Support for Eat Right, Be Bright campaign for universal school lunches

A nutritious lunch for every child would go a long way toward ensuring that all children have the same chance for good educational outcomes, and support healthy physical and mental development, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Mothers United Movement (M.U.M.) launched their “Eat Right, Be Bright” campaign on 5 February, calling on the Government to implement a funding programme for the provision of healthy school lunches, for every student at all levels of learning.

The Auckland-based group, now 100-strong, says that, “A daily lunch for all school children and those in early childhood education allows for every kid in New Zealand to have a healthy start in life, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, free from stigma.”

Drawing their evidence from other countries providing similar programmes, and the research of dieticians and nutritionists who back their campaign, M.U.M. recommend that Government should fund schools so that they are able to implement programmes for their pupils, and ensure that all children have a healthy lunch based on their nutritional needs.

Jeni Cartwright, CPAG spokesperson, agrees that such a programme could help to reduce the stigma of poverty for those who are currently accessing charity lunches, as well as alleviate the need among low-income children who attend higher decile schools and may miss out on charity support. “There is especially need among older children, who are more shy of charity provision than the younger ones,” says Cartwright.

CPAG acknowledges the benefits of the Government’s KickStart Breakfast programme - an opt-in programme that was implemented in 2009 and extended to schools of all deciles in 2013, but there is still gap where nutritious lunches are concerned.

“There are children in hardship who may yet miss out on a second meal of the day if they don’t get to school in time for breakfast club.”

Such a programme could also help to promote nutritional knowledge among parents, and reduce the reliance on the $2 dairy lunch pack, that is unhealthy and high in sugar.

“A healthy, balanced diet of sufficient calories is critical to the mental and physical development of children,” says Professor Innes Asher, paediatrician and health spokesperson for CPAG.

“Some family incomes are too low to meet the essential needs for children including their nutritional needs. Many children seen in hospitals are admitted with preventable illnesses that have their roots in poverty. Many are also malnourished.

“There is a high rate of obesity among New Zealand children, as a result of diets heavy in processed foods. Such foods are high in fats, sugar and sodium, are often cheap, and marketed to parents as easy meal solutions when on a budget, but they are insufficient to meet children’s health and developmental needs,” says Professor Asher.

“Too many children are going to school hungry. Furthermore, some children are staying home from school rather than face the embarrassment of having no food to eat there.”

CPAG supports the principles of the Eat Right, Be Bright campaign, and urges the Government to consider a school lunches as part of a broader solution to bridging the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as well as substantially improving family incomes for those who are worst off.

For more information and to sign the Eat Right, Be Bright petition, click here.