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. By December 2021, over 47 million lunches have been served in 921 schools to over 211,000 learners.

four boys sitting on bench eating lunch

Flaxmere Primary School students enjoy their lunch.

Regular, nutritious food is vital for children’s physical, mental and educational development. It affects their ability to focus, concentrate and learn.

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 schools with high levels of disadvantage.

Around 10,000 learners in 42 schools across Bay of Plenty/Waiariki and Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti were the first to get a free school lunch in Term 1 2020. Over 3,000 students in 18 schools and kura across Otago and Southland joined Ka Ora, Ka Ako in Terms 2 and 3. Another 51 schools in Bay of Plenty/Waiariki and Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti began delivering lunches in Term 4 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ka Ora, Ka Ako is being expanded to reach around 215,000 students by the end of 2021, 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.

This first roll-out of the expansion saw another 70 schools and kura in Bay of Plenty/Waiariki and Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti join the 51 already providing lunches in Term 4. These schools took advantage of established processes to quickly start the lunches programme. Across the rest of the country, an additional 322 schools began providing lunches to around 88,000 learners from the start of Term 1, February 2021.

Expanding the school lunch programme also supports job creation and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. By December 2021, 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 free 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 offered to schools and kura with students that fall within the highest 25 percent of socio-economic disadvantage nationally and where students face the greatest barriers that can affect access to education, wellbeing and achievement.

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 Ministry of Education Equity Index. This looks at a full basket of factors in a child’s life, not any one factor, to understand the socioeconomic barriers present in a school’s community. For example, family circumstances, income, number of home and school changes, and more. School deciles are not used as a measure of need.

List of schools and kura participating in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (September 2021)

region number of schools and kura total school roll (Sept 2021)
Tai Tokerau 99 16,691
Auckland 158 64,921
Waikato 118 24,577
Bay of Plenty, Waiariki 105 22,556
Hawke's Bay, Tairawhiti 97 18,564
Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu 102 18,762
Wellington 96 19,870
Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast 25 3,975
Canterbury/Chatham Islands 40 11,615
Otago, Southland 33 5,009
Total 873 206,540

List of schools and kura participating in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (September 2021) [XLSX, 57 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 is supporting schools with contractual documentation and providing guidance and advice to schools if required.

List of suppliers approved to participate in Ka Ora, Ka Ako (July 2021) [XLSX, 51 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 produce and the season, 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.

Collecting information on students with complex dietary needs is not always straightforward. To support schools and kura to keep students with high and complex dietary needs safe we have developed a factsheet and questionnaire.

The factsheet provides more information on high and complex needs diets.

High and complex needs information sheet [PDF, 205 KB] 

The Specialised Diet Questionnaire will assist staff and whānau in gathering the appropriate information needed to share with suppliers.

It is important to note that any information you share outside the school should be anonymised to protect the privacy of students.

Specialised diet questionnaire [DOCX, 164 KB] 

We worked closely with Allergy New Zealand to develop practical guidance that can be used in conjunction with the Ka Ora, Ka Ako high and complex needs information sheet and specialised diets questionnaire.

Practice guidance on managing students with food allergies [DOCX, 72 KB]


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)

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