“Ethnic is no longer ethnic, it’s the norm,” Tila says. “All kids expect international cuisines to be in the schools. And schools that don’t have it won’t be competitive.” So Tila, along with Chef Michael Gunn, Schwan’s director of culinary, and Sara Wight, consumer insights expert with Schwan’s, rolled up their sleeves and got cooking to uncover Asian dishes that students will love, made with readily available ingredients.
Chef Todd Erickson, pictured, finds that “students are familiar with Asian cuisine and are eager to see additional Asian dishes on their school menus.” A C&R Youthbeat study from last year saw a progression in enjoying authentic Chinese food from kids (43%) to tweens (51%) and teens (56%).
Using proteins and pantry items
The Schwan’s Chef Collective encourages schools to put their kitchen pantries to use in new ways. Typical proteins to create Asian dishes include chicken, beef or pork, veggies such as broccoli, carrots and peas and whole-grain components such as tortillas or pasta. This Asian chicken lettuce wrap is made with prepared diced chicken, teriyaki sauce, water chestnuts, shredded carrots and edamame.
Banh mi…for me?
Kids aren’t always comfortable trying totally new foods at school, but starting with a familiar format can be a gateway (as shown with this pulled pork banh mi sandwich). “Students want more traditional Asian food—as the school lunch environment isn’t ideal for trying new foods that they haven’t experienced outside of school,” says Sara Wight, senior manager of consumer insights with Schwan’s. So “safe experimentation” is the way to go, “in terms of added condiments and sauces, different varieties offered and potentially more made-to-order/customizable stations.”
Familiar but fresh
The customization factor works especially well with rice bowls and soups. This Vietnamese beef pho starts with whole-wheat spaghetti and slaw mix. Hot beef broth, Asian spices and shaved beef are added to the bowl next (this is where the customization could come in), and eggrolls on top make a fun addition to this pho.