Making School Lunches as Good as Eating Out

Feb 15, 2019

Making School Lunches as Good as Eating Out

It’s a battle for many parents, getting their children to eat and getting them to eat the right foods. Parents are also pressed for time, with full-time careers, parenting, and running their children to activities. And children do like restaurant food, even prefer it to home-cooked food, much to the chagrin of their grandmothers!

So, it’s no surprise that U.S. spending on restaurant food nearly has surpassed spending for at-home food,1 and it’s clear that children are now exposed to restaurant food early and often. Children even know what they want to order before they get to the restaurant since they are becoming so familiar with dining out.2

How can you capitalize on this trend?

Translate popular restaurant favorites to your lunch menu!

But we’re not talking here about the kids’ menu. At 91% of the top 50 chain restaurants, the children’s meals didn’t meet the nutritional standards of National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell Program and 50% exceeded the recommended calorie count of 600 calories or less.3

In a recent study of family food choice behavior in restaurants, a third of the children shared their meals, but those meals were ordered from the adult, versus the children’s menu.4 Clearly, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and mac n’ cheese aren’t the only foods children are choosing in restaurants!

Where do kids like to eat and how can you translate those dishes? Many of the quick service and casual dining chains today offer meals kids love, meals  you can replicate in your kitchen, with a little help from Simplot! 

Let’s look at a few of the favorite cuisines and on-trend foods: Tex-Mex, Chinese and bowls.

Read our recent article:  Trending Now: International flavors for kids’ meals

Tex-Mex and a cool school lunch treat

Think Taco Bell, Chipotle and Qdoba where kids love the mild Mexican flavors. One popular dish in these restaurants is nachos, which feed the need for crunch in all of us and make a great school lunch. Kids love finger food and will love the fun of a plate of nachos for lunch with their friends. 

Simplot’s recipe for Tex Mex Nachos hits all the USDA lunch requirements: Whole grain, low fat, two servings of veggies, using our Roasted Corn and Black Bean Fiesta along with our mild Western Guacamole. And they taste great!

View Recipe >

Ready for the fall and cooler weather? Try our super simple Texas Black Bean Chili, with two servings of veggies, lean proteins, and ready to top with our Western Guacamole, some low-fat cheese and low-fat sour cream. 

Serve by itself or as a new topper for your salad bar, adding whole grain tortilla chips on the side.

View Texas Black Bean Chili Recipe >

Asian made easy

Panda Express and P. F. Chang’s have popularized Asian stir-fry, appearing all over the US with their family-friendly, consistent and appealing foods. Chicken, beef, vegetarian tofu, all are candidates for a stir fry dish kids love. You can easily make a stir fry dish with any of Simplot’s Asian-style Simple Goodness Vegetable Blends, like our Oriental, Midori, Kyoto or Sugar Snap Pea blends. 

But if you’re trying to innovate by offering a new look at your menu, try our Asian Coleslaw. A new take on the usual boring cabbage and mayo, with light Asian sesame flavor on our Kyoto blend vegetables added to a standard shredded coleslaw mix.

View Asian Coleslaw Recipe >

Hand pies are starting to make news. In England, they’re known as pasties, with a tradition that goes back centuries. Now, you see hand pies in upscale bakeries, filled with rhubarb and strawberries, or cherries and peaches.

But how about an Asian twist on a meat pie?  Using whole grains, vegetables, lean chicken for the filling, along with a whole grain pastry dough, you can create Asian Hand Pies, using a Simplot recipe to make a super-easy and great-tasting lunch dish parents may want to recreate at home!

View Thai Style Hand Pie Recipe >

Anatomy of a Great Bowl

Bowl bars are making news, with an 89% increase in restaurants offering a bowl dish on their menus in the past year.5 Kids loving making their own choices, and with healthy toppings, the bowl bar can become a regular way to keep kids at your lunch table

Here are some more ideas of what to offer to make a tasty kid-friendly bowl bar:

Read our recent article:  School Menu Inspiration: Build Your Own Bowls


1 Quartz, “No One Cooks Anymore,” 2016,   https://www.theatlas.com/charts/H1MitYpN
2 Food ordering for children in restaurants: multiple sources of influence on decision making   Public Health Nutrition, September 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5460152/#R2
3 National Restaurant Association, 2016, Kids LiveWell Criteria, http://www.restaurant.org/Industry-Impact/Food-Healthy-Living/Kids-LiveWell/About
4 Food ordering for children in restaurants: multiple sources of influence on decision making   Public Health Nutrition, September 2016,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5460152/#R2
5 Datassential MenuTrends, 2018