Lunchtime pairings kids want

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Popular fast-casual restaurants are known for their lunchtime pairings of soup and salad or soup and sandwich. Knowing that kids gravitate toward food that looks familiar to them and foods they eat at home, it’s no surprise that many K-12 foodservice operators are incorporating these types of pairings into their menu offerings to ensure young diners have options they’ll enjoy eating.

But beyond these classic combos, what other pairings are K-12 kids enjoying the most? Joanne Kinsey, a foodservice consultant specializing in the K-12 segment and president of The Kinsey Kompany, shed some light on options popping up in cafeterias all over. Get inspiration from these ideas.

Pasta and salad

A pasta bar is something that’s very easy to do in a school kitchen, Kinsey said. Operators can offer fun shapes of pasta such as elbows, twists, cavatappi and more, and let kids choose their own sauces from options such as Alfredo, marinara or meat. From there, diners can add in proteins such as chicken or meatballs, as well as other toppings such as shredded cheese or spinach.

Make sure the pasta bar includes whole grain pasta to meet the nutritional requirements, too—this way, meals can be customizable and delicious as well as compliant.

Rice bowls with choose-your-own proteins

Kinsey pointed out the popularity of Asian and Mexican foods in schools, noting that a colleague in California specifically called out Asian foods such as teriyaki chicken or beef. These tasty and kid-friendly proteins are ideal for topping brown rice or other grain bowls, and they also offer kids another meal they can customize with the veggies they like, not to mention a sauce. Pairing rice with Asian-inspired protein is a lunchtime combo that’s a big win in schools.

Updating bread and wraps

Another pairing Kinsey noted was traditional sandwich fillings paired with a new style of bread or other carrier. Sloppy Joe filling stuffed into pita bread is one example of this trend. This way, Kinsey said, the meal is less messy than if the sloppy Joe were served in a bun. Other examples of updating bread choices include using focaccia instead of traditional white or wheat bread or shifting gears entirely and offering the sandwich as a wrap.

By pairing familiar sandwich fillings with new formats, operators can keep kids interested in the menu.

Homestyle entree-and-side pairings

Speed-scratch cooking is having a big moment in schools as the demand for more made-from-scratch foods rises. For K-12 foodservice operators, this presents a big opportunity for pairings that mimic homestyle cooking—foods that kids recognize from the dinner table at home. For example, scratch-made sides such as oven-roasted potatoes or vegetables (try zucchini or a blend of familiar options such as carrots and broccoli) can be served with prepared, stand-alone proteins such as baked chicken. With many K-12 meals centering on some kind of bread or bun as a carrier, it can be fun for kids to switch things up.

Appealing to K-12 palates can be done in many ways, but with these pairings—including familiar favorites, customizable meals and updates to classics—operators can be sure that the menu will be successful.

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice