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. By March 2022, over 45 million lunches have been delivered in 921 schools to over 211,000 learners, and 62 million lunches will be delivered in around June of this year.

students eating lunch sitting at picnic table outside

Henry Hill School, Napier

Around one in five 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.

About 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.

In 2019, the Government announced a two-year initiative to explore delivering a free and healthy daily school lunch to Year 1–8 (primary and intermediate aged) students in around 120 schools with high levels of disadvantage across Bay of Plenty/Waiariki, Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti and Otago/Southland.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ka Ora, Ka Ako has been expanded to include around 214,000 students, including secondary students. This aims to cushion the blow of COVID-19 impacts on students living in households which may now be experiencing heightened financial stress, job and income losses that can interfere with learning and wellbeing.

Expanding the school lunch programme also supports job creation and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, some 2,300 jobs have been generated by the programme.

Budget 2020 announcement(external link)

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.

Craig McFadyen, principal of Ngongotaha School shared his experience with the lunch in schools programme in Ministry Bulletin for School Leaders | He Pitopito Kōrero, COVID-19 update 21 September.(external link)

Schools and kura taking part

Ka Ora, Ka Ako is targeted at the top 25 percent of students in schools and kura facing the greatest socio-economic barriers nationally. 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. The Equity Index estimates the extent to which children grow up in socio-economic circumstances that we know impact their likelihood of achieving in education. 

List of schools and kura participating in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (March 2022)

Region Number of schools and kura Total school roll (July 2021)
Tai Tokerau 106 17,462
Auckland 172 68,103
Waikato 122 25,321
Bay of Plenty, Waiariki 107 23,357
Hawke's Bay, Tairawhiti 99 19,073
Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu 114 21,103
Wellington 101 20,602
Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast 26 4,061
Canterbury/Chatham Islands 47 12,151
Otago, Southland 50 8,126
Total 944 219,359

List of schools and kura participating in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (March 2022) [XLSX, 55 KB]


Schools and communities are best placed to understand what their students need. 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)(external link) platform. Schools and kura choose from a panel of approved suppliers that have met minimum standards of food hygiene, waste management and food preparation. This will simplify the procurement process for schools.

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.

List of suppliers approved to participate in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (June 2022) [XLSX, 49 KB]

Nutrition and safety

It is important that lunches are healthy and nutritious. We have worked closely with the Ministry of Health, nutrition, and health experts to establish nutrition guidelines for Ka Ora, Ka Ako [PDF, 672 KB], based on the Ministry of Health’s food and drink guidance for schools(external link). This includes offering foods from the four main food groups - vegetables and fruit, breads and cereals, milk and milk products, and lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.

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 [PDF, 489 KB] and suppliers [PDF, 330 KB] on how they can gradually introduce new foods, encourage learners as they learn to enjoy healthy food, and adapt menus to make lunches healthier.

For schools that make their own lunches, staff preparing food must comply with Food Act 2014 and be aware of allergies and allergens. We have worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) 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


From January 2022 lunches will be provided at a maximum ‘per child, per day’ cost of:

  • $4.84 for learners in Years 0-3
  • $5.67 for learners in Years 4-8
  • $7.21 for learners in Years 9+.

These 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 January 2022 staff working on school lunches must be paid at least $22.75 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.


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 three regions – Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty/Waiariki and Otago/Southland – took part in the evaluation.

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

Planning for an evaluation of the expanded lunches programme is underway. This second evaluation will seek to track the progress of larger numbers of the most disadvantaged learners, and the wider benefits of the programme, including to local economies. It will also seek to incorporate the voices of whānau, iwi, and the wider community.

The interim evaluation report 

The Minister of Education’s media release(external link) 

Child Youth and Wellbeing Strategy

The programme is part of the Government’s Child Youth and Wellbeing Strategy. Children and Young People have what they need is one of the key outcomes. Providing food to children at school is one-way government can directly address poverty and food insecurity, and positively impact children’s wellbeing.

New Zealand Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy(external link)

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback