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Changes To School Lunch Programme Need To Be In Genuine Consultation With Children And Schools

It’s positive that the Ka Ako, Ka Ora Healthy School Lunches programme will continue for now, but its future shape should be decided in genuine partnership with the children and schools it serves, says Chief Children’s Commissioner Dr Claire Achmad.

The Government’s school lunches announcement this week guarantees continuation of the school lunch programme in its current form for primary schools for the next two years, and extends it into low-equity, non-profit early learning spaces.

However, it has signalled that although intermediate and secondary students who currently get school lunches will get these for the next two years, it will cut down the offering, replacing hot lunches with sandwiches.

“I am glad to see both the public and Government support for school lunches. Independent evaluations of the current Ka Ora Ka Ako programme, together with broader evidence, shows that nutritious school meals effectively boost children’s physical and mental health and help to address food insecurity,” says Dr Achmad.

“But I am concerned that by changing the way it will be delivered in intermediate and secondary schools, it’s possible that much of the benefit for growing teenagers will be lost. This is a critical developmental period for all children and it’s important they have access to nutritious, healthy food that they want to eat.

“Today when I visited tamariki at Titahi Bay Intermediate School in Porirua during lunch time, they told me how much they love their school lunches. I saw first-hand the importance of every child in the school being able to have a free, healthy lunch – and seconds if they’re still hungry.

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“As healthy, nutritious kai served up by the tumuaki and kaiako was enjoyed by the tamariki, so too was kōrero and laughter. At bell-time, I saw joyful, sustained tamariki heading back to classrooms, excited and ready to learn,” she says.

At Titahi Bay Intermediate, students are provided with a nutritious hot meal every day. Eating together and tidying up the kai space afterwards has become an integral part of the school day.

Chief Children's Commissioner Dr Achmad (centre) with children at Titahi Bay Intermediate School.

Students and staff at the school didn’t believe that sandwiches would deliver the same nutritional and attendance benefits.

“Principal Dairne Kaimoana told me that hot lunches made a huge difference to student wellbeing and motivation at the school; so much so that she would want to find other ways to provide them when changes were made to the Ka Ako, Ka Ora programme.

“Children and young people have told me these hot lunches are a highlight in their school day and having enough food helps them learn.

“With the Government saying a full redesign of the school lunches programme will happen based on ‘commercial experience, data and evidence’, I’ll keep reminding that the views and voices of children, alongside those of their teachers and health experts, form essential evidence to seek out and factor in.

I believe that designing a school lunch programme together with the children and young people who receive it, and with school staff, could even further reduce barriers to education and support school attendance. I’m calling on the Government to work in this way as it redesigns the school lunch programme further.

“The health and wellbeing of our country’s children is a reflection of us all – what we value and respect, and what we seek to nourish and protect. With school lunches staying on the table for now, we have the opportunity to build on this, so that a holistic commitment to children’s rights stays firmly on the menu,” says Dr Achmad.

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