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Lisa King and Michael Meredith

Eat My Lunch: Start-up lunch project to feed deprived school kids

It's a simple formula: buy a delicious lunch, and a hungry child will get one too.

The buy-one, donate-one model delivers blended returns. Buyers get a tasty feed and the satisfaction of serving a social need. But even better, kids who arrive at school without lunchboxes get what every child ought to have - food when the dinner bell goes.

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For every lunch ordered online for $10 through Eat My Lunch, a pupil at a low decile school gets a decent bag of tucker.

Inside their lunch bag the student gets five items to munch on. And it's not salty, sugary stuff which dissolves in a flash - these lunches are healthy, tasty and appealing.

The initiative involves Lisa King, whose background is in marketing, her partner Iaan Buchanan, and top Auckland chef Michael Meredith. Their motivation was to put their skills to a positive and rewarding cause and help tackle the persistent social challenge of poor Kiwi kids going hungry at school.

Ms King and Mr Buchanan were looking for a business with social impact. They had helped sell brands of chocolate bars, energy drinks and potato crisps.

Said Ms King: "We don't give those products to our kids. This was a reflection of a bit of conscience and actually wanting to put our skills to some good."

Mr Meredith said the idea was to offer the chance to give something back through the simple action of eating lunch.

He said everyone knew it was hard to concentrate on an empty stomach. The lunch project gave kids who otherwise would go without a noon meal something nutritious to wolf down.

As you'd expect from a chef who knows his calories and his carbohydrates, the school lunch ingredients are fresh and wholesome. The team has devised packs with less sugar than perhaps kids prefer, more vegetables or fruit than they'd usually pick and nothing comes in a packet. In other words, it's close to what school lunches ought to be for growing bodies and young minds.

There is abundant evidence that the start-up fulfils a need, besides lining empty stomachs.

The latest report from the Commission for Children calculated there were 305,000 young New Zealanders living in poverty, or more than one in four of all children.

The figures are higher for Maori and Pacific youngsters. "Poverty" for these children means many have a limited range of food at school. Some arrive without having had breakfast.

Mangere Central School was the first school to get a delivery of the new lunches. Principal Maria Heron said: "The kids are delighted, obviously. We feed anyone who doesn't have food as a matter of course. Hungry kids are angry kids and headaching kids, they don't focus properly, they don't learn."

The project has kicked off with a hiss and a roar. In its first 16 weeks, over 40,000 lunches - all packed in recyclable materials - went to 20 Auckland decile one and two schools. The ambitious founders also launched a crowdfunding project to expand the enterprise and make it commercially sustainable.

It started in Ms King and Mr Buchanan's Mt Eden home but its rapid growth meant a search soon started for larger premises.

Eat My Lunch is a registered business rather than a charity, a structure Ms King calls a commercially-driven social enterprise.

An enterprise, as the last few months have amply shown, with soul.