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Top Ten Back-to-School Trends for 2009

Food Channel Releases Its BTS Predictions

The Food Channel® presents its latest Trends report just in time for Back to School! See what is happening as your family gears back up for the return to classroom rules, cafeteria food, and after school snacks. The list is based on research conducted by The Food Channel and the International Food Futurists™. Here’s what we see:

1. It’s in the Bag: This year, it’s all about what you carry. Don’t worry about a designer lunchbox, but do think about food safety and practicality – those are winners when it comes to school lunches. Sure, those old metal Dukes of Hazzard lunch boxes are going for high dollars at the online antique outlet, but the trendy kids want a splash of their own style – not someone else’s. So make them the star by finding a lunch carrier that reflects their personality AND keeps their food at a safe temperature. Choose a bento box for the child who likes to compartmentalize his food. Turn lunch into an art project with a DIY metal lunchbox that can be personalized. Use a soft-sided cooler, and add a fun-shaped water bottle.

2. Green is the New Brown: When it comes to snack bags, think recycled, biodegradable or compostable. We predict more people than ever will be choosing reusable snack bags, like the ones from RuMe. These polyester snack packs store sandwiches and snacks and make a fashion statement at the same time. Or look at the Fresh Snack Pack, which is an eco-friendly alternative to disposable plastic bags. And one more – the Ziploc evolve. These ultra-light bags are made using 25 percent less plastic than traditional sandwich bags, and manufactured using wind power. The kids will enjoy telling that story while they eat their sandwich!

3. Let Them Choose: The trend is all about ‘my way.’ Making choices starts earlier these days, so let kids practice by giving them a say in what goes in their lunch. It’s as simple as giving them a weekly list or a brown paper bag on which to record their choices. Use the weekend to pretend you are Wich Wich? and let the kids write out their own menu choices (limited, of course, to your master list) for each day. You can even require them to choose one from each category, so that lunch is not made up entirely of dessert!

4. Think Fresh. Fresh and local is a trend we see across all categories. Isn’t that what back-to-school is all about, anyway? Remember the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, and the crispness of a new backpack? That freshness is important for lunches, too. Fresh fruit or vegetable sticks are still great to include, and they’ll be sure to eat them if you include a local geography lesson prior to packing. That means taking them to the local farmer’s market to choose their own apples, and reminding them where the apples came from when you hand them the bag with fresh slices inside (dipped in a bit of lemon juice, of course). If you think about it, you could also slip in an economics lesson and a math lesson!

5. Push Portability: Even the cafeteria line has gone portable, as schools and universities eliminate those plastic trays. Now there’s less to wash (and, yes, fewer trays to sneak out on snow days to use as sleds), less temptation to load up that tray, and more opportunity for grabbing a stack made up of a sandwich, fruit, and drink. So whether you are buying or packing, we predict portability will be important to you when school starts again. The latest refrigerator packs now come with milk – not just soda pop – so you can offer a healthier alternative. The latest dippables, like the 90 calorie packs of Dunk ‘ems from Kraft Handi-Snacks, make it easy.

6. Carry Your Own Water…(Bottle, that is): Sure, that’s a great lesson for kids who need to learn to do their share. It’s also a way to protect your kids and get some extra nutrition in their diet. Make sure you don’t leave plastic bottles lying around in the heat – look for thermal options. And, consider giving your kids one of the new waters with nutrition built in, like the new Y-Water that has a playful exterior and an interior full of vitamins and minerals. The names alone (Muscle Water, Bone Water, Immune Water, and Brain Water) are enough to get you ready to compete in the classroom or on the field. A side note for adults who want that same nutritional benefit in a grown up bottle – check out ICIO Water. ICIO combines purified water with natural flavors to create a no calorie, sugar-free beverage, in a flask-shaped bottle. Not advised for the schoolroom, but slightly risqué enough to set the office on edge!

7. Make it Healthy. We predict that you’ll see lunchboxes full of antioxidant-rich foods. The trend is for students to be attracted to healthier items. Maybe it’s a sign that we can mark that obesity trend off our list. So, offer healthy options that will wake up young taste buds. A simple exchange of whole-grain bread over white is a start; or mix it up with a flour tortilla wrap, like the organic ones from Tumaro’s Tortillas. While packing healthy, give them a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a couple of extra napkins. Make yourself aware of gluten free options, and be sure to notify your school cafeteria supervisor if your child has any food allergies.

8. Be the Mom with a Heart: Back to school means back to fundraising, so go ahead and do your part. Make a deal with your kids that you’ll donate a quarter to their next fundraiser every time they pack their own lunch. Support initiatives like the one from Yum! Brands, that is committed to providing 200 million meals for hungry school children in developing countries through its Yum! Brands World Hunger Relief campaign. And, when Otis Spunkmeyer cookies are chosen as the sales item to generate funding for that new playground equipment, be the first to place an order! We predict more schools will be choosing food items for their fundraisers – it just makes sense in a difficult economy.

9. Think Social. Social media, that is. School mealtimes are more about time together than they are the meal. This is when you’ll find students (assuming cell phones are permitted in their school) Twittering, texting and talking online. We’re seeing restaurants of all kinds using social media to attract business, so just realize that your children may be getting marketing messages every time they log on to their profile pages. Use it to your advantage by following a mommy blogger on Twitter and ask for tips for school lunches and snacks. Visit the mamapedia website, where you can talk to moms directly from the food section. Go ahead and replace the old lunchbox note with a text message – after all, nothing says love like reminding your child, ‘Don’t forget to eat your apple (banana, kiwi fruit, grapes, etc.)! Love, Mom.’

10. The New Home Ec: Your kids are getting exposed to space age vending machines like the one that bakes fresh pizza in minutes. They are already used to ordering their pizza via text message. Does anyone remember how to make it at home? Face it, wherever you spend your time these days is home, and people are used to getting something when and where they want it. We call it the ‘new home economics’ because we need to prepare ourselves, and our children, for the cooking of the future. Make sure you know what is available in the vending machines on the school grounds, and know the school rules about delivery so your child doesn’t inadvertently have to eat lunch in the principal’s office!

Bonus: Do something for yourself. You may be eating at home more often, so make the time to take a cooking class. It’s a great time to take a few Cooking 101 steps yourself, or sign up as a family.