Parents in favor of healthier lunch options for their kids usually have to choose between preparing the lunches themselves or sending their kids off to school with hopes that they don’t seek out something processed in the cafeteria. But as demands increase across the foodservice industry for healthy, convenient alternatives for kids, one quick serve is giving parents a third option by delivering nutritious food to kids at school.

Wholesome Tummies is an Orlando, Florida–based quick serve that has made itself available to schools through franchises in six cities.

Samantha Gotlib and Debbie Blacher were full-time workers who tried to provide their kids with lunches that included the same organic and nutritious foods they enjoyed at home. “Debbie and I were neighbors and friends, and struck up a conversation at a neighborhood party,” says Gotlib, president of Wholesome Tummies. The women established Wholesome Tummies after deciding they wanted their kids to have home-cooked, healthy meals delivered to them.

Parents order lunches online at an average daily cost of $4–$5, and the food is delivered directly to students. Each day’s menu offers up to five options, which can include pizza and chicken nuggets, among other things.

Gotlib and Blacher make menu decisions that “feel right” to them. “We make our [pizza] sauce from scratch, and our dough is made in our kitchen with whole wheat,” Gotlib says. Mondays are all-vegetarian days, they’ve eliminated chocolate milk due to its high sugar content, and they're incorporating more fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other sources of plant-based proteins into the menu.

Schools, especially large public districts, often have foodservice contracts in place that make partners such as Wholesome Tummies a difficult fit. Seminole County Public Schools in Florida, however, has been welcoming.

“[Gotlib and Blacher] shared how they’d been met with tremendous resistance in other districts,” says Linda Daniels, Seminole’s director of food services. Daniels says she wants to provide options, and feels that her district’s food choices are complemented by Wholesome Tummies’ offerings. “We're all about choice here,” Daniels says. “The parent can choose what’s best for their family.”

Providing kids with foods they want to eat continues to be an obstacle to balanced nutrition, but the responsibility doesn’t fall completely on the schools. Daniels says kids will choose foods they're used to eating at home, which often includes more processed items and fewer healthy options.

Maureen Black, PhD, professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine, says conditioning kids to select healthy foods begins early in life. “Children tend to choose familiar foods,” Black says. “We see school-age children who sometimes have been exposed to such a small variety of foods that they are afraid to move beyond them.”

For kids to embrace healthier, more wholesome foods, Black says, they must be familiar choices from the home environment.

Kids’ health is a top priority at Wholesome Tummies. Gotlib says parents’ requests for innovation will help drive new solutions to combat childhood obesity. “It’s these small businesses that are going to push the envelope and make change happen faster,” she says.

By Julie Knudson

Consumer Trends, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Menu Innovations, News