Story: Food

‘Meat and three veg’ was the traditional standard fare for most New Zealanders, harking back to their British roots. However, Kiwis’ tastes are widening, and they have embraced new foods and flavours brought to the country by migrants.

Story by David Burton
Main image: Children enjoy a sausage sizzle at Prospect School in Auckland, 2008

Story summary

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Much of New Zealand’s cuisine has British origins, as did most of New Zealand’s settlers. New Zealanders traditionally ate a lot of meat because of the country’s widespread farming. Over the 20th century consumption of meat dropped, partly due to growing knowledge about the health effects of saturated fats.

While New Zealanders have thought of themselves as eaters of sheep meat, they have actually always eaten more beef. Pork was more expensive, but bacon and sausages were cheaper forms of pig meat. Chicken was a popular meat in the 2000s, but was not often eaten before the 1960s, when barn-raised chickens were introduced.

Around 1–2% of New Zealanders are vegetarian.

Fish and seafood

Seafood was a major part of the traditional Māori diet and is still enjoyed in the 2000s.

European settlers saw seafood as a food of the poor, though many still ate it. Only a small proportion of edible fish species were eaten. In 1971 the New Zealand Fishing Industry Board was established to encourage people to eat more fish, and more species of fish.

Oysters have long been popular with both Māori and Pākehā. Other seafood such as crayfish and mussels became more sought after in the later 20th century.

Dairy products

The dairy industry has been important to New Zealand’s economy since the late 19th century. New Zealanders have consumed a lot of dairy products, including butter, milk and cheese. Ice cream became more popular from the 1940s and yogurt from the 1970s.


Wheat is the most important grain in New Zealand and wheat flour is used in making most breads. New Zealanders traditionally ate white bread, but brown and wholemeal breads gained in popularity after more migrants from continental Europe arrived in the 1950s.

Many have long eaten oats for breakfast as porridge or, more recently, in muesli.

Rice and pasta have become more commonly eaten as new immigrants have influenced New Zealand’s cuisine.


New Zealand has few indigenous vegetables. Māori introduced some, including kūmara (sweet potato). Later, Māori also adopted the potato and maize (corn), which had been introduced by Europeans.

New Zealanders tended to grow and eat traditional British vegetables, including cabbage, carrots, onions, cauliflower, peas and beans. From the 1960s Mediterranean vegetables such as eggplant and capsicum became available and from the 1990s Asian vegetables became more common.


In the early years of European colonisation settlers brought fruit to New Zealand, including apples, pears, plums and peaches. In the early 20th century fruits including kiwifruit were introduced. In the 2000s many fruits are grown for domestic use and export.

Before the 1950s most fruit was eaten cooked, but as the health benefits of fruit became known it was increasingly eaten raw.

How to cite this page:

David Burton, 'Food', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by David Burton, published 5 September 2013