Health is wealth . . . Waitaki Boys’ High School environmental prefect Dylan Jones (left) and head boy Ethan Reille (both 17) are excited about the healthy school lunches programme the school has taken on. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Offering free lunches for all pupils at Waitaki Boys’ High School has been an ‘‘incredibly positive’’ move, head boy Ethan Reille says.

This year, Waitaki Boys’ and East Otago High Schools joined the healthy school lunches programme, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, providing nutritious meals for all pupils each day.

Waitaki Girls’ High School implemented its own internal programme last month.
Ka Ora, Ka Ako, a Government-funded programme, started in primary schools in 2019, as one in five children around the country lived in a home struggling to provide good-quality food. It expanded into secondary schools, in response to Covid-19.

Ethan said after getting feedback from Waitaki Boys’ pupils last year, it became clear the programme was a necessity for the Oamaru secondary school. Some pupils had been coming been school without food, and classmates often shared their food to help out, as did some teachers.

‘‘It’s a very living reality that young people are going to school with empty stomachs and it’s disadvantaging their learning as a result,’’ he said.

Catering company Compass created the lunches at the Don House dining hall. Meals could include sandwiches, croissants and wraps, as well as apiece of fruit and a sweet treat. On Fridays, there was also a hot option.

Pupils could opt in or out of the programme each day, and leftover lunches were left in the office for children to take after school.

Ethan had noticed a major shift since the school started providing nutritious meals this term. It had added a new layer of ‘‘brotherhood’’ at Waitaki Boys’, and pupils were now more focused in class.

‘‘It’s ending child poverty,’’ he said.

‘‘Looking back, even at just the phone ban, it was great to see boys connecting from that and now seeing them connecting and enjoying a meal together, it seems so basic and small but it’s actually quite empowering.’’

The school was also making a conscious effort to minimise the waste from the programme.
Lunch packaging was made from biodegradable materials, which were disposed of in Ministry of Education-provided bins, and Ethan, environmental prefect Dylan Jones, and the school’s enviro club and agriculture department were teaming up to create a vegetable garden where the waste could be used. The biology department was also looking into making compost from the food waste.

‘‘You’ve got classes of boys really stepping up . . . it is all student-led,’’ Ethan said.

Feedback from the first few weeks was mixed, as pupils enjoyed some meals more than others and some needed larger portions.

Waitaki Boys’ rector Darryl Paterson said he planned to meet with Compass to pass on feedback, as the student voice was important.

But overall, seeing pupils eating good meals, especially those who had not had lunch at school before, was ‘‘fantastic’’.

‘‘We cannot forget that the philosophy behind this programme is that every student should have access to a lunch and a healthy lunch at that,’’ Mr Paterson said.

‘‘When you are teaching a class before lunch and are able to give out a free lunch to your students as they leave, it is a very positive experience.’’

East Otago principal Marcus Cooper said Palmerston school pupils were now more engaged, and parents commented on the freedom it provided families.

‘‘Parents have appreciated one less economic stress, given the increase in grocery costs in the last three months,’’ Mr Cooper said.

‘‘For some students this has been a drastic change in the type of food that they are consuming, with tight dietary requirements for providers to follow.’’

Waitaki Girls’ principal Liz Koni said the school’s internal programme had only just launched, so it was too early to comment.