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Lunch staples: grab-and-go menu trends and lunch ideas

Close up of a veggie wrap

Chef Chris Beall

For students and young professionals, lunch is often eaten in a rush. How do you build a menu that meets their needs, and fast? Here’s what our Consumer Market Insights team, along with Chef Beall, found when they looked into grab-and-go menu trends and their operational tips.

Trend breakdown: top lunch picks in 2021

By diversifying your dayparts, you can minimize the impact of decreased foot traffic and increased safety measures. It’s easy to repurpose ingredients you already have on hand to create a lunch menu that attracts a broader audience—as long as you give them what they want!

As Gen Zers and Millennials make up an increasingly large slice of the foodservice consumer base, these tips will help you figure out how to grab their attention.

  • 21% of Gen Zers and 19% of Millennials restrict their meat consumption in some way1, making vegan and vegetarian items a diet staple. If you want to stay on top of trends, our brand-new Plant-Based Mozzarella Flavoured Shred is perfect for flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles alike. You will realize that it’s easy to create savoury, vegan-friendly dishes, like this colourful vegan lettuce rolls inspiration.

  • This demographic’s most craved flavours are cheesy, savoury, spicy, sweet, and smoky2. For a real crowd pleaser, this Calzone with Pizza Mozzarella smoke flavoured  inspiration checks almost every box!

  • The most frequently ordered lunches among Gen Zers and Millennials are comfort food, ready-to-eat meals, healthy food, and grab-and-go3. This asparagus and caramelized onion grilled cheese inspiration is great for a decadent bite that’s simple to prepare and very takeout-friendly.

  • Sandwiches are an extremely versatile option for lunch. They can be indulgent or healthy, they can be made in advance for grab-and-go, and they’re very customizable. The top 5 sandwich trends for this demographic are chicken, veggie, club, steak, and gyro4, like this mushroom gyro inspiration.

  • Veggie, protein, poke, and chicken5; these are the main interest of younger customers when choosing a bowl for lunch. It’s a trendy lunch item that can easily be made ahead, like this burrito bowl with old Cheddar inspiration, featuring chicken and sour cream.

  • The top cheeses for sandwiches, salads, and bowls are Cheddar, feta, Parmesan, and goat cheeses. The best part is, you probably already know delicious ways to add these classic cheeses to your menu! Make sure to also try Haloumi cheese, a versatile option that is perfect for lunch and is gaining popularity6 in sandwiches.

A few buzzwords to keep in mind 

These concepts will help guide you in the right direction when you’re building your on-trend lunch menu. According to Chef Beall, you don’t need to incorporate each one—just keep them in mind!

  • Quick: This is the most important one. People don’t want to spend their entire break waiting for their food. Strike a balance between speed and quality, and don’t forget that technology is your friend.

  • Consistent: Lunch customers are creatures of habit. They tend to pick a couple of spots close to school or work, then visit them over and over again. Lock in their loyalty by offering a consistently delicious, friendly, and efficient experience.

  • Fresh: This is especially important for health-conscious Gen Z customers. Not only do you need high-quality ingredients, you should also prepare menu items in advance if they keep well and still look fresh after a few hours.

  • Varied: While diners love customizable options, Chef Beall recommends having a few “signature” items on your menu for people who want an easy ordering experience and people who are short on time. 

Chef’s tip: the ideal lunch menu

According to Chef Beall, a lunch menu should have between 10 and 15 items:

  • 3-5 sandwiches or burgers
  • 3-5 salads, power bowls or soups
  • 4-5 featured items that rotate every few weeks

Keeping your menu small will minimize your preparation time and labour needs, while still providing enough options to keep customers happy. With just 10 to 15 items, you can easily include healthier, decadent, gluten-free or meatless items!

How often should you change your lunch menu? 

Feature items should be changed weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, while your core menu should only be updated 2 or 3 times per year. As your menu evolves, avoid removing your most popular items: instead, replace the 5 least popular ones while keeping the 5 best-sellers. You can also rotate out items that use hard-to-find or costly ingredients, then find new ways to highlight the ingredients you already have on hand.

When it comes to lunch menus, less is often more! You don’t need tons of options as long as you cater to a diverse range of needs and keep these trends in mind.


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1-4 2020, Technomic
5 Technomic Q4 2019 – Q4 2020
6 Technomic Q4 2019 – Q4 2020

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