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 August 2022, over 63 million lunches have been delivered in 950 schools and kura to over 220,000 learners.

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 for Year 1 to 8 (primary and intermediate aged) students in around 120 schools 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 (January 2023)

Region Number of schools and kura Total school roll (July Average 2022)
Te Tai Tokerau 112 18,050
Auckland 177 69,162
Waikato 123 25,354
Bay of Plenty, Waiariki 111 23,818
Hawke's Bay, Tairawhiti 99 19,141
Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu 120 22,600
Wellington 103 20,751
Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast 29 4,228
Canterbury/Chatham Islands 49 13,170
Otago, Southland 51 8,150
Total 974 224,424

List of schools and kura participating in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (January 2023) [XLSX, 66 KB]


The 2019 Equity Index 

The main tool used to determine the socio-economic barriers present in a school’s community is the Equity Index(external link). 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. 

The programme is targeted at the top 25 percent 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 2019 EQI was the most relevant data available.

In addition to the Equity Index, the programme 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 by the end of 2022 the programme will be reaching around 222,000 students in 967 schools and kura.

You can view a list of schools and kura and their 2019 Equity index, below. 

2019 Equity Index  [XLSX, 87 KB]

If you have any questions or want more information about the Equity Index, 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 percent 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 percent 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 percent with the annual changes, they will continue to remain in the programme as approved by Cabinet.  


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 (January 2023) [XLSX, 53 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

Nutrition Standards

From Term 1, 2023, new Nutrition Standards(external link) are being introduced for the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme.  These Standards will replace the previous guidelines used by lunch providers to develop healthy lunch menus.

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 Nutrition 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.

The new Standards combine all the relevant information into one place to make it simpler and easier to develop menus. They are based on previous guidance, the Ministry of Health Healthy Food and Drink Guidance – Schools(external link), but are now tailored to Ka Ora, Ka Ako rather than a tuckshop or canteen setting. The new Standards bring in feedback from the Ministry of Health, schools, kura, suppliers and nutrition stakeholders.  They also build on what we have learnt about providing a healthy lunch, and address issues identified through our regular monitoring and meal analysis.


We are phasing in the new standards to give time for lunch providers to understand the changes and revise their menus.

Throughout Term 4, 2022 we will be supporting lunch providers with information, guidance and information sessions. We will be working with food wholesalers and manufacturers so they can understand what it means for their products.

The new standards will be introduced from Term 1, 2023. During Term 1, lunch providers will be gradually adapt lunch menus and incorporating any new ingredients and foods.

The standards should be fully integrated into lunch menus from the start of Term 2, 2023

Information and Resources

The Ministry has released an online nutrition resource (external link)for suppliers and schools who make their own kai,  to make it easier for them to search and engage with the new nutrition standards. This is the first release, and more resources will be available on the site over the coming months.  These resources will include ideas for recipes and menus based on feedback from schools and suppliers across the programme. 

Nutrition Standards for Ka Ora, Ka Ako Menu's(external link)

New Nutrition Standards - Nutrition Standards for Ka Ora, Ka Ako - Healthy School Lunches Programme [PDF, 3.2 MB]

Summary of Changes [PDF, 206 KB]

What has Changed and Why? [PDF, 262 KB]

For enquiries, contact the Ka Ora, Ka Ako Nutrition team at schoollunches.nutrition@education.govt.nz


From Term 1, 2023 lunches will be provided at a maximum ‘per child, per day’ cost of: 

  • $5.39 for learners in Years 0-3
  • $6.31 for learners in Years 4-8
  • $8.03 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 September 2022 staff working on school lunches must be paid at least $23.65 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.


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 provides 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.

Nutrients | Free Full-Text | Nutrient-Level Evaluation of Meals Provided on the Government-Funded School Lunch Program in New Zealand (mdpi.com)(external link)

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme - Nutrition Evaluation 2022 [PDF, 1.1 MB]

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 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.

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.

The Ministry has undertaken further work to understand and respond to the 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 will evaluate 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.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme - Evaluation Impact Report [PDF, 17 MB]

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme - Technical Evaluation Report [PDF, 11 MB]

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

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)

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