My research took me to a wonderful school, Owairaka District School, where 8-year-old students served me a lunch of vegetarian pizza from their own pizza oven, salad from their garden, and muffins made with eggs from their chickens and honey from their hives.
Owairaka is a decile 2 school but the children are kept nourished and learning through this innovative garden-to-table programme.
But more critically, they are picking up the lifetime skills of gardening and food preparation – and they are doing it alongside family and community volunteers who also benefit.
It’s win, win, win – so much better than a hand-out for the kids – and it raised a question I have grappled with since my bill was drawn.
Is it right to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on to every low-decile school in the form of a food hand-out?
No. It is excellent a Labour MP sees this. Better late than never.
My fear is that we will institutionalise dependence through relying solely on a feeding programme. We need to be far more forward-looking.
There’s another critical need for a programme focused on nutrition. New Zealand has 275,000 overweight and obese children. Surely part of what we are teaching – in a practical way – should be around nutrition and good foods to eat.
There are two issues here – obesity and kids going to school without breakfast.
The latter is basically due to bad parenting. It costs just 39 cents a day to give a child weetbix and milk for breakfast. If a kid is going to school without breakfast, it is not because of lack of money. Low income families get an extra $65 per week per child (plus up to $152 a week for the first child) to help cover the costs of a child.
Nutrition is an important issue, and educating kids on nutrition is worthwhile. Educating parents probably more so. But this can take many forms. I know scores of people who use smartphone apps to check nutritional content of food, and make decisions based on it.
Unfortunately, our current Government has done the opposite. In 2009, then Education Minister Anne Tolley removed the national guidelines to schools which stated that only healthy options should be available where food and beverages are sold at schools.
Sigh, now back to being the food police. Almost no food in moderation is inherently unhealthy. Trying to categorise foods into always good and always bad is simplistic.
My bill originally aimed to legislate for food to be available in every decile 1, 2 and 3 school that wants it, so poorer communities can have confidence their children won’t be hungry at school.
That’s a start, but I’m going back to the drawing board so we can address the issues of nutrition and encourage self-reliance. We have lost the basic skills of how to garden and provide for ourselves.
So my aim is that my Food in Schools Bill will put resources into schools to help teach those simple skills, and enable kids to eat the food they grow themselves and understand a healthy diet.
Sounds an improvement. But to be honest the elephant in the room is the parents. If the parents do not understand nutrition and a healthy diet, then expecting teachers to change the eating habits of kids is a big ask.