In a world of constantly changing trends and evolving food tastes, schools need to be regularly innovating and staying ahead of trends in order to attract more food-conscious students.

Here are some of the latest K-12 nutrition trends that schools have been paying attention to and implementing in order to boost participation.

There’s An App For That

It’s no secret mobile apps are all the rage. There are apps for fitness, music, banking, and yes, even sleep. But what about school nutrition? Most people would say no, which is ironic considering students use more apps than almost any other age group. As it turns out, there are numerous apps out there for schools – and many districts might be missing out if they’re not using them.

Montgomery Blair High School senior Jake Koch-Gallup created one such app. His app, called Sit With Us, pairs students together during lunch so no student has to sit alone.

“I think … in a large school, you think everyone has a lot of friends, but all too often, students do feel isolated,” he said. “This is a great way to connect students during their lunch period.”

This free app could be a good way to encourage more students to eat in the cafeteria while promoting inclusion at school.

Menu apps are another area trending in popularity. Apps like SchoolCafé give cafeterias the power to put their menus where students look most: their phones. By allowing students to access the cafeteria through apps and on mobile devices, schools can engage students they’d otherwise miss.

If you’d like to learn more on SchoolCafe, follow the link here.

Fresh Is In

Fresh is trendy, and it doesn’t get fresher than straight from the ground. In other words: Farm to School. The Farm to School movement is gaining steam in recent years and offers students two big benefits. First, it gives students access to fresh produce that’s produced locally. Second, it opens the door to teach students where their food comes from. And if your school participates in cultivating a school garden (which, let’s face it, is also a form of “Farm to School”), letting students grow and pick their own food helps them feel involved with the process. Engagement with the food on their plates encourages consumption of food that otherwise might find itself in the trash.

Schools can start by reaching out to local farmers, or creating their own school gardens and letting students take the lead on growing and picking the food that will end up on their plates. Start small, and learn as you grow!

In Carroll County Public School, students participate in farming-oriented activities during Homegrown School Lunch Week. Students do everything from corn shucking to planting vegetables.

“The very corn the students are shucking and apples they are tasting will be served in the cafeteria along with other locally purchased fruits and vegetables are grown here in Carroll County soil,” explained Karen Sarno, Carrol County’s supervisor of food services.

Sharing Is Caring

Unnecessary food waste is a problem many schools face. Killing two birds with one stone, sharing stations allow schools to cut waste and feed hungry kids by encouraging students to donate uneaten food items.

The donated food can be eaten by students who normally don’t have a lunch, or even by students in afterschool programs or in-school special groups.

Mimic Retail Quick-Service Establishments

A complaint many students often raise with their cafeteria is the institutional design – boring colors, bare walls, and simple seating. To combat this, some schools offer an atmosphere more closely resembling retail/restaurant environments.

Trend Ideas

  • Replace bland colors with brighter, vivid colors and textures
  • Offer a variety of seating: tables, booths, etc.
  • Incorporate your school or sports team in the design

The idea of Grab & Go items has also gained popularity in recent years. To boost participation, offer portable boxes or prepackaged meals (especially reimbursable meals!) students can eat on the go. Even food items like salads can be packaged and served as Grab & Go items.