Kids across the country are officially back to school, and we thought we would kick off the school year with a few new “truths” related to one of the most important parts of kids’ and parents’ days: school lunch. Whether you’re concerned about the cafeteria consumer or the meal maker, there are a few new (or at least novel) truths that might change the way you think about fitting into this occasion:
- Time is of the essence. According to a study conducted by the Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools, 20 minutes should be allowed for lunch after children have sat down at their tables. In middle school, this means providing an adequate timeframe for kids to move from their class to the cafeteria, via their locker if necessary. It means having the right number of lines/cash registers to minimize the waiting time. And it means taking into account the load they’re carrying (can a tray fit on top of the pile of books they’re carrying, or do they need to factor in finding a spot at a table before they return to the lunch line). Of course, if you’re in food service, the implications are considerable. But even if you’re humbly hoping that your containers or snack foods make it to their bags or boxes, you have to keep in mind that convenience matters.
- Sharing isn’t the same as it used to be. Trading snacks, leering at the lunches of others – these are rituals that have almost completely disappeared. And where snack sharing is permitted, it’s certainly more limited than it used to be, given sensitivity to food allergies and eating restrictions imposed by parents. For today’s kids who are raised in a less critical and less judgmental culture regarding others (every family is different, every mom and dad have different rules about eating, etc.), they’re less likely to brag about their own lunch or look to others for food ideas. You know who does ask about school lunches? Moms and dads! Kids might be less inclined to share intel on their friend’s brown bag brings, but parents do ask.
- Speaking of parents…Parents might be privy to more information and opinions than ever when it comes to their kids’ food – especially in a setting like school. So, while it bucks the conventional wisdom, perhaps it’s not surprising that kids report that parents are more likely to introduce them to new school lunch foods than their friends (60% versus 37% for kids ages 6 to 10). Parents are all about healthy options and alternatives to old stand-bys, but they also want to pack lunches that are inspired and creative. Kids report that their favorite lunch foods are sandwiches, and their favorite beverage is water, but moms and dads sometimes want to send their little students to school with more exciting fare.
- Sustainable containers. As much as kids and parents might prefer coming home without extra dishes, today’s parents and kids often opt for containers that are more sustainable and reusable. It makes parents feel thrifty and kids feel like they’re heeding the many mentions of “earth-friendliness” that pervade their days.
- Brain food is better. Today’s kids often have a very different definition of lunchbox “treat” than kids from the past. This cohort can’t always have cupcakes at school on their birthdays, or bring candy in their lunch bags. They’re less exposed to sugary and salty vending machine snacks, and even juice boxes are often considered a once-in-a-while drink versus the refillable water bottle that kids often bring right into their classroom. Kids get constant communication about feeding their bodies – and their brains – with the right kind of food. Don’t put them in a bind – health isn’t a benefit that kids seek out, but it is one that they might respond to in surprisingly open ways.
When it comes to understanding school lunch, make sure your brand isn’t relying on outdated ideas or conventional wisdom that no longer tracks. Brands that stay current with today’s cafeteria are sure to get an “A” among parents, kids and even teachers.