Coming from a restaurant background growing up, Joe Urban says he wasn’t that into cafeteria food.
“When I was in school, for the most part, I didn’t eat a lot of school lunches. It wasn’t really appealing to me, so I don’t have a lot of memories of eating school food,” says the director of food and nutrition services for Greenville County Schools in Greenville, S.C. “Fast-forward to today: We’re sourcing locally raised cattle and other ingredients for our menus, we’re trying to mimic higher education and some of the fast-casual joints that our students go to outside of school.”
In the little more than 10 years that Urban has been working in the K-12 segment, he’s seen the school menu shift in a fresher and healthier direction.
In Greenville cafeterias today, Urban says students will find scratch-made dishes using fresh and locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Students can also customize their dishes at build-your-own stations, such as a build-your-own grain bowl bar.
“Our food is trendy, it’s healthy, it’s flavorful, it’s local. It hits all the points that students want to see in their food,” Urban says.
The industry as a whole has a long way to go when it comes to offering students food that checks all those boxes, Urban says. But he thinks that going forward, these trends will continue to be adopted by more districts across the country as students continue to expect them.
“Our customers today demand a better product than they did 20 years ago. They’re food-savvy, they understand health better than they did back then and there’s a demand for higher-quality foods,” he says.