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What’s trending on K-12 breakfast menus

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, Chartwells K12 Vice President of Culinary Peter Gilhooly shares what’s been popular with students.
breakfast bowl
Photo courtesy of Chartwells K12

The morning meal is in the spotlight as school nutrition programs across the country celebrate National School Breakfast Week, held March 7-11.

In honor of the week, Chartwells K12 Vice President of Culinary Peter Gilhooly spoke with FSD about the special dishes that will appear on Chartwells K12 menus as well as what’s trending in school breakfast.

Finding what resonates

In addition to ever-popular items such as breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches, certain trends gain steam with students depending on their grade level, says Gilhooly. Younger students, for example, are drawn to items such as breakfast pizza and flatbread, while students in middle and high schools gravitate towards bowls, both sweet and savory, he says.

Chartwells chefs are working to expand their bowl offerings and have come up with new versions, such as a peach, blueberry and chai spice bowl and a Southwestern bowl made with turkey chorizo, scrambled eggs, home fries, peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and salsa.

Overnight oats are also popular with older students, he says, and the team has been testing different types of grains in place of traditional oats. One of their latest creations contains bulgur wheat, sun butter, apples and cranberries.

“We're able to offer [overnight oats] in a wide variety of flavors, and experiment with different types of fruits and grains,” says Gilhooly. “So, it's not just about oats anymore.”

Smoothies are a breakfast trend that resonates with all age groups, and the Chartwells team has begun creating blenderless varieties.

“We are able to take yogurt along with fruit puree, vegetable and fruit juices and make [smoothies] without the use of a blender,” says Gilhooly. “So, [it’s] very easy to assemble, it has great flavor profiles and the combinations are just endless.”

Menuing the trends

Many breakfast items are available throughout the school day at Chartwells K12’s all-day breakfast concept, Rush Hour.

Open to all grade levels, the concept’s offerings are split into two menus to reach as many students as possible. The Express Way menu offers a variety of grab-and-go items like gingerbread apple muffins, while the Traffic Stop menu leans toward sit-down meals meant to be eaten in the cafeteria, such as huevos rancheros tacos.

Apple cinnamon blenderless smoothie

Apple cinnamon blenderless smoothies/photo courtesy of Chartwells K12

Chartwells chefs also alter the Rush Hour offerings based on what is seasonally available and where the district is located.

“What works well in the South—like a Southern breakfast bowl with grits—may not work so well in other parts of the country,” says Gilhooly. “So, our team of chefs and dietitians will take a regional and local approach, and we'll take a breakfast bowl and develop it, you know, for that school or for that region.”

Seasonality and location also play a role in the company’s National School Breakfast Week celebrations, during which the schools where it manages foodservice will serve dishes highlighting fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

At a school in Rhode Island, for example, Chartwells K12 will be serving French toast with regionally sourced maple syrup and local honey, breakfast frittatas made with local mushrooms and more.  

“[For National School Breakfast Week], we don't take that sort of a one size fits all or a national approach,” says Gilhooly. “We look at it as an opportunity to really approach it locally, and that's what's important to our districts and our communities.”

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