Revealed: What kids are getting to eat for free at school

Thousands of Kiwi kids are now getting to feast on lasagna, corn fritters, chicken drum sticks and salads at school, paid for by the Government. 

The $45 million new free and healthy school lunches programme is currently being trialled at 31 schools across Hawke's Bay and the Bay of Plenty. The lunches are aimed at year 1-8 students, but students up to year 13 at schools taking part can also get a free feed. So far 7000 students are covered, with the Government hoping to extend that to 21,000 students at 120 schools by next year.

"A full stomach makes all the difference to a child's learning," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was at Flaxmere Primary on Thursday helping serve up lunch. She has often talked of fixing child poverty as one of her aims.

"We are making good progress on tackling the long-term challenges that cause child poverty but none of the solutions are instant. Providing a free and healthy lunch at school is one way to help make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child and to make that difference immediately."

Children's charity KidsCan, which has been running its own school lunches scheme independent of the Government, estimates around 55,000 kids go to school without lunch at least once a week. It claims to feed "over 30,000" of them. 

Five of the 31 schools are making their own lunches, with the rest opting for external suppliers. Ardern says this will have the added benefit of boosting the local economy.

"As we've seen at Flaxmere Primary, providing these lunches has also led to jobs for local families."

Flaxmere has gone with Pure Catering, which provides 460 lunches every day packed into lunchboxes. Each feed is made up of five items, each in their own compartment in the Bento lunchbox - mains, salads, veges/fruit, savoury and - most children's favourite - sweet.

Mains options include sandwiches, Pita pockets, hamburgers, lasagna, pizza toast, meatballs, quiche and pies. Salads include pasta, potato, roast vege, chicken, green and tabbouleh. The veges/fruit portion might be apple, pineapple, watermelon, pear, grapes, carrot or celery sticks, 'mini' banana or an orange/mandarin. Savoury options include muffins, corn fritters, raisins, corn chips, hummus, chicken drum sticks, cheese sticks and popcorn, while the sweet section might be biscuits, rice crackers, a 'slice' of some sort or 'fooze balls'. 

What kids will get to eat for free.
What kids will get to eat for free. Photo credit: Supplied

Though Bento compartmented lunchboxes can retail for up to $46 depending on the type, the Ministry of Education told Newshub at Flaxmere they're using reusable steel lunchboxes which cost $4.30 each.

The lunches have to meet nutritional guidelines, and be packed in a way that minimises waste. Compartmented lunchboxes reduce the need for plastic bags, for example. 

"All schools in this first tranche have worked hard to meet the requirements of the pilot and their insight will help to inform the ongoing rollout of free lunches in schools," said Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Flaxmere Primary has also benefited from the Government's donations scheme, where schools get extra funding if they don't ask parents to cough up.