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School lunches benefit business

New Zealand’s eleventh biggest supplier to the taxpayer-funded school lunch programme says the scheme does more than fill children’s bellies in Wairarapa – it also makes an important economic contribution.

Contracted by the Ministry of Education, Trust House employs 45 staff across seven kitchens to produce and deliver about 3700 school lunches to students daily.

Since 2020, Trust House has delivered almost two million school lunches to 21 schools – 10 of Wairarapa schools, and the remainder in Hastings, Porirua, and Wainuiomata.

Not surprisingly, Trust House chief executive John Prendergast believes the scheme is “absolutely” a good idea.

“We would obviously be disappointed if the scheme were to be discontinued, as it is a very positive part of our business,” he said.

“Recent feedback from the Ministry of Education indicates Trust House is one of the top-ranked suppliers in all of New Zealand.”

Prendergast​​​​ said there is often a connection between the staff preparing the food with children or grandchildren who attend the schools.

“Participating schools, pupils, and families are very positive about the benefits a good nutritious lunch provides.

The Ministry of Education paid suppliers a consistent price to produce school lunches around the country that’s set at a level to ensure financial viability for businesses, Prendergast said.

Although there has been criticism from the Treasury about the level of wastage in the scheme, Prendergast noted that “the Ministry has stringent requirements regarding nutritional values and portion sizes and requirements around minimising waste and operating sustainably”.

Although Trust House has strategies to keep wastage to a minimum, he said, a small level of waste is expected, just as in any household.

During food preparation, waste goes into pig buckets for community collection.

Leftover lunches are redistributed for students to take home, and one participating school sends any leftovers to Wai Waste for community distribution, he said.

Trust House is cautiously optimistic that ongoing funding of the lunch programme will be confirmed in the government’s budget in May, given Prime Minister Christopher Luxon indicated support during the election campaign for continuing the programme.

“The government’s decision to continue to fund Ka Ora, Ka Ao Healthy School Lunches programme is commonsense in ensuring successful learning outcomes for tamariki [children],” New Zealand Educational Institute [NZEI] Te Riu Roa president Mark Potter has said.

“However, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has signalled the Government will look at ways to fully optimise the programme.

“Any savings from this review should be redirected into education to help kaiako [teachers] and kaimahi [staff] manage the greater levels of complexity of students’ needs in the classroom.”

“The ministry’s briefing to incoming ministers clearly shows the funding situation is tight and that even shallow cuts are likely to impact core services, including learning support.”

In year’s Budget, the previous government provided funding to continue the Ka Ora, Ka Ako programme until the end of December 2024.

The scheme is targeted at the 25 per cent of students in schools who face the highest socio-economic barriers and aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to a nutritious lunch every day.

A range of factors are considered during the selection process, with the main tool used to determine the socio-economic barriers present in a school’s community being the Equity Index.

Ministry of Education has noted that research indicates reducing food insecurity for children and young people improves wellbeing, development and learning, concentration levels and behaviour, and school achievement, and promotes school attendance.

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