What do today’s most popular kid-pleasing restaurants have in common? Customized meals.
Noodles & Company, Subway, Chipotle, the list goes on — have devised ways to offer a wide array of palate-pleasing choices while avoiding the pitfalls that can make customized quick-service menu offerings challenging.
You can give your lunch program a boost by taking a page from these fast-casual trendsetters.
Imagine offering students a macaroni and cheese bar where they can choose from either south of the border mac topped with taco-seasoned meat, onions and pico de gallo or buffalo mac topped with buffalo-seasoned chicken and chopped celery. It sounds, great, right?
When you give students more choices, they eat better, waste less food and are more engaged in the lunch experience. Everybody wins. The questions is: How do you do it?
Self-service can be a logistical challenge. Managing portion sizes, preventing backlogs, and making sure nutritional guidelines are met — all rank high on the list of potential headaches. Overall, the trick to setting up a smooth-running customization bar is offering more choices while maintaining control.
Here are two ways to make flavor stations work for you.
Set up your lunch line like a typical sub shop: Start with a main menu item and give students their choice of building blocks — sauces, proteins, vegetables, spices — as they go through the line. The service stays behind the counter and fully in control.
Offer a self-service action station where students select pre-portioned items, such as Land O Lakes® Prepared Macaroni and Cheese, and pre-measured toppings such as broccoli or turkey sausage. Think of it as a salad bar, but with some items pre-portioned or served with appropriate serving utensils to avoid mess and waste – both for the student and your back-of-house.
No matter which approach you choose, it’s important to avoid offering an overwhelming number of options. Letting kids choose three out of five components of their meal gives them plenty of variety without putting too much of a strain on your system.
Going Bold, Going Global
Once you’ve figured out the logistics of your customization bar, it’s time for the fun part: creating dishes your students will devour. The formula is simple. Start with a familiar comfort food such as pasta or nachos and take it from there.
South of the border nachos are a natural. But what about barbecue nachos with shredded chicken or beef, red onions, roasted corn and cheesy barbecue sauce? The options are endless. Curry nachos. Korean-inspired nachos. Buffalo nachos. Don’t stop there. How about a Thai-inspired twist for your nacho station?
Feeling Inspired? Bring a School Customization Bar to Life!
Download these helpful customization bar concepts that will help you easily bring your inspiration to life!
Engaging Students in Fun Ways!
"Always provide a variety of choices... For your eaters, you need to keep them engaged, you need to give them variety, and that is what this mac and cheese bar does." - Paula Pholkamp, Nutrition Services Supervisor, Minnesota District 622, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District
Kids are more likely to be engaged with their meals when they have more choice and control. To take it a step further, encourage them to participate in other ways. Post signs with nutritional information and fun facts. Ask a trivia question. Hand out samples of potential new menu items and take a vote to see which item should be featured.
That’s taking lunchtime to a whole new level!
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