When the Prime Minister announced recently that thousands of New Zealand children will receive free school lunches my reaction was one of immense happiness and relief because the evidence shows that hunger is a huge barrier to a child’s development and learning.
No parent wants to send their child to school with no lunch but the reality is that some families can’t afford it every day of the week. When I was a school principal it was obvious when pay day was as a child would come to school with a good lunch but as the week went on and the bills and rent came out of the bank account there was less and less food in the lunch box.
Worldwide studies show that a healthy school lunch is critical to student health and well-being, especially for a low-income student. It ensures that students have the nutrition they need throughout the day to learn, it reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health.
Consumption of healthy school meals can influence a child’s food diet at home and help develop healthy eating habits.
While consumption of junk food is linked to poor behaviour, which can negatively affect children’s learning at school, provision of healthier school meals has been shown to improve classroom behaviour and help improve academic performance which is good news for students and teachers.
As the Prime Minister said: “Fixing all the things that cause child poverty will take time but one thing we can do straight away is make sure kids get at least one decent meal a day”.