How Eat My Lunch became a successful social enterprise

by Stacey Anyan / 01 April, 2018

Eat My Lunch founders Michael Meredith and Lisa King.

The Eat My Lunch founders release a cookbook

Fab (and fundraising) recipes from Eat My Lunch founders Lisa King and Michael Meredith.

Ever tried boiling and peeling 1000 eggs in one go in your home kitchen? Lisa King has. It took eight hours. “I laugh about it now, but...”

The eggs were a key ingredient in a sandwich created by renowned Auckland chef Michael Meredith, to be consumed by 400 customers of the pair’s Eat My Lunch food delivery service. For every meal sold, EML donates a free lunch to a child who needs it.

Lesson learned: Michael’s Egg and Anchovy Sandwich was never meant for mass production. But it’s ideal to whip up at home, so it features in Meredith and Eat My Lunch’s debut cookbook Food For Good, alongside the delicious salads and sandwiches, hearty dinners and handmade treats delivered to the workplaces of their clients in Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton. And for every cookbook bought, a child gets a free lunch.

Conceived during a Labour Weekend escape in 2014 when King was stewing about child poverty – in particular Campbell Live’s exposé of the disparity between lunches at low- and high-decile schools – Eat My Lunch could have ended up a labour of love, relying on external sources for donations. Instead, inspired by the Toms shoes she was wearing (the American business has donated 75 million pairs of shoes to children in need through their One For One scheme), the canny mum of two – whose corporate marketing CV reads like a who’s who of food manufacturing giants – created a self-sustaining social enterprise, along with her then-partner (now business partner) Iaan Buchanan.

King approached Meredith, whose social-conscience values she knew about, having previously worked with him in a food campaign. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be just the face, I want to be really involved.’”

To date, Eat My Lunch has donated more than 600,000 “paper bag” lunches to children in 55 low-decile shools.

So he designed the recipes and joined her for the first several months, making lunches in the morning, then heading to his eponymous Auckland restaurant in the afternoon.

On launch day in June 2015, King rose at 4am to make and deliver 50 lunches for customers (along with handwritten thank-you notes), plus another 50 for schoolkids. “That was our reward at the end of the day, to hand out lunches and hang out with kids.”

That night, EML’s Twitter feed started “going off”. Dozens of strangers arrived on King’s doorstep each morning to help. Two hundred lunches were sold in the second week; 400 the following. King resigned from her day job. Three months in, Eat My Lunch hit its three-year forecast, and King realised her home kitchen wasn’t going to cut it. “I thought I’d do all the baking myself and deliver the lunches in our family car.”

She says the kids’ initial reactions to their freshly made lunches (which typically include a sandwich, a piece of fruit or yoghurt, and a treat such as a pretzel or biscuit, all inside a plain paper bag) have evolved from querying the contents – for many, it was their first taste of cherry tomatoes, vege sticks, honey – to genuinely enjoying them, and even advising their classmates on what constitutes a healthy lunch.

Sandwiches being prepped for Eat My Lunch.

To date, Eat My Lunch has donated more than 600,000 lunches, which have been received by kids in 55 schools. There are another 50 schools on the waiting list, and King’s big goal is to reach the 25,000 Kiwi kids she estimates go without a lunch every day (they currently provide 1800 lunches a day).

There have been “massive learning curves” in this fast-growing, “very complicated logistics business”, which last September launched Eat My Dinner, a heat-and-eat range delivered to homes and for sale in selected supermarkets.

Although EML now has 38 staff on its payroll, it still relies on volunteers. But get this – there’s a two-month wait-list.

“We’ve had CEOs standing next to high-school students, retired grandparents working with sports people and musicians. In a few hours, they can see all the lunches they’ve made and know they’ve made a difference to 1800 kids. If you can butter bread… that’s the most basic skill you need.”

King raves about the support Eat My Lunch has received since the days of the egg-boiling bonanza. “People are so generous; they come to us and don’t ask anything in return. It’s that fire that gives you great hope in the goodness of humankind.”

Recipes from Food for Good

Chicken Marbella

Chicken Marbella.

Feeds 4-6

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup pitted prunes
  • ½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • ¼ cup capers, with a bit of juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced as finely as possible
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 free-range chicken thighs, boneless with skin on (or you can use a mix of thighs and drumsticks)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  1. Combine olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl or container. Add chicken, ensuring each piece is well coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 180°C. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a tray and spoon over marinade. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
  3. Bake until chicken yields clear yellow juice when pricked with a fork (30-40 minutes). Once cooked, transfer to a serving platter with all the juices and garnish with parsley. Serve with some crusty white bread to mop up the juices.

Roasted vegetable frittata

Roasted vegetable frittata

Feeds 6-8

  • 750g butternut pumpkin, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 600g kumara, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • Olive oil
  • 10 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup fresh cream
  • 600g button mushrooms, quartered
  • ½ cup caramelised onion jam
  • 250g chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped curly parsley plus extra leaves to garnish
  • 150g feta, crumbled
  • Pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • Shaved parmesan (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Place pumpkin and kumara in a roasting dish and season with salt, pepper and garam masala. Add a good dash of olive oil and gently mix with your hands to make sure everything is well coated.
  3. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until the veges are golden and caramelised. Remove from oven and set aside. Keep oven on to finish off the frittata.
  4. Crack the eggs into a mixing jug or bowl, pour in cream and beat until well combined.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium to large ovenproof frying pan on high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes before adding roasted vegetables and then egg and cream mixture. Turn the heat down to medium so as not to burn the bottom of the frittata.
  6. Place dabs of onion jam, sundried tomatoes, parsley and feta evenly around the pan on top of the egg mixture. When the edges are looking set, transfer the frying pan to the hot oven and cook for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, blistered and set.
  7. Enjoy with some hot-smoked salmon and seeded bread, or serve with one of our salads for a banquet-style lunch. Garnish with parsley leaves, plus a scattering of pumpkin seeds and shaved parmesan, if you wish.

Michael’s Egg and Anchovy Sandwich

Michael’s Egg and Anchovy Sandwich

Feeds 4

Anchovies can be polarising, but finely chopped and mixed through the eggs they give an unexpected twist to this classic. This is Michael and Lisa’s favourite sandwich!

  • 12 eggs
  • 12 Tbsp mayonnaise (see below)
  • 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
  • 4 Tbsp finely chopped mixed chives and flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 baguettes
  • Butter, to spread
  • 100g baby watercress or iceberg lettuce, roughly torn
  1. Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil, then boil for 6 minutes. Remove from heat, strain water from the pan and run cold water over the eggs to cool.
  2. Peel eggs and chop finely. Mix in mayonnaise, anchovy, herbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Cut each baguette in half (to make two smaller baguettes), then cut each half-baguette down the middle lengthwise, all the way through. Butter the insides.
  4. On the bottom half, place watercress or lettuce and top with egg mixture. Add some extra anchovies on top, if you like.

Mayonnaise

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1¼ cups vegetable or grapeseed oil
  1. Place all ingredients except for oil in a food processor and turn on to full power. When everything is well combined, slowly add oil until mixture is creamy. For an extra-thick mayo add ¼ cup more oil, or for a runnier one add a dash of hot water.
  2. This will keep for 2 weeks in a jar in the fridge.

Extracted from Food for Good, by Michael Meredith and Eat My Lunch, photography by Tamara West (Allen & Unwin, $39.99).

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