The $12 million Fruit in Schools programme is helping keep kids focused and better behaved in the classroom, research shows.
The health research, made public for the first time, came just in time to stop Health Minister Tony Ryall adding the fruit programme to a string of cuts in the health budget.
Fruit in Schools was set up to run for three years to get fresh fruit to about 100,000 children each day. When the three years ended, schools were supposed to come up with their own fruit.
Documents disclosed under the Official Information Act show Ryall was considering a "staged exit" from the scheme.
But that advice was followed by research showing the remarkable difference the scheme was having.
The study found children eating fruit were more active, had healthier outlooks and behaved in a way likely to lead to better health choices.
Researchers also interviewed teachers and were told by 77 per cent that attention spans and behaviour in class were twice as good over the course of a year.
Glen Innes Primary School teacher Kaysee Naidoo said a lack of breakfast might previously have had an impact on classwork. Now, he handed fruit out about 9.30am. Naidoo - who oversees the scheme at the decile 1 school - said it had led to the school building vegetable gardens.
Tony Ryall said one of the issues with the scheme had been the cost of providing it, but $4m had now been cut from its administration.
Notes on the file say Ryall spent the $4m saved on lowering doctors' fees in poorer areas and free doctors' visits for children under age 6.