Produce industry helping to get fruit and vegetables to school children

Despite an abundance of fruit and vegetables grown in New Zealand, many children in low-decile schools are sadly unable to benefit from the goodness from such foods.

For 16 years now the Fruit and Vegetables in Schools initiative has been working to change that.

The Government-funded project provides fresh fruit and vegetables to children in schools of decile one and two.

Jerry Prendergast, president of United Fresh, the produce organisation that manages the initiative, says it's "staggering" to think many Kiwi children are going without such healthy food on a regular basis at home.

"In these one and two decile schools children are not actually eating fresh fruit, they're not receiving it in the home always," Prendergast told The Am Show on Thursday.

"It may be there when payday comes and a couple of days later but it's not there for the whole week."

He said the initiative had grown from a pilot project involving 25 schools in 2004 to now providing for 561 schools across 21 regions - a total of more than 26 million servings of fresh fruit and vegetables each year.

"Reports we're getting back from principals, reports we're getting back from schools and people who are actually administering this in the schools are that the children are just loving it."

"And for many of them they're wondering what this piece of fruit is. You think everyone would know an apple or an orange, a mandarin, a banana. You think everyone would have actually tasted a plum. But the reality is's staggering how many of these children have not experienced a whole raft of fruit.

"You'd think that kiwifruit would be the most common fruit for anyone in New Zealand, But what we're finding is the reality is that some children have never tried it at the age of five and six and seven in these schools."

He says he would like to see the programme extended to decile three schools too.