Back to Blog
Tionna Wells

School Kitchen Trends


Participation in school lunch and breakfast is up dramatically compared to pre-pandemic years. That means things are heating up in school kitchens across the country. With the increase in demand, kitchens are getting creative with what they cook, how they cook it and how they serve it. Here are the trends we’re seeing coming down the lunchline. 


Schools around the world are raising their hands to share the many healthy benefits of growing their own fresh produce in a garden on school grounds. Whether it’s run by students, cafeteria staff, or an outside community organization, there are many benefits to having a garden in your school and potentially using the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor in your cafeteria food. 

Kids are more likely to eat food they helped grow, and there’s an enormous opportunity to connect with the curriculum to keep both kids and teachers interested in how their lunch is grown. To learn more about school gardens, see our School Gardens Blog.


Another trend we’re seeing is schools offering breakfast for their students. It’s called the most important meal of the day for a reason. It sets the tone with a full tummy and a brain fueled by nutrients to help kids learn and grow. Research shows that children who eat breakfast perform better in school. Not only that, they are less likely to visit the school nurse and are absent from school less often. Studies have even shown that they have better behavior. 

Whether it’s a grab-and-go option with muffins and bagels or a full hot meal service that's cooked in the Vulcan TCM Combi Oven, kids benefit from the option to have breakfast at school. To learn more about school breakfast, see our School Breakfast Whitepaper.


Start a food (waste) fight with share tables. Share tables are stations where students may return unopened whole food or beverage items that they don’t eat, as long as they are in compliance with local and state health and safety codes. These food and beverage items are then available to other children who may want additional servings. Non-perishable and complete food items left on the share table may also be stored for another meal service, allowing food service staff to “recycle” food items for a later time. Each lunch period can have its own share table and lunch times can compete to see who can share the most! 


For some kids, their schedules are so tight they go from school to sports to study with hardly a break in between. For others, school is a reliable source of nutrition that isn’t available elsewhere. Either way, kids benefit from having a grab-and-go program after school. Whether they’re on their way to after-school care or a rigorous sports practice, an extra boost of nutrition can power them home. 


Schools are cooking up new recipes, leading to more diverse and more nutritious meals. Varying meals within a theme can keep kids excited about what’s to come. For example, Tuesdays could be ‘bowl days’ meaning everything from a grain bowl to a pasta dish. Or breakfast for lunch days that vary from pancakes to corned beef hash. Here are some ideas to inspire you to get creative this fall.

Grain Bowls
Bowl recipes are on the rise in K-12 schools. Their versatility, convenience, and ability to cater to different dietary and taste needs make them a popular choice. Easily cooked in a Vulcan Steamer, bowl meals typically include a combination of protein, grains, vegetables, and sauces. From teriyaki-based savory dishes and BBQ bowls to spicy ranch and bean burrito bowls, a variety of foods all in one dish make it easy to get nutrition and satisfaction in every bite. 

Global Cuisine
Schools everywhere are bringing the world to their kitchens. With the opportunity to work in concert with the curriculum, global dishes have the ability to expand palates and broaden taste buds. Certain regions of Chinese cooking use ginger, soy, and chili. Indian dishes can include tandoori spices, curry, and sweet potatoes. Italian dishes can include pasta cooked in bulk with your new PreciPan™ and pizza. Mexican dishes can pack the flavor with lime, cilantro, and peppers. 

Reimagined Classics
The last thing you want is for your school meals to be seen as boring and bland. However, too many new items can be risky and time-consuming. Schools this year will be mixing it up with new takes on old favorites. Preload your chicken tenders recipe into your Vulcan TCM Combi Oven then give them a flavorful new kick with ranch seasoning. Instead of pizza or fries, try pizza fries with waffle fries topped with cheese and pepperoni. Or, swap out ingredients like brown rice instead of white rice for added nutritional value. 

Breakfast for Lunch
Breakfast for lunch is an easy way to switch up your menu while implementing fan favorites like pancakes, waffles, and sausage. Having a standard breakfast-for-lunch day can help students know what to expect, then switching between classics like bacon and eggs and more fun food like pancake-wrapped sausage rolls will help keep them interested (and full!). And having a Vulcan Heated Holding Cabinet makes it easy to keep eggs warm and tasting fresh throughout the lunch service. 

Smooth(ie) Moves
A quick and easy way to get nutrition and satisfaction in one delicious gulp is a smoothie. Packed with greens but tasting like fruit, smoothies are an easy grab-and-go option for kids on the move. A yogurt base gives extra protein while adding spinach boosts brain health and cognition for a day full of learning. 

Trying New Trends
No matter which trend you’re cooking up, make sure to add it to your menu rotation and be sure to get feedback on new items through surveys or word of mouth. Having the right equipment in your K-12 kitchen makes for easy versatility, allowing you to try on new trends with ease and treat the taste buds of students to new food adventures and open their eyes to new food horizons.   

Related Posts

Fall Into the Season with the TCM Combi

See our fall TCM Combi Oven recipe. We took our special pumpkin spice blend (plus petitas and candied bacon!) to enhance a breakfast favorite for the season - Pumpkin Spice Pepita Sticky Buns with Vanilla Bean Frosting and Candied Bacon.
Read More

When You Can't Deep Fry, Combi Fry.

From crispy french fries to chicken patties, tenders, and nuggets, the TCM Combi can do it all – and healthier. 
Read More

The Versatility of Combi Ovens

Combi ovens are quickly becoming a mainstay in commercial restaurant kitchens because of their true versatility. Its core essentials control temperature and humidity for both dry heat cooking and humidity heat cooking.
Read More

Your basic guide to essential restaurant and ghost kitchen equipment

When trying to outfit a kitchen with all the necessities, the cooking equipment is critical to the actual execution of creating culinary masterpieces.
Read More

An Introduction to Food Steamers - Commercial, Industrial and Restaurant Steamers

Steamers are a workhorse in any professional kitchen – most often utilized in K-12, casino, lodging, healthcare, independent restaurant, and college/university operations.
Read More

Top Chefs at the StarChef Congress Plan to Get Cookin' With Help From Vulcan

Read More

The Benefits of Adding a Clamshell Griddle to Your Line-up

Restaurant owners and managers find themselves asking several questions when considering which products to add to their lineup of commercial kitchen equipment.
Read More

Three Easy and Elegant Combi Oven Restaurant Recipes

Read More

Commercial Braising Pans 101

Chefs tasked with cooking large batches of food often turn to one key piece of foodservice equipment: the braising pan. This incredibly versatile unit used in many high-volume operations saves both time and space with no sacrifice in food quality.
Read More

Cooking with Combination Ovens – Replace Your Convection Oven and Steamer

Read More