Top 5 School Lunch Trends

You might be surprised to read about the variations kids like on their classic lunch meals!

Sandwiches, Pasta and Other Wheat Foods on the Menu

Amidst an ever-changing world, some things remain consistent. Wheat foods like bread, tortillas, pizza and pasta continue to play a delicious and nutritious role in school lunches across America. Chartwells K12 is a company aiming to make kids happier and healthier through their dining experience in school cafeterias. They create custom dining programs for 4,500 schools nationwide, and they revealed the top food trends for kids and their families in 2022. A survey of school chefs and dietitians compiled data and insights about kids’ favorite flavors, ingredients, meals, and menus.

All Day Breakfast

Unsurprisingly, all-day breakfast options continue to be a hit with kids of all ages! Wheat foods, such as bread, English muffins, biscuits and tortillas are perfectly designed for wraps and sandwiches. Eggs, meat and cheese come together wonderfully in breakfast favorites, such as burritos, tacos and egg sandwiches. Chartwells K12’s all-day breakfast concept, creatively called ‘Rush Hour’, includes Spicy Chicken & Tater Tot Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches and Ham, Mozzarella and Spinach Whole Grain Breakfast Popovers.


Healthier Options

Choices that fuel and energize are popular with Gen Z, and certainly their parents. The focus is on staying fueled and hydrated by eating more nutritious meals that combine healthy carbohydrates and lean proteins. A favorite from this category is veggies and flatbread served with protein-packed hummus dip. Granola made with whole wheat, nuts and dried fruits is enjoyed as a topping for smoothies and yogurt.


“Old School” Lunch Items

Today, kids enjoy traditional favorites, but they seem to enjoy them more with a twist involved. For example, grilled cheese made as an eggplant, zucchini, tomato and provolone panini is more likely to resonate this year. Other sandwich options featured by Chartwells are a pulled pork, ham and Swiss Cubano and Sonoran chicken torta. Both of these delicious-sounding sandwiches appeared on Food Management magazine’s Best Sandwiches awards list.


Pasta still tops the list of menu choices for kids. Whole and enriched pasta is a nutritious base just right for adding any variety of lean meats, vegetables and internationally-flavored sauces and cheeses. Interesting new favorites beyond plain noodles are quickly becoming elevated versions of classic comfort foods. Kids have shown strong interest in dishes like Korean Bulgogi Chicken & Soba Noodle Bowl and Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese, from Chartwells’ new Revolution Noodle and Mac & Cheesology concepts.

Build Your Own

It’s no surprise that the “build your own” concept was found to still be trending with kids. Allowing children to be a part of meal planning can encourage them to try new and healthier options. Customizable foods, like sandwiches, tacos, pizzas and more encourage creativity and experimentation with new ingredients and flavors on old favorites. This practice also encourages kids to consider the nutrients that they need to be putting into their body. It also gives them a chance to work with parents and guardians to create a balanced diet that they can easily maintain.

Discovery of these trends continue to propel school lunches in the right direction for kids resulting in new, flavorful dishes that are healthy and enjoyed by kids. It is important to provide lunch options at school that fulfill nutrient needs among this young demographic. Lacking important diet items can contribute to poor brain health and learning ability. Not only that, school cafeterias across the U.S. create a space for kids to be able to get together and make in person social connections again while enjoying tasty, nutritious foods they love!

To read more about how wheat influences our lives, check out our Stories section.

For more information about Chartwells K12, visit their website.


“5 Top School Lunch Trends 2022-23.” Kernels Magazine, Winter 2022, https://www.wheatfoods.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/KERNELS-Winter2022-12.13a.pdf. Accessed 23 May, 2023.

Image: 5 Top School Lunch Trends.