Free school lunches should be vegan - animal rights organisation SAFE

Free lunches for school kids should be vegan, according to an animal rights organisation. 

Last week the Government announced it would start providing lunch for children in some primary and intermediate schools from 2020. The trial will begin in 30 schools from term one, and will expand to 120 schools the following year. 

Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) says the free meals should be "plant-based and climate-friendly". A spokesperson told Newshub the lunches should consist of "whole, unprocessed foods" and not include eggs, dairy or meat. 

Kylie Dale, head of SAFE's Eat Kind programme, says the Government has a rare opportunity to instil healthy eating habits in the country's youth. 

"At an age where life-long habits around healthy food choices are being developed, offering free plant-based lunches is a great chance to foster healthy eating habits," she says.

"Half of young New Zealanders aren't eating their recommended daily servings of vegetables. A child who may have little to no vegetables in an entire week would instead have the opportunity to eat five meals full of plant-rich foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans all provide nutritious energy for child growth and development and to support learning."

SAFE is also recommending vegan lunches as a way to minimise the harm done by the meat and dairy industries, which produce significant carbon emissions and environmental destruction. 

Dale says the huge turnout of students for the climate strikes earlier in the year proves young Kiwis care deeply about the environment. 

"Ensuring that the free lunches provided are climate-friendly is an opportunity for the Government to show that they take environmental issues seriously."

The spokesperson told Newshub price shouldn't prevent the Government from making lunches plant-based, saying fresh produce is often less expensive than processed food. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub schools involved in the lunch trial will be able to choose food options for their own students, as long as "suitable options" are available for those with dietary requirements. 

More than 21,000 children will receive free lunches by the time the policy is fully rolled out. Dale says if the Government wants to focus on youth wellbeing, now's the time to put their money where their mouth is. 

"The Government’s vision for the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy is to ensure that New Zealand is the best place in the world for children and young people. Ensuring our children have access to food that is healthier both for them and the environment is an easy way to get closer to this goal."