Stop the cuts - protect our healthy school lunches!

Ka Ora, Ka Ako – “being well means being able to learn’’

  • The Government’s free school lunches programme – Ka Ora, Ka Ako provides free healthy lunches to 230,000 students each day in about 1,000 of our least advantaged schools.
  • It is a major safety net from child food poverty in a cost-of-living crisis.
  • On May 9, 2024 Associate Education Minister David Seymour announced a new “Food in Schools” model for 2025 and 2026, with $478 million of funding in Budget 2024.
  • The announcement followed a hugely successful campaign to stop the cuts from February to May 2024, led by Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) in collaboration with Hapai te Hauora, NZEI and Child Poverty Action Group.

Stop the cuts campaign

In early March, HCA launched a campaign to Protect our Healthy School Lunches, Ka Ora, Ka Ako within days of Mr Seymour making his intention to cut its funding by 30-50% public.

Within a few weeks over 26,000 people had added their signatures to the petition, and the cause received significant media coverage. 

Campaign timeline:

  • March 12 – Arakura School in Wainuiomata invited education leaders, HCA and media to share kai to advocate for the programme to be retained.
  • March 25 – A series of briefings highlighting the evidence of the programme’s efficacy published by the Public Health Communication Centre.
  • March 26 – HCA hosted a webinar on summarising the evidence of the programme’s efficacy. Over 100 people attended.
  • April 4 –  Tikipunga High School in Whangārei invited supporters including HCA, media, and local MPs to its school lunch.
  • April 11 – HCA handed over the Protect Our Lunches petition to Labour’s Education Spokesperson Hon Jan Tinetti at a lunch event at Parliament, with students from five Wellington region schools.
  • April 17 –  media release responding to news that 14 Ministry of Education Ka Ora, Ka Ako roles proposed to be disestablished, including eight nutrition experts and six advisors
  • May 8 – media release responding to Food in Schools announcement. 
  • March 7 – May 8 – HCA released four media releases, and social media campaigns, including our “Free School Lunches Fact” series.

The Government’s new “Food in Schools” model

HCA has significant concerns about the impact of the new model on about 150,000 year 7 students and up, who will lose high quality, nutritious and tasty meals.

It is unclear what food will replace these meals for intermediate and high schools, but at $3 per student and based on a charity-run model, we believe it will likely be mainly processed, packaged foods with far less nutritional value. A Food in Schools advisory group will determine the details of the new model in time for implementation in 2025.

We believe the move away from Healthy School Lunches – Ka Ora, Ka Ako will rob those students of its many benefits and result in job losses for those working hard to provide healthy hot meals to our older students.

Where to from here?

Nutrition is neither a luxury nor ‘woke’ but a fundamental right for every tamariki and rangatahi.

HCA is committed to continuing our campaign in defence of a school lunches programme that delivers high quality, nutritious meals to students every day.

HCA is taking time to re-group and plan the next part of the campaign.


  • The Government’s Healthy School Lunches Programme – Ka Ora, Ka Ako, was launched in 2019 to address rising food poverty and poor nutrition.
  • The programme goes to schools in the top 25% of the equity index that are facing the greatest socioeconomic barriers.
  • All students at those schools receive a healthy free lunch each day, with providers using nutrition guidelines developed specifically for the programme. 

“Do not take the food out of our children’s mouths”

Principals at schools receiving Ka Ora, Ka Ako spoke publicly about the proposed cuts.

Principal of Te Kura Māori o Ngā Tapuwae in Māngere East Arihia Stirling said on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme, children were more focused and the number of students having to work to help pay for family basics had fallen as a result of the free lunch programme.

“What I say to the Associate Minister of Education is do not take the food out of our children’s mouths…this is so needed in the communities we serve.”

Seletute “Tute” Mila, principal of Arakura School in Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt, told The Press, Ka Ora, Ka Ako was a “critical programme” which her students loved.

The same story reported comments by Chisnallwood Intermediate Year 8 student Ryder who said the lunches should stay.

“…most people don’t have food at home.”

Before the lunches were introduced in 2022, Ryder said he struggled to learn “because my brain just got like, ‘oh, I’m so hungry’.

“After I ate the lunches I’d always have energy to do stuff.”

The evidence for healthy school lunches:

HCA’s analysis of Ministry of Education evaluations showed Ka Ora, Ka Ako:

  • Reduces hunger, particularly for food insecure ākonga
  • Improves nutrition – ākonga ate more nutritious food, with more vegetables and less snacks and sweets eaten.
  • Provides at least 1/3 of daily requirements for 78% of the key nutrients children need to thrive
  • Improved mental health and wellbeing – children at Ka Ora, Ka Ako schools reported a 6-14% improvement in mental health and wellbeing compared to peers in other schools
  • Created employment and business – the programme supports 3000 jobs, with workers paid the living wage and more than 180 businesses are providing lunches
  • Improves attendance, energy, engagement, attention and focus, and behaviour of students
  • Māori students ate more nutritious food, both at school and at home; had improved behaviour and attitudes; were more able to concentrate and engage with class material and had more confidence.


You can read more about the evidence for Ka Ora, Ka Ako in the series of Briefings on the Public Health Communications Centre: