilla chip base.

Chilis and soups go beyond satisfying the hunger for comfort food; adding crunchy corn chips to a dish like Chicken Tortilla Soup with Fritos® Corn Chips also provides a cheesy, satisfying balance of protein, vegetables and grains.

The enduring popularity of burritos and wraps provides an opening to offer the same crunchy experience to students with an item like the Fritos® Burrito.

Snack foods can spark more interest during breakfast time as well. A Fritos® Breakfast Burrito delivers a welcome crunch and additional layer of flavor to an otherwise ordinary scrambled egg tortilla filling.

Regardless of the style of service or the meal period, incorporating familiar snack foods into recipes increases the appeal of innovative menu offerings to help drive meal participation and excitement among students.

This post is sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice

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