Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme

The Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to a nutritious lunch in school every day. Around a million lunches are provided each week. In May 2024, lunches are being provided to over 236,000 students in 1013 schools and kura.

students eating lunch sitting at picnic table outside

Henry Hill School, Napier

Around 1 in 5 children in New Zealand live in households that struggle to put enough good-quality food on the table. In communities facing greater socio-economic barriers, 40% of parents run out of food sometimes or often.

What is Ka Ora, Ka Ako?

Ka Ora, Ka Ako aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to a nutritious lunch every day. The name Ka Ora, Ka Ako is about being healthy and well in order to be in a good place to learn. 

Research indicates that reducing food insecurity for children and young people:

  • improves wellbeing
  • supports child development and learning
  • improves learners’ levels of concentration, behaviour and school achievement
  • reduces financial hardship amongst families and whānau
  • addresses barriers to children’s participation in education and promotes attendance at school
  • boosts learners’ overall health.

Through Budget 2023, the Government provided funding to continue the Ka Ora, Ka Ako programme until the end of December 2024.

Providing a lunch to all students in participating schools will make sure that everyone who needs a lunch gets one and will minimise any stigma that sometimes comes with receiving free meals. Programmes that target on the basis of individual need also require a process to confirm eligibility. This can add costs and complexity and discourage eligible families from taking part, meaning some children needing lunch will miss out.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako web portal

The Ka Ora, Ka Ako web portal is designed for schools, kura and suppliers to access information, resources and guidance on different areas of the programme.

Nutritious lunches every school day – Ka Ora, Ka Ako(external link)

Schools and kura taking part

Ka Ora, Ka Ako is targeted at the top 25% of students in schools and kura facing the greatest socio-economic barriers nationally. 

Information and resources for participating schools and kura

Schools and kura currently participating

This information is from April 2024.


Number of schools and kura

Total school roll (July average 2023)

Te Tai Tokerau 115 17,843
Auckland 183 72,418
Waikato 128 24,595
Bay of Plenty, Waiariki 114 23,827
Hawke's Bay, Tairawhiti 105 19,994
Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatū 124 22,709
Wellington 104 20,832
Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast 32 4,837
Canterbury/Chatham Islands 51 13,593
Otago, Southland 57 8,314

The Equity Index 

A range of factors are considered when selecting schools and kura to take part. The main tool used to determine the socio-economic barriers present in a school’s community is the Equity Index. This estimates the extent to which children grow up in socio-economic circumstances that we know impact their likelihood of achieving in education. 

Equity Index

The programme is targeted at the top 25% of students in schools and kura facing the greatest socio-economic barriers that could affect achievement. The programme had a phased implementation and the first group of schools and kura were invited to join the programme in 2019. At this time, the Equity Index was the most relevant data available.

In addition to the Equity Index, Ka Ora, Ka Ako has also included students in schools and kura that were invited due to network stability considerations or other regional insights. In total, this means that in September 2023 the programme is reaching around 230,000 students in 998 schools and kura.

If you have any questions or want more information about the Equity Index you can email the Equity Index team at equity.index@education.govt.nz.

Inviting additional schools and kura

With the annual changes to the Equity Index, the top 25% of students in schools and kura facing the greatest barriers to educational achievement will change each year.

This means that there is no "cut off" threshold because this number will vary depending on the annual changes.  

The programme works out with each annual change what the 'new' top 25% of students in schools and kura is and invites any additional schools who fall within the new threshold based on this (subject to available programme funding).  

Where any schools and kura already in the programme may fall outside the top 25% with the annual changes, they will continue to remain in the programme as approved by Cabinet.

Information and resources for participating schools and kura  

How are suppliers chosen?

Schools and kura can decide whether to make their own lunches or outsource to an external supplier. 

External suppliers are selected through a tender process via the Government Electronic Tender Service (GETS) platform. Schools and kura choose from a panel of approved suppliers that have met minimum standards of food hygiene, waste management and food preparation. 

Contract opportunities – GETS(external link)

There are a range of supplier models depending on what works best for each school, for example a single supplier or a mix of suppliers.

The Ministry holds the contract with suppliers so that schools will not have to worry about invoicing, payments or any financial risks. We can also monitor the quality of food and service, ensure legislative requirements are met and that any issues escalated by schools can be managed them in a timely manner.

Schools and kura have the operational day-to-day relationship with their supplier so they can make decisions that are right for their students, eg adapt menus, update student numbers, and agree delivery times and requirements.

Nutrition and nutrition standards

There is no set lunch menu for the programme. Schools and suppliers decide what works best for them. What is included in lunches will depend on a number of factors such as the chosen supplier, available catering facilities, the number of students, and a school’s distance from the chosen supplier. 

A typical weekly menu includes a variety of lunches such as wraps, vegetable sticks, dips, salads, soups and hot lunches. Menus may also change from term to term to reflect available fresh and seasonal produce and any feedback from schools and students.

We know that children’s tastes vary. It can be challenging to provide healthy food that children want to eat and getting children to enjoy new foods can take time. We work with schools and suppliers on how they can gradually introduce new foods, encourage learners as they learn to enjoy healthy food, and adapt menus to make lunches healthier.

Nutrition standards

From Term 1 2023, nutrition standards were introduced for the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme. These standards have replaced the previous guidelines used by lunch providers to develop healthy lunch menus.

Nutrition standards for menus – Ka Ora, Ka Ako(external link)

All suppliers and schools or kura making their own lunches are required to follow the nutrition standards so that ākonga receive healthy lunches that contribute to their daily nutritional needs. 

Healthy food makes a difference to learning in the classroom and provides the nourishment ākonga need for their development. The new standards have been designed to promote and safeguard ākonga wellbeing.

The new nutrition standards aim to give Ka Ora, Ka Ako lunch providers simpler criteria that are easier to interpret and apply and that provide more flexibility to design appealing menus that are also healthy. The goal is to make it easier for lunch providers to supply ākonga with a nutritious, tasty and varied lunch menu, using a range of readily available foods that ākonga can enjoy.

If you have a query about the standards, contact the Ka Ora, Ka Ako nutrition team at schoollunches.nutrition@education.govt.nz.

Food safety

For schools that make their own lunches, staff preparing food must comply with Food Act 2014 and be aware of allergies and allergens.

Food safety for schools and kura (Food Act 2014)

We have worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries to provide a food safety plan and can help organise training to assist schools providing their own lunches. For schools that outsource to external suppliers, contracts include requirements to meet nutritional guidelines and health and safety standards.

Schools are also encouraged to move towards a zero-waste policy, reduce food wastage and minimise the use of plastic single-use items.

Some students may require a special meal for medical reasons such as an allergy or food intolerance or because some foods must be avoided or prepared in a particular way for ethical or religious reasons. It is important that these students’ are included alongside their peers in Ka Ora, Ka Ako.

Information on special dietary needs for participating schools and kura

How much does the programme cost?

From Term 2 2024, lunches will be provided at a maximum ‘per child, per day’ cost of: 

External model – supplier-led:

  • $5.82 for learners in Years 0-3
  • $6.81 for learners in Years 4-8
  • $8.68 for learners in Years 9+.

Internal model – school-led:

  • $5.56 for learners in Years 0-3
  • $6.52 for learners in Years 4-8
  • $8.29 for learners in Years 9+.

These prices slightly differ between supplier-led and school-led costs as there are different operational agreements in place for schools and suppliers. 

The prices reflect the larger portion sizes required for different learners and recognise an increase in cost pressures related to making lunches.

Funding covers food, preparation and delivery, and paying staff working on school lunches. From September 2023, staff working on school lunches must be paid at least $26.00 per hour. This excludes GST.

The exact figure set aside per child per day will depend on the how each school decides to deliver school lunches. Funds for each term will be adjusted to take account of changes to school rolls.

Evaluating Ka Ora, Ka Ako

Supplementary attendance analysis

The previous Standard of Proof impact evaluation released in 2022 found that Ka Ora, Ka Ako did not contribute to change in attendance among the population of learners in schools with moderate levels of disadvantage.

Data was not available at the time of the report to estimate the programme’s impact on learners who face the greatest challenges. As the attendance data is now available, a supplementary analysis has been completed examining the impact of Ka Ora, Ka Ako on the attendance of the most underserved learners.

Findings reflect what other research has found, which is that learners who experience greater disadvantage benefit more from having a school lunch programme than less disadvantaged learners.

The benefit of Ka Ora, Ka Ako for the most underserved 75%, 50%, 25%, and 10% of learners’ amount to 3 additional days of school, on average, over the year. For the most underserved (lowest 10%) there was an estimated increase of 4 percent in attendance rates, representing an additional 2 days of attendance at school during Term 4.

Standard of Proof – Supplementary analysis report for most underserved ākonga [PDF, 5.5 MB]

Kaupapa Māori evaluation

The Ministry has undertaken further work to understand and respond to the Impact Evaluation report findings through commissioning 'He Kai Kei Aku Ringa', an independent kaupapa Māori evaluation of Ka Ora, Ka Ako led by Mana Pounamu Consulting.

He Kai Kei Aku Ringa evaluated the impact of the iwi and hapū partnership model of Ka Ora, Ka Ako delivery specifically for ākonga, whānau, hapū, and iwi and the impact of Ka Ora, Ka Ako more broadly on ākonga and whānau Māori.

Key outcomes of this evaluation include findings that Ka Ora, Ka Ako effectively contributes to the hauora and wellbeing of ākonga Māori and that the iwi and hapū model gives substantial effect to a Te Tiriti o Waitangi based way of working.

Nutrition evaluation

A nutrition evaluation was conducted on Ka Ora, Ka Ako meals between Term 4 2021 and Term 2 2022 by the Ministry of Education.

This evaluation provided an objective assessment of whether the lunches provided are ‘nutritious’ by national and international standards. It was found that Ka Ora, Ka Ako meals overall provide high-quality nutrition and that meals prepared by schools making their own lunches are larger and more nutritious than meals provided by external providers. 

Findings are being addressed through the new nutrition standards for Ka Ora, Ka Ako.

The nutrition evaluation has been released as an academic article through the MDPI journal page, Nutrients.

Nutrient-level evaluation of meals provided on the Government-funded school lunch programme – MDPI(external link)

Programme evaluation

In Term 1 2020 an interim evaluation of the programme was commissioned to assess the early impact of the pilot programme based on the priority outcomes of food availability, consumption, hunger reduction, wellbeing and attendance.

Selected schools and kura from 3 regions took part in the evaluation. These regions were:

  • Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti
  • Bay of Plenty/Waiariki
  • Otago/Southland.

The aim of the interim evaluation was to ensure our decisions for the future of the programme are based on evidence.

A second evaluation of the expanded programme was completed in 2022. The Impact Evaluation is an independent evaluation focussed on wellbeing in secondary school students, impacts on attendance across all year levels, and providing case studies on stories of greatest change for whānau.  

The evaluation findings show significant positive impacts overall in terms of ākonga wellbeing, food security, and the nutritional value of Ka Ora, Ka Ako meals.

Ka Ora Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches: Interim report(external link)

Read the Minister of Education’s 2021 media release:

School lunches evaluation report finds the programme is working – Beehive.govt.nz(external link)



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