Pride of NZ: Free hot lunches give kids food for thought

By Monica Holt

Hare Krishna devotee Buddhi Wilcox ran a vegetarian cafe in Auckland's Queen St in the 1990s.

Now he cooks hot vegetarian lunches for 1000 children a week through his Food for Life in Schools programme in Northland.

The programme is growing rapidly, with more than 70,000 meals served since he started two years ago.

"The challenge is to provide a meal which is tasty, has nutritional value, is practical to cook in bulk and is cost-effective."

Dishes like vegetarian shepherd's pie, lentils, pasta, banana fritters, apple crumble and rice pudding are served once a week to children at five schools. The schools pay $1 a meal.

Many children are experiencing some foods for the first time.

"The satisfaction is seeing how they change. At first they are a little bit reluctant to try things like ginger and cumin and there is a lot of wastage.

"But as the weeks go by and they start to try it and realise it tastes pretty good, then they start to trust it and enjoy it, and come up for seconds and thirds."

Mr Wilcox has been nominated in the Community Spirit category of the Pride of New Zealand Awards.

He insists the schools provide a communal eating space.

"For some of these children they have never experienced that energy when a family sits together and has a meal. It is the highlight of their week."

Mr Wilcox, 49, and his wife also run the Food for Life Community cafe in Whangarei. The vegetarian cafe opened in 2011, in a building that the regional council provided free. People paid by donation.

"We started off pretty simply, pretty humbly, without any tables or chairs so people just sat on the floor."

Mr Wilcox says he has seen Food for Life kitchens in India provide meals for 100,000 people a day.

"There are 27,000 children at low-decile schools in Northland and that would be my goal to provide a hot, nutritious lunch for them every day."

Voting is now open for the TSB Bank People's Choice Award. The Herald will profiling each of the 24 national finalists. Voting closes 11.59pm on September 7, with the awards to take place on September 10. Decide who you think is the most deserving. You are only able to vote once, so choose wisely. You can register your vote here.

* For more awards information, visit: prideofnzawards.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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