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Yum! ... Oamaru North School pupils Ana Fifita (7, left) and Arcadia Kahukura-Apunwai (5) enjoy a home-made lunch alongside principal Stacey Honeywill on Tuesday, the last time they brought lunch from home after the school opted into the Government's Lunches in Schools programme. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

When Oamaru North School pupils tucked in to their lunches on Wednesday, it was a little different than the usual fare.

The school served its first meal as part of the Government’s Lunches in Schools initiative this week, a two-year pilot programme in three regions including Otago and Southland.

It aims to provide primary and intermediate school pupils from Years 1 to 8 with healthy and nutritious lunches, prepared by a catering company, each day.

Oamaru North School principal Stacey Honeywill said the school opted to go with the Government-funded programme late last year, until the end of 2021, and at present was the only school in Waitaki to be part of it.

Wednesday’s menu included a ham, cheese and carrot sandwich, pasta salad, muesli slice and a piece of fruit.

There were also vegetarian and gluten-free options, and pupils with allergies could also be catered for.

Ms Honeywill said there were many benefits to being part of the programme.

“I see that if [pupils] have got a good, healthy lunch inside them their concentration in the afternoon will improve.

“They won’t be as tired as some kids do get after lunch.

“It’s also of great financial benefit to our whanau out there. I do think it will take the pressure off, especially in this current environment.”

She said pupils were “incredibly excited” about the lunches, and “really excited about the change”.

Information on the Ministry of Education website stated the programme’s pilot approach meant the ministry could “work with schools and suppliers to test different ways of delivering nutritious lunches, and adapt and refine as we go”.

“Providing a lunch to all students in participating schools will make sure that every student who needs a free lunch can access one, and will minimise any stigma that sometimes comes with receiving free meals. Targeting programmes on the basis of need also requires a process to confirm eligibility. This can add to cost and complexity and discourage eligible families from taking part, meaning some children needing lunch miss out,” the website said.

Fifty-nine schools joined the programme during the first two terms of this school year and by the start of 2021, it is expected 120 schools will be involved.