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Healthy food in spotlight

Is good diet a choice or a privilege?

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Families in Wairarapa doing it tough have no choice but to send their children to school with unhealthy lunches, according to some of our region’s teachers.

Schools are doing all they can to educate pupils on healthy food options, but for many families their food choices are financially limited.

Figures released last week from the University of Otago show basic healthy food costs for a family of four had increased from $4 to $21 a week over the past year, with most of the cost stemming from fruit and vegetables.

“The price of a healthy food basket continues to rise,” lead researcher at University of Otago Louise Mainvil said.

She said the New Zealand Food Cost Survey showed the weekly cost of fresh produce, meat and dairy represented 42 per cent of a gross full-time weekly minimum wage.

“Any time that figure goes above 30 per cent, that’s when there is stress on the food budget.”

Fernridge School principal Janine Devonport said the school promoted healthy eating which positively affected pupils’ ability to learn, but said any food was better than a child turning up hungry.

“We promote low sugar because it does help with learning but we don’t want to judge parents,” she said.

“Our job is not to parent – our job is to encourage healthy eating.

“Some people don’t have the choice so the fact they’re turning up with food is great.”

Auckland-based charity KidsCan has sent 14,757 food items in 2018 to five Wairarapa schools, which included items such as baked beans, snack bars, yoghurt, fruit pottles, scroggin mix, and spreads to top up kids’ lunch boxes.

KidsCan founder Julie Chapman said the need in some New Zealand communities was “fairly dire”, and she was not surprised more schools were putting up their hands for support.

“We understand that it can be really difficult for some schools to admit their children need help as they are afraid of a perceived stigma that may come with being branded ‘a school that needs help’.”

She said many families were spending a large proportion of their income on rent which left little extra for bills, food, and necessities such as transport and clothing.

Makoura College deputy principal Myra Coley said affordability was “absolutely” a factor when it came to families making healthy food choices.

The school has begun transforming its canteen to promote healthier options for pupils, while considering the financial impact it may have.

The school board adopted an “affordable, healthy foods” policy and consulted with the pupils to find out the food options they would like to see.

“What we have done is make sure our healthier everyday options are cheaper than our occasional treat-like items,” Coley said.

“For example, kids can now choose a vegetable-packed chicken wrap for $3 over a $4 pie, or things like a large muesli, yoghurt and fruit cup for $2, therefore offsetting the cost of these items with higher priced occasional items.”

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