The Rise of Protein-Rich Meals in Dining Halls

April 18, 2024


Today’s college students are members of Generation Z, which is often described as the “foodie generation”. Gen Zers spend a sizable chunk of their money on food and beverages, take pleasure in experiential dining, and go out of their way to discover top quality products and cuisines. Their dietary decisions are also driven by convenience, sustainability, and the desire to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.
At Fresh Ideas, we strive to accommodate the ever-changing needs and desires of this generation, with one emerging trend being students’ preference for protein-rich meals.
What factors are driving this requirement, and what are we doing to ensure our  dining halls  serve a wide variety of menu items with  high protein content?

What do Gen Z Want?

The nutrition priorities of college students include:
1. Physical and Mental Wellbeing
When it comes to nutrition, Gen Zers prioritize bolstering their physical and mental health. That’s according to IFIC’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, which also revealed some of the main benefits this generation seeks out from foods, beverages, and nutrients are having more energy, less fatigue, improved sleep, and better mental health.
Protein-rich foods offer various health benefits. Firstly, they are made up of amino acids, which help the body to build and repair muscles. This is especially important for student athletes, who likely attend high-intensity training sessions several times a week. Various studies show that high-protein diets can increase muscle mass and strength, prevent muscle wasting during weight loss, and accelerate recovery post injury.
By helping to balance blood sugar levels, protein-rich diets can also help to keep students focused, energized, and content.
Finally, protein helps the body to create antibodies that ward off illnesses and infections and make it easier for the bloodstream to transport oxygen.
At Fresh Ideas, we offer a range of protein-rich meals and snacks, which cater to a wide range of dietary needs, as well as the unique tastes of a diverse student body. 
2. Environmental Sustainability
Research from Ketchum found that Gen Zers – more than any other generation – feel pressured to change the world. As such, they are more likely to believe their food choices should signal their health, values, and political beliefs.
One-third of Gen Z said that environmental sustainability had a “great” or “somewhat” of an impact on their decision to buy foods and beverages, and they are more likely than any other generation to embrace flexitarian eating habits.
It’s a common misconception that plant-based living and protein-rich foods are mutually exclusive. In fact, it has never been easier to find delicious and nutritious vegan foods with a high protein content.
At Fresh Ideas, our dining concept, Mindful Fork, brings delicious plant-based food to everyone and meets students’ growing plant-based appetites. Already, an average of 25 – 30% of our menu offerings are plant-based and we are committed to increasing that number to 50% by 2025.
We are also committed to sustainable business practices, whether it’s sourcing locally-grown produce or eliminating food waste. For example, our Green & Go reusable container program provides students with reusable containers, which they can fill with food from the dining hall. Once finished, they return the containers to be cleaned and sanitized and are issued with a clean container.
3. Convenience
Gen Z appreciates quick food service models and items they can enjoy on-the-go. This is particularly true of students, who are often hurrying from one engagement to the next, be it lecture hall, library, training session, work shift, or social gathering. 
High-protein meals and snacks, which increase feelings of fullness for longer, are perfect for students who are always on the move. Indeed, research shows that protein is by far the most filling of the food groups, because it reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin, while boosting levels of peptide YY, which creates a feeling of fullness.
As well as offering students a range of high-protein meals in our dining halls, students can also leverage the FreshX mobile app – to pre-order meals and check availability – and our Fresh on Demand 24/7 micro market machines – to collect nutritious meals 24/7.
4. Variation 
It should come as no surprise that the “foodie generation” appreciates a wide variety of cuisines. Technomic’s College and University Trend report, found that 42% of Gen Z are interested in street food, while plant-based meals, fermented foods, pizzas, burrito bowls, poke bowls, and acai bowls are also popular.
Fortunately, protein-packed foods are extremely varied, including everything from meat, poultry, and dairy products, to grains, nuts, seeds, and lentils. This gives our chefs plenty to work with; we’ve developed a range of high-protein menu items that are identifiable with our new protein label.

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