The Cooked Food Van Program is an initiative of Pathway Essentials designed to sell healthy and affordable food in the and support young people in need of a helping hand.

The service is run by local teachers Vlad and Shae Keca and a team who are passionate about individualised hands on learning opportunities for young people. Program participants are supported to work on their personal goals while engaged in all aspects of food preparation, van operations and customer service.

This program is designed to promote positive engagement, experiential learning and improve future prospects for participants, many of whom are facing personal challenges or have disengaged from employment, formal education and other mental health services. The aim is to improve participants’ prospects, building their confidence and skills by providing a hands-on experience and a safe space to learn, practise and consolidate skills.

Pathway Essentials supports around 30 young people, in Hepburn, Ballarat, Melbourne and beyond, providing evidence based and person centred interventions, carefully tailored to individual needs. Participants engage in programs such as Arts and Music, Sports, Fitness and Recreation or Engagement in Nature depending on their needs, strengths and interests. In addition to individual support services, Pathway Essentials runs a monthly Dingo Education Program, an Equine Social and Emotional Learning Program and other small group camps, trips and experiences.

The Cooked Food Van Program, established in 2022 in partnership with the Australian Dingo Foundation. This unique youth initiative operates as a food van in Hepburn Shire. It provides participants with hands-on experience in basic food preparation skills, van operation, and customer service. It aims to provide affordable food to the public while providing participants a safe and supportive environment for learning and growth.

Through their involvement in the Cooked Food Van Program, participants develop a wide range of skills and competencies that prepare them for a brighter future:

  • Meaningful Social and Community Participation: They actively engage with the community, fostering a sense of belonging and connection.
  • Increased Self-Confidence: The program provides a nurturing environment where participants can build self-esteem.
  • Experiential Learning: Participants gain practical, real-world experiences that equip them for future endeavours.
  • Supported Work Experience: They acquire valuable work skills in a supportive and inclusive setting.
  • Independent Living Skills: From food preparation to personal organisation, participants develop essential life skills.
  • Job Readiness Skills: The program equips participants with emotional regulation tools, teamwork capabilities, effective communication, self-confidence, increased stamina, social skills, personal care and hygiene, personal organisation, customer service, point-of-sale skills, and food handling expertise

With special support from Daylesford Masonic Lodge, the Cooked Food Van trades every Thursday and Friday between 10am-2pm at 16 Vincent Street Daylesford.  The Van also trades at Creswick Market, Daylesford Sunday Market (last Sunday of each month) and numerous festivals and community events such as ChillOut and Cresfest.

To learn more about the Cooked Food Van Program initiative, visit or email

Come down and show your support by ordering lunch and a coffee and say hello to our young people in training.