K-12 Food Trends: What's Hot for 2024 and 2025

Jun 25, 2024

K-12 Food Trends: What's Hot for 2024 and 2025

Have you already started thinking about next year’s K-12 menus? You’re not alone.

As the current school year wraps up, many districts have already begun planning for next year’s breakfasts and lunches. As usual, it’s a challenge with nutritional guidelines, budget constraints and competition from commercial restaurants.

To help you, we’ve just released our latest K-12 Trend Feast™ Guide (download here) featuring four important trends in K-12 foodservice as identified by our Culinary Team. You’ll also find insights into the changing tastes of today’s students, as well as accredited recipes and product recommendations.

The following is a preview of the four trends you’ll learn more about in the new K-12 Trend Feast™ Guide.

1. Reimaging Pizza: Using school pizza to deliver nutritious vegetables

Move over, pepperoni and cheese. School pizza can offer much more flavor and nutrition than it’s been given credit for.

“To kids, spinach and sweet potato sound a whole lot better on a pizza,” explains Michael Zeller, Corporate Executive Chef at Simplot. As a platform, pizza is incredibly versatile and flexible. From the crust to the sauce to the toppings, pizza offers plenty of opportunities to add healthy ingredients.”

And that’s a good thing for a variety of reasons. Twenty-five percent of Gen Alpha parents say kids’ menus don’t offer enough fruits or vegetables. Another 23% say kids’ menu choices are not healthy or nutritious.1

In addition, school pizza is also a smart way to incorporate trending global flavors. “Pizza originated in Italy, but that doesn’t limit you to Italian ingredients. It’s incredibly flexible and easy to adapt to other global cuisines,” says Chef Zeller. “With 43% of consumers reporting that they love or like Thai food, how about a Thai pizza?”

Consider these three accredited recipes for reimagined pizza from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Southwest BBQ Chicken Pizza
Top a whole-grain flatbread with BBQ sauce, corn, peppers and onions, and two kinds of cheese for a delicious lunch with a southwestern flair.
View Recipe »

Sweet Pizza
This pizza is built on a whole-grain flatbread base and topped with roasted sweet potatoes and corn, a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, and diced red onions.
View Recipe »

Garden Pizza
What do you get when you top whole-grain flatbread with marinara spinach, flame-roasted peppers and onions, and two kinds of cheese? A new lunchtime favorite.
View Recipe »

2. Build-Your-Own Bars: The power of meal personalization

Gen Alpha is used to having food their way. After all, 35% of this generation were raised with a weaning technique called “baby-led” feeding. This means parents skip the pureed food stage and wean their kids on softened solid foods. This allows the babies to be in charge, picking and choosing what they eat.

Having experienced this kind of autonomy early in life, Gen Alpha is naturally drawn to build-your-own food bars.

“Students love the power to customize their meals.’ Build-your-own bars are key for promoting healthy eating habits by offering a variety of wholesome ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins,” Chef Zeller explains. “It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure concept for food.”

Today, three of the most popular types of build-your-own bars are:2

Quesadilla (Latin)

• 53% of Gen Z love quesadillas (higher than the average).
• 39% of Gen Z love Mexican rice (higher than the average).

Asian-Style Bowl (Asian)

• 27% of Gen Z love noodle bowls (higher than the average).
• 32% of Gen Z love rice bowls (higher than the average).
• 28% of Gen Z love teriyaki bowls (higher than the average).
• 13% of Gen Z love veggie bowls (higher than the average).

Build-Your-Own Pita (Mediterranean)

• 21% of Gen Z love pitas
• 21% of Gen Z love avocados.

Here are three accredited build-your-own-bar recipes from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Avocado Toast Bar
Get the kids excited for breakfast with a bar of crispy toast, pickled onions, creamy guacamole, flavorful roasted corn, and juicy mango cubes.
View Recipe »

Build a Burrito Bowl
Building a burrito bowl is easy when you have all the “must-have” ingredients ready to go. Easy prep for the kitchen, delicious and fun for the kids–it’s a winner!
View Recipe »

Noodle Bar
Start with a base of tender noodles, top it with a selection of veggies and chicken, and serve in a warm ginger-soy broth.
View Recipe »

3. Travel by Plate

If you’ve traveled overseas, you know how exciting and educational such trips can be. The concept of “travel by plate” is to help kids get a glimpse of the wider world through a K-12 menu that includes flavors from around the globe.

“Gen Alpha has their Millennial parents’ taste for global flavors,” explains Roberto Roman, Corporate Executive Chef at Simplot. “Now schools are leveraging that interest, using foods and flavors from abroad to introduce students to cultures and traditions well beyond the schoolhouse doors.”

And that’s not all.

• Like every successive generation, Gen Alpha is more diverse. Children of color began to make up more than half of the country’s under-15 population in 2018.2

• The population of people who are two or more races will be the fastest-growing demographic group.2

• 23% of K-12 users are willing to pay more for global flavors.3

These days, four of the most popular global dishes include:4

Pad Thai (Thai/Asian)

• 32% of consumers love or like Pad Thai.
• 25% of Gen Z love it.

Arroz Con Pollo (Latin)

• 36% of consumers love or like arroz con pollo.
• 32% of Gen Z love rice bowls (higher than the average).

Chicken and Veggie Pancit (Filipino/Asian)

• 19% of consumers love or like Filipino food.
• Experience and familiarity with Filipino food is on fire, with 27% of consumers having tried it.

Veggie Fajitas (Latin)

• 72% of consumers love or like fajitas.
• 37% of Gen Z loves them.

Ready to try them yourself? Here are three accredited recipes from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Chicken and Vegetable Pancit
We took pancit (a Filipino stir-fried noodle dish) and gave it a lunchtime edit that kids will love. Packed with veggies and topped with a punchy soy-ginger sauce.
View Recipe »

Veggie Fajitas
Students will love this assemble-your-own fajita lunch, complete with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. A classic!
View Recipe »

Arroz Con Pollo
Our take on a traditional Spanish dish, with seasoned rice and tender chicken, loaded with veggies (and flavor).
View Recipe »

4. Nutrition-Packed Parfaits, Smoothie Bowls and Coffee Drinks

Finding quick, nutritious options that draw students in for breakfast isn’t easy. But adding sweet, colorful fruit can help, especially when they come in the form of a delicious parfait, drink or bowl.

“Parfaits, smoothie bowls and coffee smoothies are the kinds of fun, colorful options that can increase breakfast participation,” says Chef Roman. “Done right, they can also pack a real nutritional punch.”


Parfaits’ yogurt provides calcium and protein, fruits add vitamins and fiber, and granola offers whole grains and additional fiber. And they’re portable—great for kids on the go.

• 54% of consumers love or like yogurt parfaits.2
• 25% of consumers love them.2
• Higher among females (30%), Gen Z & Millennials (31%), and households with kids (34%).2

Smoothie Bowls

This new way to menu smoothies makes them a more sit-down experience.

• Smoothies are called out on 16% of school menus.3
• The #1 health claim consumers want is foods/drinks rich in vitamins/minerals.3
• Plant-based claims on beverages have grown 355% over the last 4 years.3

Coffee Smoothies

These blended-beverage smoothies incorporate a bit of coffee along with yogurt and colorful fruit. K-12 operators can draw more students to breakfast by offering visually appealing items like this.

Here are three accredited recipes for colorful breakfast beverage options from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Fuji Apple, Raspberry and Blueberry Parfaits
As light yet satisfying options for breakfast or lunch, these parfaits are filled with naturally sweet fruit and other nutritious ingredients.
View Recipe (apple) »
View Recipe (raspberry) »
View Recipe (blueberry) »

Dairy-Free Smoothie Bowl
Made with a base of puréed fruit, these bowls are a lighter option for breakfast or lunch. What a delicious (and healthy) way to start the day!
View Recipe »

Avocado, Mango and Strawberry Coffee
Just add Simplot® Harvest Fresh® Avocado Pulp, Simple Goodness™ Fruit Mango Cubes or Simple Goodness™ Fruit Strawberries, IQF Whole, to coffee with yogurt.
View Recipe »

K-12: How to keep your labor, food costs and food waste in check

Simplot offers a broad portfolio of labor-saving frozen products with the same high quality your students have enjoyed at restaurants for years. Learn more about our lines of frozen potatoes, vegetables, avocado, fruit and grains to see how you can reduce costs and food waste without sacrificing quality. And be sure to check out all of the free resources we offer to K-12 kitchens.

1 Datassential, Guide to Gen Alpha, Sept. 2023
2 Datassential, 2023
3 Datassential, 2024
4 Datassential, Flavors, 2024