Free school lunches: One free meal a day means one less thing on parents' plates - Kiwi mum

Calls for the Government to provide free lunches for children in state schools are being echoed by parents, many eager to have one less thing on their plate.

As part of its 'Big Picture' series, The AM Show launched an initiative on Monday campaigning for New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of other leading nations and offer free lunches for Kiwi children - a proposal backed by Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. 

The Government currently funds free lunches for a quarter of New Zealand schools through its Ka Ora, Ka Ako programme, which focuses on education providers at the lower end of the decile scale.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday, mum Amanda Key said her young daughter Jayden, who attends one of the schools currently covered by the Government's scheme, is enjoying the variety of meals.

"It's made a difference in a lot of areas. Kids get a variety of lunches every day, [such as] a meatball sub - to be honest, I'm never going to get up and make Jayden a meatball sub in the morning," Key said.

"And it's the social change. Everyone's eating the same lunch, everyone gets the opportunity to have lunch - so there's no judgement there. It's yummy and she gets to try different things. We're really grateful, actually."

Jayden agreed, noting the meatball sub and chicken katsu are her personal favourites.

"My favourite is the meatball sub, because it's like eating Subway," she said.

Jayden's school has altered its timetable so students have 40 minutes of play before sitting down for lunch, which they eat together while the teacher reads a story. Key said the structuring reduces waste as the children are hungry by the time lunch rolls around, with everyone finishing their meals.

The scheme is also beneficial for the families, Key said, acknowledging that parenting is "hard enough" without making nutritional and balanced lunches each day.

"Being a parent is hard enough, so any help is awesome. I'm not going to complain - I'm never going to get up and make teriyaki chicken with corn and rice for lunch - so if I know she's getting a range of food and I know it's healthy and going to get her through her day, I'm all for it."

Mum Amanda Key said free lunches mean one less thing on parents' already overloaded plates.
Mum Amanda Key said free lunches mean one less thing on parents' already overloaded plates. Photo credit: Getty Images

On Monday, Commissioner Andrew Becroft said free lunches for schoolchildren should be "a birthright"

"The benefits are incalculable," he said. "Spend the money because children would benefit, the country would benefit long-term - it's the [right] thing to do."

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday there is no plan to extend the scheme to all state schools, saying it already costs "hundreds of millions" to feed the children currently covered by the programme.

"I don't have a problem with unlimited lunches. I think that would be great... but I have to prioritise," she told reporters. "It is quite costly to roll out and I have to ask the question - is that the next step for us?

"When we move into universalism you start reaching into pockets where there isn't as much need... but we acknowledge there are families in need in higher deciles schools we're not reaching."