“Sow a seed, reap a healthy generation,” is the motto of the TommyTomato startup. Harlem-based Bas Turk and Erik van der Plas have been serving hot lunches in primary schools since 2020, with the goal of getting kids to eat more vegetables.
Elementary school vegetable lunch
Turk says the original business idea was more about convenience than idealism. Eric and I are a father of three. Provide lunch at school making sandwiches. And if it contains vegetables, then you don’t have to worry about that in the evening. That’s why we thought there was a market for it.
And there is already a market, as the numbers show. In a year and a half, 85 schools were registered in the north of the Netherlands, enabling more than 4,000 children to eat healthy lunches one to three times a week. Another 20 schools will join in September.
With this, TommyTomato is expanding its presence from North Holland to the province of Utrecht. The entrepreneurs’ goal is to grow to 100,000 children in three years. “Our big, bold goal is to eventually serve half of primary school children.”
The impact of poverty on health
Half of all primary school children or just parents who can pay three euros per lunch? “No, really everyone,” says Turk. We quickly discovered the extent of poverty and its impact on health.
For example, some children go to school without breakfast or lunch. To prevent inequality in the classroom, we created the TommyTomato Foundation. The Foundation pays for lunches for children whose parents cannot. In two schools, all children eat lunch for free.
We prefer to open the tricks chest. It’s a bit like McDonald’s, but without junk, you can fizz out right away
The more the founders delved into the topic, the more urgency they saw. Did you know that only 1 percent of Dutch children eat enough vegetables? Health care costs are rising. We’re not going to solve that with more drugs and more doctors, you can do that by laying a healthy foundation.
“And vegetables are healthy, we all agree. They are digested slowly and gradually release energy. This allows children to focus longer, there is more calm in the classroom and there is less bullying.”
However, not everyone is excited. Turk: “We’re already eating healthily,” parents say. Or: “My child is very picky about eating.” There is a mission for us in communication, because just put 150 grams of vegetables on your plate. you do not understand. And in the classroom, food is not a matter of strength, as it is at home. This increases the chance that your child will eat it.
Act like McDonald’s
The ambition at TommyTomato is growing day by day. Turk dreams of becoming the educational partner of primary schools in the field of nutrition.
If kids don’t get a healthy foundation from their parents, they won’t get it anywhere. Schools are judged on the basis of reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s not about how healthy the kids are. We want to supplement this, for example by organizing cooking classes and guest lectures on nutrition. In this way we also reach the children who do not have lunch with us.
It shouldn’t be too dangerous, according to the founder. If you start whining with your finger up, you will achieve nothing. We prefer to open the tricks chest. A bit like McDonald’s, but without junk, you can flash away right away.
We want to capture children’s imagination. Why do you have to eat vegetables? Because it contains vitamins. Well, that doesn’t mean anything to the kid. The fact that broccoli makes a crust on the wound.
Make an impact with TommyTomato
TommyTomato is registered with the Social Enterprises Act. Conscious choice for founders who want to maintain their trust. “We have a monopoly position and that makes you lazy,” Turk explains.
With this testimony, we force ourselves to gauge impact and openness to uncomfortable things, like finance and sustainability. When B Corp considers only the positive, we also have to report what we’re doing wrong. For example, our lunch boxes are made of plastic and we have not yet managed to recycle them properly. We have to do something about it now.
our Health angels, who bring lunches to classes, are over 65 years old. Chemistry with kids is great
The company employs people at a distance from the labor market. “Three Syrians, one with autism, one with severe migraines,” says Turk. If you take people into account and plan ahead, it’s totally possible. and us Health angels, who bring lunches to classes, are over 65 years old. Many people who are entitled to AOW do not want to sit at home at all. This job makes them happy and the chemistry with the kids is great.
The perfect tilt has its advantages, too. For example, a fast-growing startup has no problem finding people in this narrow job market. ‘problem? Reserve Bank is full! Turk shouts. “And let me tell you more forcefully, they all earn less with us than they earn in their previous jobs. People don’t want a golden cage, they want to make an impact.