Ka Ora, Ka Ako free school lunch programme exceeding expectations, study finds

  • 25/03/2024

New research on the previous Government's free school lunches programme, now under threat, shows it's exceeding expectations.

It's been revealed the programme - Ka Ora, Ka Ako - is meeting and in some cases exceeding expectations, according to the Public Health Communication Centre (PHCC).

However, Associate Education Minister David Seymour has said it's "a huge waste of money".

University of Auckland Professor Boyd Swinburn is among researchers looking at what the programme is expected to produce and how it measures up.

He said Ka Ora, Ka Ako rates extremely well against its primary outcomes of alleviating hunger in schools, providing healthy eating, reducing financial burden, increasing mana and strengthening local economies.

"The mental health scores for those kids who are food insecure has increased 20 percent meaning happier, more engaged students and that is a big plus for the programme," Prof Swinburn said.

But it's not just academic and wellbeing benefits, he said truancy was improving too.

"The range of positive feedback from the school surveys of benefits in school engagement is also strong and consistent and the latest analysis of school attendance showed significantly greater attendance amongst the most underserved kids."


However, Prof Swinburn said the main barrier to improved efficiency was the lack of certainty about the programme's future.

He said Ka Ora, Ka Ako was performing very well against 21 stakeholder criteria but there's room for improvement such as having secure funding for the programme. 

Currently schools which are offered the programme have students who are the most disadvantaged, but according to Prof Swinburn that means about 60 percent of students from food insecure households are not in the programme.

"We also suggest identifying ways to expand the programme, undertaking a formal cost-effectiveness study, and building in more environmental sustainability aspects."

Seymour has previously said 10,000 free school lunches are wasted each day, amounting to $25 million of wasted surplus lunches.

"One thing I will say is we will not be spending $350 million because we just can't afford it right now. We will do it in a way that will be more effective and efficient, and is a good use of taxpayers' money," Seymour told Newstalk ZB earlier this month.

He added the programme was "a huge waste of money and it should be gone".