Healthy lunches making a difference in Tairāwhiti

Issue: Volume 100, Number 3

Posted: 17 March 2021
Reference #: 1HAHwx

Research shows that nutritious food improves wellbeing, supports child development and learning, and that a regular lunch breaks down numerous barriers to participation in education and helps reduce financial hardship for families.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | the healthy school lunches programme is having a powerful impact in schools and kura taking part across Aotearoa. Education Gazette talks to a school and a supplier involved with the programme.

"We were seeing an increasing amount of need to support kids with food, in the morning and at lunch. There was just such a variation in the kai kids were bringing to school,” says Nik House, principal at Awapuni School in Gisborne.

Once the school found out they would be joining Ka Ora, Ka Ako, staff looked to see how other schools in the area were doing things. 

“We knew of a few different providers and got feedback from other schools,” says Nik. “We’d heard about Puku Ora from other schools and through their work in town.”

Supporting local

Puku Ora was already an established presence in Gisborne, having first set up as the East Coast Juice Bar – a small café catering to those wanting keto, vegan, paleo or vegetarian food, or those just wanting healthy kai. 

A family company founded by sisters Erana Blandford and Amy Wray, Puku Ora, has been part of the school lunches programme since the principal at Amy’s children’s school approached her and encouraged her to apply to be part of the programme. 

“Initially we had considered doing just the one school, but then we realised that we would need to do a larger volume to make it viable for our business. Before we knew it, we had three other schools who approached us and we said, ‘Yes!’,” explains Amy.

Puku Ora state their vision as a company is for ‘real, raw and ridiculously good food that inspires positive change’ and this is something that resonated with Awapuni School.

“We were looking for a company that was aligned to our values as a school and we got that with their whole foods, sustainable packaging options and a yummy but healthy and diverse menu,” says Nik.

“By the time we got to selecting the supplier we knew well in advance who we wanted.”

Appreciated by learners and whānau

Puku Ora began supplying Awapuni School’s healthy lunches from the beginning of Term 4 last year. Nik makes it clear things have gone smoothly right from
the start and notes how the community have responded to it. 

“People have been overwhelmingly positive – at a recent meet-the-teacher night, parents gave lots of affirmative nods when I talked about school lunches,” he says.

With the operation of the programme now well established at the school, the benefits for ākonga, whānau and the school are becoming clear.

Only a few ākonga are bringing their lunch from home and some of those families who were reluctant at first have changed their minds. 

“Our kids have taken to it so well. They are really vocal about how great they think it is and we have very few kids that have been reluctant to eat,” says Nik.

“We share what we’re having every day. Parents are seeing that kids are trying new things and that they’re loving it.”

One benefit that has stood out to the school so far is the impact that providing a nutritious lunch has had on attendance. 

“We’ve seen our attendance increase since the programme has come in,” explains Nik. 

“The amount of times we heard from parents that they didn’t have any food in the house so kept the kids home – that barrier has been removed.”

Many schools involved in Ka Ora, Ka Ako have reported that the focus on more nutritious food has led to changes in engagement and behaviour. 

Teachers at Awapuni School are noticing improvements in their classrooms. 

“They’re healthier, more alert, ready to learn and ready to be physical outside too,” says Nik. 

Benefits beyond the classroom

Benefits are stretching beyond school boundaries as well. 

“This is supporting the bottom line at home; there is less spending each week. Parents also have more time – they’ve got that half-hour back each morning that they would usually spend preparing lunch,” explains Nik.

Amy and her team have also heard positive things. 

“We have had feedback from parents saying that they now have more money in the budget to buy healthier foods in their shopping, or they have noticed their children are eating their veggies,” she says.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako is having an impact in the wider community too. Puku Ora are now supplying 10 schools, with a total of around 2700 lunches provided each day.

“When we started, Erana was cooking the food on her own, and I was on the production line, packing them in and delivering them. It was a lot of hard work,” explains Amy.

“Now we have expanded our team to almost 30 staff members, we have moved to a larger and better building and we have expanded our eatery, which is really busy. We love seeing the rest of the community coming in to get their fix of healthy kai.

“Most of our staff members are local and have whānau attending the schools we feed, which we love because there is a different level of aroha and effort that goes into making the lunches. We are very fortunate to have an amazing team behind us who make this all possible. 

“We try to value our team as they make all the magic happen.” 

Strong relationships and systems

Puku Ora ran te reo classes in the evening for staff and they encourage them to use te reo with customers when possible. 

“We also ran a 12-week challenge with our team to encourage healthy eating and wellness within the team,” says Amy. 

“If we want to inspire positive change in the community, it has to start with ourselves first.”

Crucial to the ongoing success of the programme is Awapuni School’s relationship with Puku Ora. 

“They’ve been extremely professional and have made the process so easy,” says Nik. 

“We’re in communication all the time with them. They have really good systems for feedback and dietary requirements. Teachers provide feedback every day around how the kids responded to the kai.”

Puku Ora love hearing from ākonga about their kai and how it makes them feel. 

“One of the key comments we received from the children is that they love eating the same as everyone in their class and it feels good knowing all your friends have lunch too! It was really rewarding to hear this as it feels like the programme is achieving equality,” explains Amy.

“We also loved having student leaders visit our premises and provide us with some insight. It was so special hearing them all agree that the best thing about school lunches is that no one misses out!”

Making a meaningful difference

For now, Awapuni School is focused on refining their own processes to make sure things are going as well as they can. 

“It’s just about ensuring systems around school are really robust,” explains Nik. “Any issues have been completely minor things.”

“We changed our school day a little bit to include eating time as part of the classroom time – just to allow our staff and ākonga, particularly the younger ones, to get through the eating side of things and still get out for a meaningful break.”

The bottom line for Awapuni School and Puku Ora is that Ka Ora, Ka Ako is making a meaningful difference in the lives of ākonga. 

“Every child, regardless of their circumstances, will get a great meal every day,” says Nik. 

“We want to inspire the younger generation to make positive food choices later in life through the food we feed them,” says Amy. “What a privilege it is to feed them every day!” 

Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy school lunches programme

Ka Ora, Ka Ako – the name is about being healthy and well in order to learn – aims to reduce food insecurity, improve wellbeing, and support learning and development by providing a nutritious lunch every day to all ākonga in participating schools.

The programme started in 2019 with a two-year initiative to explore providing free and healthy lunches to
Year 1-8 ākonga in schools with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage across Bay of Plenty/Waiariki, Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti and Otago/Southland. The first group of schools and kura began receiving lunches in term 1, 2020, with more joining during the year. 

The programme was expanded across New Zealand in response to Covid-19 and aims to reach over 214,000 ākonga by the end of 2021, including secondary students. Ka Ora, Ka Ako is targeted at the 25 percent of schools and kura where ākonga face the greatest barriers to education, achievement, and wellbeing. 

Providing a daily nutritious lunch will help ease the pressure on the household budget in communities where many families are already doing it tough. Expansion of the programme is also expected to support job creation and economic recovery from Covid-19 in local communities – over 942 jobs have already been established and it is estimated that around 2,000 jobs will be created by the end of 2021. 

Read more about the programme by searching Ka Ora, Ka Ako(external link) on the Ministry’s website. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:45 pm, 17 March 2021

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts