Should NZ school kids get free lunches?

Should NZ schools offer a free lunch to all students?

They’ve been doing it for over a century in the UK. As early as 1906, many schools served a midday “dinner”, or lunch as we would know it. The meals were stodgy and designed to fill the bellies of the students. Meals included mutton, suet pudding, bean soup and bread, and fish and potato pie. The aim was to fight off hunger and improve the health of the students. Times may have changed, and Jamie Oliver caused a bit of a revolution a decade ago when it came to the nutrition of those school dinners, but the aim is still the same – ensure that kids have at least one meal a day to aid in their wellbeing and ultimately, increase their ability to learn.

Finland went one step further when in 1943 they became the first country to pass a law entitling all school children to free meals.

Free school lunches in New Zealand

As reported on Seven Sharp in 2018, a group of Kiwi mums were working towards providing a fresh, healthy and nutritious lunch for all New Zealand students every day at school.


“We believe passionately that all children are our children. That all children in New Zealand, wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, have the right to access their education on an equal footing and to nutritious food to nourish their mind, lives and spirit. We believe a centrally funded, secured, healthy school lunch programme for all is a powerful mechanism for New Zealand to fulfill these obligations to our children, to lift them up and break the poverty cycle.” Eat Right, Be Right

The cost of poverty

There are multiple charitable schemes across the country including KidsCan and Eat My Lunch, that have been working to provide food and other essentials for Kiwi kids and there have been a few attempts to pass legislation to help those in need but is it time for a nationwide, tax-payer funded approach?

Back in 2014, during a reading of a proposed Bill to introduce free of charge breakfast and lunch programmes into all decile 1 and 2 schools, Jacinda Ardern said: “Poverty costs us money, and a lot of money. If we get this right, if we do something positive for children, we can actually save ourselves money as a country. Not only that, we start to see that we can enhance the opportunity for kids. The Programme for International Student Assessment results have strongly suggested to us that, yes, we have a good educational system in New Zealand but that, actually, social deprivation is starting to impact on our educational outcomes. Its strong recommendation to us was that if we wanted to start improving our outcomes, we have got to look at the child’s wider context. It is not just about what happens to them when they walk in the school gate; it is about what happens in their lives at home, it is about what kind of support they have, it is about whether or not there is enough money to put food on the table, and it is about whether or not they are hungry at school.”

Do you think a free school lunches scheme could work in New Zealand? Join our discussion in the comments below.

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  1. Alezandra 03/11/2018 at 9:11 pm

    It’s a good idea but like everything it all boils down to cost…and this might even mean higher fees to be paid by parents. And how viable is it to be rolled out not only for decile 1 and 2 schools but for all schools.

  2. SarahBlair 31/10/2018 at 5:57 pm

    I think that it’s a great idea and needs to be looked into to see if it is a viable option, and where the funds will come from, will school fees increase? I find it difficult to come up with interesting lunches for my kids so that would be a benefit to me! Making sure that all of the kids are fed and able to concentrate on their lessons would be such a fantastic step to ensure making their futures better!

  3. Shelz69 31/10/2018 at 2:12 pm

    I think it is a fantastic idea, especially at primary school. I see in my job many children going without food or parents avoiding sending their kids to school because they have no food to feed their kids Sometimes there is money going into the household and food for the children lunches is not a high priority and its the children that suffer. Not only do we need to help by providing food but educating the children about food, gardening, budgeting and ways to help them so they can grown up and become self sufficient adults. Not just a hand out but a hand up.

  4. dawnblyth 31/10/2018 at 11:49 am

    It is a shame that parents are put into positions where they have to choose one thing over another here in NZ – eg rent or food on the table.Providing lunches to every child at school is a big task – and I am unsure of how the implementation of this would occur. Who would fund it? Who would staff it? I am in a very lucky position where my boys go to school and kindergarten with fresh fruit, and a good healthy packed lunch everyday, though I know there are some out there that can’t do this. On the other hand, waiting for my eldest son at school I have seen children go to the rubbish bins and throw their packed lunches out (after school) so that their parents think the lunch has been eaten. I have spoken to children about this saying if they don’t like their lunch they need to take it home so their parent can change it.I wonder whether sometimes they just don’t want what is there so they throw it out?

  5. felicity beets 30/10/2018 at 9:01 am

    i think that a healthy meal should be provided to all children as how are children expected to learn if they are hungry. I do think that it would need government support to be sustainable, hopefully we will see this change.

  6. MuddledUpMolly 23/10/2018 at 9:52 pm

    It makes me so sad to know that vulnerable children are going hungry in this country 🙁 Sometimes it is avoidable and I take my hat off to this group pf parents doing their best by these children. I fully support Kidscan, not sure how we could do this without 100% government backing though and sadly I don’t see them going for it.

  7. Bevik1971 19/10/2018 at 10:12 am

    I do agree and think that it is a good idea for having 1 meal for school children free of charge, however it is a huge ask and financially would be massive. In saying that I really hate the thought that some kiddies are going to school without food, really is very saddening 🙁 I do think that it would need to be all schools though.

  8. Mands1980 18/10/2018 at 7:12 pm

    I do agree that all kids deserve to be able to have access to free food at school but it is very hard as it does cost a lot of money. With the government saying about decile 1 and 2 schools getting free breakfasts and lunches there is the other side of this what about the children in higher decile schools that parents can not afford to pay for foods. I think they would have to do it for everyone not just some.

  9. kymmage 17/10/2018 at 8:29 pm

    I think it’s a great idea and I fully support it. Feeding all kids for free helps to remove the stimga of being reliant on the free meals. And it’s absolutely true that we could save millions in health costs related to poverty, legal costs, etc. I feel its short sighted to rule out a school dinner for all kids. I already support kidscan for this very reason.

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