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Will lunch changes cut the mustard?

Yesterday’s coalition government announcement about the Healthy School Lunches Programme [HSLP] brought to mind several well-worn phrases that are cliches because they tend to be true.

First, there’s Oscar Wilde’s bon mot about a cynic being “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

In this writer’s observation, Associate Education Minister David Seymour isn’t a cynic when it comes to his particular ideological viewpoint – he’s a true believer regarding the primacy of the market in delivering the most desirable results – although he’s clearly very concerned about cost.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that he has evoked “embracing innovation and commercial expertise” when talking up the changes to the programme [see also pages 3 and 11] that are projected to shave $107 million from the annual budget for delivering the scheme, while still managing to open it up to around 10,000 two-to-five-year-olds in early learning services.

It also appears he recognises the value of school kids getting a meal they might otherwise miss out on, – although, granted, the scheme’s continuation might be more down to the insistence of his coalition partners and/or a strong sense of political expediency [as per a recent street survey the Times-Age conducted in Masterton, it’s hard to find someone who is against the initiative].

But there are obviously many details to be worked out before the new approach is rolled out and we can really judge how successfully ‘cost’ and ‘value’ will actually intersect in this instance – as the saying goes, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

In particular, there’s the “alternative provision model” for years 7 and up from next year that Seymour has said will be bulk purchased by the government and delivered to schools, and will “significantly reduce the cost of the programme”.

What that will really entail remains to be seen – Seymour has been quoted as saying “forget quinoa, couscous, and hummus, it will be more like sandwiches and fruit” – but the prospect has already drawn fire from Health Coalition Aotearoa [HCA], a group of health professionals, academics, and non-governmental organisations that advocate for preventative health policies [ie, harm reduction at the top of the cliff, rather than an ambulance at the bottom].

HCA is assuming from the information to hand that “high quality nutritious lunches” will be replaced with “largely processed snack foods” for intermediate and high school students.

Currently, the HSLP meals meet nutritional guidelines and provide students with one third of the nutrients they need each day, according to HCA – nutrients that “are essential for immunity to illness and disease, and to address significant health problems kids are facing including obesity, dental caries and mental ill-health”.

“Pallets of packaged foods are not going to remotely match the high quality, nutritionally balanced and tasty meals” that are currently provided, HCA co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn has said.

If that fear proves to be founded, then this will not only be a shame but also shameful.

Given about one per cent of the cells [around 330 billion of ’em] in humans’ bodies are replaced each day, the expression “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more true – what else do you think provides the building blocks for that constant renovation?

As such, if you insist on feeding kids crap…

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