Katie Workman, author of the popular blog and award-winning cookbook "The Mom 100," tackles weeknight dinner in addition to breakfast, lunch, snacks and dessert in her new cookbook Dinner Solved! With kids already heading back to school to kick off the new school year, she gave us the scoop on what food trends we can expect to see, including which healthy items will be popular (and the type of food that will be phased out).
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Check out the slideshow below to discover 8 food trends for the new school year:
Back to school: 8 food trends for the new school year
Back to school: 8 food trends for the new school year
Q: What are some trends you're seeing when it comes to back-to-school foods for 2015? Arethere any healthy items that are going to be big this school year?
A: Gluten-free continues to be a huge and growing trend, with all kinds of frozen and refrigerated options such as pizzas, pasta, waffles and ethnic-inspired cuisine conveniently available. The frozen food aisles gets more and more international all the time, with global flavors being seen in many of the convenient products available, such as Asian stir-fries, Indian flavored chicken dishes and Mediterranean pizza options. The availability of organic frozen foods are growing as well, with the options of steam-able bagged vegetables constantly growing and becoming perfect meal additions for busy mornings or hectic work weeks. The options for shortcut cooking have grown as well— things that help you assemble a meal without making everything from scratch, from different varieties of prepared chicken that are recipe-ready to new dough options like frozen puff pastry that offer lots of interesting, dinnertime and/or dessert inspiration, such as a potpie topping or tart base. And, there are so many great packaged, healthy snacks available these days, with more coming out every day. There are chips made from everything from lentils to quinoa, with all kinds of interesting seasonings. Some pretty great packaging by the way!
Lots of fridge and freezer staples make great midday snacks, such as frozen edamame pods with a sprinkling of salt and lemon juices, cheese sticks with flavorings like jalapeno (which my older son really likes), mini pizzas found already-made in the freezer aisle which you can add a couple of extra toppings to, if you like. You can also pair bite-sized snacks such as frozen taquitos with an easy homemade dipping sauce. In general, the different flavorings of snacks are getting more and more out there, which is the industry trying to keep up with the “restless palate syndrome" of kids and millennials who are always craving something new and different.
Q: What types of proteins will we see cafeterias and parents focus on when it comes to lunch?
A: There are more vegetarian kids (and teachers), so good vegetarian options will be more of a focus, both in cafeterias and for parents packing lunches. The interest in less meat as a focus of the meal continues to grow, even for those who are not vegetarian. Finding lunch choices that include tofu and beans, dairy, whole grains, eggs and other protein-rich vegetables will continue to grow. There will be ongoing focus in how all proteins are raised and sourced, meat in particular of course, and in some areas there will be more of a focus on sourcing as much as local.
Q: What about sweets and desserts?
A: With such a heightened awareness about the childhood obesity epidemic in our country, all things sugary will be under the microscope much more. Many juice drinks and cereals, for example, are cutting way back on the sugar content and promoting that heavily on their packaging. Putting whole fruit front and center is going to be the best way to get kids to think of dessert differently, and think about what’s sweet in terms of some watermelon or a handful of grapes instead of a short stack of cookies. Having said that, dessert is always going to be popular with kids (and adults) so it’s always going to be a balance. Salted caramel and slightly burnt caramel are food trends that will probably work themselves into some kid-oriented sweets, and the whole salty-sweet craze marches on, too. While still being indulgent but a bit healthier, the frozen fruit options and fruit novelties are perfect for a sweet treat. Chocolate dipped fruits such as strawberries, bananas and pineapple are decadent, yet available in single-portions for quick snacking.
Q: Are there drink options you see becoming bigger?
A: The popularity of tea and coffee drinks never seems to wane, and teas are everywhere these days. Chai is of course huge. Kombucha, soy drinks, sports drinks, enhanced waters, artisan sodas and juices, cold-pressed juices and other drinks continue to grow as well. The beverage industry is exploding. Juices and juicing show no sign of losing steam. Introducing kale and other vegetables into juices remains a big growth area. Juices aren’t just for drinking anymore either, as they can be used in marinades, dips and desserts. From orange, grapefruit to cranberry, juices have endless creative possibilities from breakfast to dessert.
Q: What are the trending similarities (as well as the biggest differences) between cafeteria lunches and packed lunches?
A: Pre-portioned and pre-packed lunches continue to be a big trend in take-along lunches, though now there are some options that are less processed, which many parents are leaning towards. There are so many different options for single-serving foods that parents can mix and match in packed lunches, which of course is different than what schools serve up to big groups of students. Again, more vegetarian options— veggie burgers served as an option is a new norm in cafeterias. Salad bars are growing in popularity. And, it’s not unusual to see an array of hot sauces in a cafeteria, as kids become more inclined towards spicy food and sophisticated in their choices. Sushi (usually vegetarian options) can be found in cafeterias and lunch boxes. Greek yogurt continues to be big. Hummus is big, with so many varieties now and readily available in the refrigerated dairy aisles. Edamame is another trend. Different kinds of breads, like flatbreads, naan, multigrain wraps.
Q: Are there any school lunch foods that you've seen slowly phasing out? What will we see less of?
A:Fatty meats are going to be scarcer and scarcer. When I was a kid, if you didn’t like lunch in middle school you were offered not one but two peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches in wax paper baggies — hard to imagine now! Now you’d probably head for a veggie burger or a turkey or cheese sandwich if you didn’t like the offerings.
Q: Are there any old-school trends that are making a comeback for kids' school lunches?
A: Brussels sprouts! Maybe, maybe not, but they are becoming such a darling in restaurants and fancy food stores that they will probably find themselves back on school menus, but hopefully better prepared than in the olden days! When you’re in a hurry, Brussels sprouts can also be found in the freezer aisle and are just as fresh, full of flavor and easily customized with such additions as bacon, pancetta, onions and more. Old-school soups will probably always be relevant. So will grilled cheese sandwiches, but maybe with some more adventurous cheeses.
Q: Are there any back-to-school food trends you'd say are surprising?
A: Since the advent of all of the reality cooking shows, like MasterChef Jr. and Kids Cook Off, kids are feeling a lot more like rising to the challenge of adventurous eating. In my kids school they occasionally have menus based on the cooking of various Food Network Stars, which I thought was incredibly cool. I’ve heard about schools with noodle bars, stir fry stations and baked potato stations, which allow kids to be much more participatory in the creation of their lunches and what they want to eat. Also, the “ethnic” choices reach far beyond Mexican and Italian these days – there might be an Indonesian-inspired dish, a Tandoori chicken or a soup hailing from Africa. This is all showing that kids can be a lot more adventurous in their eating if they are exposed to more variety, which is very exciting.