(And what we’re doing instead)

No matter how you remember the school lunches of the past, certain snapshots of life in a 1980s, 90s, or even 2000s K-12 cafeteria have become cultural icons. Who knew rectangle pizza and cartons of chocolate milk would become such a staple of the American educational experience?

While those lukewarm sloppy joes will always have a special place in our hearts, managed food service in the K-12 space has evolved and adapted to student preferences and cultural shifts. In fact, if you visit a Pedestal Foods school, you might not recognize the dining experience at all! 


Square pizza vs. Fresh Pizza + Pasta Bars

Remember this stuff? Love it or hate it, rectangle pizza is burned into our memories as a school cafeteria staple. 

These days, we’ve retired this classic (sorry, Generation X) for hot, fresh pizzeria pizza and pasta bar options that are healthier, more appealing, and more like a restaurant experience. 

Classic Trays vs. Restaurant-style Plates 

Ah, those stackable, institution-style melamine school trays. Today’s school dining experience feels more personal and less like an assembly-line; disposable or reusable plates feel more like a meal and less like a feeding. 

Long Lunch Lines vs. Self-serve Stations

Lunch time is a relatively short piece of the day– kids should spend it recharging and refueling, not standing in long lines! Today’s dining experience features self-serve stations, lots of personal choices, and a more open, food-court feel. 

Grumpy Lunch Ladies vs. Friendly Staff

The mean Lunch Lady is the stuff of legend, immortalized in books, movies, TV skits and YouTube videos. Fortunately for our students, that character is completely fictional. Today’s school dining staff are held to a higher standard, they enjoy their work, and take pride in the services they provide. Students encounter friendly, engaged, caring faces that make meal time a pleasure, not a punishment. 

Counting Change vs. Meal Cards

Counting quarters—and losing lunch money—is a thing of the past with modern upgrades like meal plan cards or simple PIN numbers attached to students’ accounts. Parents can keep track of expenses, kids have more wiggle room to get what they want and need, and schools gain the ability to forecast revenue. That’s a win-win-win. 

“Take it or leave it” Options vs. Diet Accommodations

Just a few years ago, students with special diets (and even picky eaters) were all but excluded from school meal plans, as the options just didn’t align with their needs and preferences. With increased awareness and improved access to ingredients and products, we proudly accommodate dietary needs of all stripes, from vegetarians and vegans to gluten-free diets and food allergies. 

Looking back is fun; looking forward is smart. 

On-campus dining has come a long way in the last few decades, and continues to evolve even faster in recent years. Students and families expect more from their dining experience, and K-12 institutions are more dedicated than ever to recruitment, retention, and student satisfaction. 

At Pedestal Foods, we put a lot of time and energy into tracking trends, listening to students and families, and creating customized dining experiences that boost and strengthen school culture, not detract from it. 


Interested in freshening up your school’s dining program? Get in touch with Pedestal Foods here.