Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme FAQs

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to a nutritious lunch in school every day. The FAQs below provide more information.

How many schools and ākonga will benefit from the school lunch programme?

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

What’s the outcome we want for ākonga and whānau?

Ka Ora, Ka Ako aims to reduce food insecurity amongst New Zealand children by providing access to a nutritious lunch every day. Research indicates that reducing food insecurity:

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

We want to see improved engagement, learning and behaviour, fewer children having little or nothing to eat for lunch, and reduced financial hardship amongst the families of participating students.

What does Ka Ora, Ka Ako mean?

Ka Ora, Ka Ako is about being healthy and well in order to be in a good place to learn. The name was developed in consultation with the Ministry’s Te Ao Māori group.

How was the programme designed?

We considered a range of overseas models for providing free school lunches, including from the United Kingdom and Sweden. We opted for one that better reflects how our children prefer to eat lunch, and how our school system works. In the first stages of the initiative we tested different approaches and adapted and refined as we progressed. 

The programme is responding to various calls we heard over recent years for a government-funded school lunch programme. Our online education conversation, Kōrero Mātauranga, told us that many people saw child poverty and child hunger as a key barrier to educational success.

Not every student in a school may need a free lunch, so why is lunch provided on a universal basis in schools? 

Providing lunch on a universal basis minimises any stigma associated with food insecurity – everyone receives a lunch and there is no need to single out those who need it more than others. 

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 that some children who need lunch will miss out. While we know there are hungry children in every community, we do not always know who they are. A universal approach within schools means we do not need to.

Are lunches compulsory? 

Schools and kura decide whether to offer food to students and how this is done. The programme is not compulsory. 

Lunches will be available to all Year 1-13+ students in participating schools. Sharing kai can be an important way of fostering a sense of belonging. Students are encouraged to eat the lunch provided, however no one will be compelled to. Parents wanting to provide their children with their own lunch can continue to do so.

Will the scheme create local job opportunities?

Ka Ora, Ka Ako has resulted in more than 2,361 jobs being created or retained across the country.

Suppliers and schools making their own lunches are required to pay those staff predominantly and directly working on school lunches at least $22.75 per hour as part of their contract. 

How are schools and kura selected to take part?

Schools and kura have been invited to participate in the programme primarily based on the Ministry of Education’s  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. 

To calculate which schools would be invited to join the programme the Ministry initially: 

  • Used a 2019 Equity Index (considering data from 2017, 2018, 2019) and did an assessment of schools to be invited based on the top 25 percent of students
  • Calculated how many students would be covered by the available funding – around 214,000 students.

Some eligible schools already had alternate programmes in place and chose not to join.

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. 

As the Equity Index will be recalculated on an annual basis, some schools and kura will fall in and out of the programme’s 25 percent criteria. Cabinet has approved an approach whereby schools and kura in the programme will remain in the programme, regardless of changes in their Equity Index. When new Equity Index data identifies additional schools and kura as falling within the 25 percent of students eligible for the programme, they will be invited subject to available programme funding. 

Why was the 2019 Equity Index used?

Schools and kura have been invited to participate in the programme primarily based on the Ministry of Education’s Equity Index The Equity Index – Education in New Zealand(external link). It was established that, as part of the expansion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that the programme would be covering 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.

The 2019 Equity Index is available on our main webpage. 

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

How will annual changes in the Equity Index affect schools and kura participating?

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.  

When were additional schools and kura based on the 2023 Equity Index invited?

Schools and kura who have students that fall within the top 25 percent of socio-economic barriers as identified by the 2023 Equity will be invited in September 2022. Depending on their chosen delivery model, they will start delivering lunches from Term 1, 2023 at the earliest.  

How do you define need?

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. 

More information can be found here: Equity Index

Have any schools opted not to take part in the programme and what were their reasons?

Schools and kura decide whether to offer food to students and how this is done. Some schools and kura have declined the invitation to take part. There are a variety of reasons including a preference to continue with an existing food provision. Schools do not have to provide an explanation for declining an invitation to take part. 

Why aren’t free school lunches provided to students at all schools and kura? 

The funding we have available enables us to cover approximately 220,000 students in these schools. We know there are a lot learners who would benefit, but available funding means that not all schools will be offered the programme. To include schools that do not meet the parameters would mean other students would miss out.

What is the role of school boards?

We expect the school boards to be closely involved in decisions about whether and how to deliver the school lunch programme eg whether the school or kura makes their own lunches or outsources to a supplier, and decisions on staff training and kitchen spaces.

What are the different ways schools and kura can provide lunches?

Schools and kura are best placed to decide how they want to deliver lunches, and what the priorities are for their school and community. Schools and kura have a choice about how lunches are provided at their school. There are a range of different options. 

A single school or kura might:

  • choose to make all their own lunches
  • outsource to an external supplier that prepares lunches at the school or prepares lunches offsite and delivers to the school
  • make their own lunches on set days of the week and use a supplier on other days – in this case schools will follow both processes for providing their own lunches and selecting a supplier.
  • outsource to different suppliers for set days of the week.

What is involved in schools making their own lunches?

These schools have operational responsibilities for the lunch process, including health and nutrition, dietary and religious requirements, food safety and waste management. They will need access to a kitchen with enough capacity to make lunches for all students that has appropriate preparation and storage facilities, and follow a Food Control Plan registered with MPI.  Alternatively those schools and kura where they have an existing arrangement eg for a canteen or hostel can choose to meet food safety standards through their local council.

School boards will determine the training needs of school staff depending on the way they decide to provide school lunches. The Ministry will broker appropriate support if required. 

How do schools select their suppliers? Is there a tender process?

Suppliers are selected through a tender process. Schools and kura select from a panel of approved suppliers that meet minimum standards of food hygiene, waste management and food preparation. This will simplify the procurement process for schools.

Any supplier can register on the Government Electronic Tendering System(external link) (GETS) and go through a similar procurement process to an “all of government” contract model.

What requirements will suppliers need to meet?

As part of the open tender process, the Ministry ensures that selected suppliers:

  • have the capability and capacity to deliver to a large number of students
  • meet all Food Act 2014 requirements and have had a good food safety track record  
  • understand the Ministry of Health nutritional requirements 
  • understand the local, regional and community aspects of their area of interest 
  • consider sustainable solutions to minimise waste.

Who will pay suppliers and manage day-to-day delivery of lunches to schools?

The Ministry holds the contractual relationships 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 still 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.

What is the cost of each lunch?

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 our learnings that varied portion sizes are 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. Staff working on school lunches must be paid at least $22.75 per hour. This excludes GST.

Is this really new? Aren’t some schools simply extending what they already do to provide food for students?

The programme provides an opportunity for schools to provide a daily, government-funded, school lunch to their students. For many schools this is the first time they will be providing a lunch every day.

Schools have been invited to take part regardless of whether they already provide food through other initiatives. Some schools may wish to adapt or extend what they already do. Other initiatives may serve a different need, for example breakfast programmes or initiatives providing a healthy snack such as Fruit in Schools(external link).

What staffing will schools need to provide to implement the programme?

Staffing will vary depending on a school’s size and how they decide to deliver the lunch programme.

Is the programme being evaluated?

An interim evaluation report of the Ka Ora Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme was commissioned to help the Ministry of Education assess the early impact of the pilot programme based on the priority outcomes of food availability, consumption, hunger reduction, wellbeing, and attendance.

The report’s findings were based on data from 38 schools and almost 2,700 students in two regions. Changes were measured over the first 2-3 months of the pilot.

The interim evaluation report 

A second evaluation of the expanded programme is currently underway. The evaluation will investigate wellbeing in secondary school students, impacts on attendance across all year levels, and present case studies on stories of greatest change for whānau. The report for the second evaluation is expected to be published by the end of 2022.    

What will be in the school lunches? What arrangements have been put in place to ensure the lunches are healthy and nutritious?

Lunches must be healthy and nutritious, based on the Ka Ora, Ka Ako nutrition guidelines [PDF, 672 KB] and the Ministry of Health’s healthy 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 provided and how. The content of the lunches will depend on a number of factors such as the chosen supplier, any catering facilities the school has, the number of students, and a school’s distance from their 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 to reflect available fresh produce and the season, and feedback from schools and students.

Guidelines on health and nutrition, dietary and religious requirements will need to be met by all suppliers and schools making their own lunches.

What health and safety considerations are schools addressing as part of the programme?

Where schools and kura have decided to outsource to external suppliers, meeting health and safety legislation is a contractual requirement.

Schools and kura that provide their own lunches are responsible for any employment and training requirements. Staff processing food must comply with Food Act 2014 and be aware of allergies and allergens.

We have worked closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries to ensure standards for food safety and hygiene are met and to provide schools with appropriate guidance and support. This includes developing a Food Control Plan for the school lunches programme [PDF, 2.2 MB].

How will schools reduce and manage food waste?

Schools providing their own lunches are encouraged to move towards a zero-waste policy. The Ministry of Education guidelines require schools to reduce food wastage through menu planning, stock management, and use of leftovers if it can be done safely. Schools need a plan to deal with food wastage, eg composting, and are encouraged to minimise packaging and reduce the use of plastic food wrap and single use cutlery and tableware. Suppliers are also asked to consider solutions to minimise waste as part of the tender process.

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