Labour's new education policy includes up to $19 million a year to give a free daily meal to all children in low decile schools.
Labour leader David Shearer announced the policy in a keynote education speech today.
He said Labour would join forces with community organisations to put food into schools - which could cost anywhere between $3 million to $19 million dollars depending on the model used.
Labour would also extend reading recovery programmes to all New Zealand schools and increase the number of six year olds who did it by 5,000 a year - a change estimated to cost an extra $20 million a year.
He said the changes were important to giving every child the same start in school.
Labour would partner with community and voluntary organisations to get free food into all decile 1 to 3 schools.
He said there were already successful models for it - such sa the fruit in schools and milk in schools. Groups which already ran similar programmes - such as KidsCan - had long waiting lists.
About 40,000 children were already fed at schools by charities, but a Ministry of Health survey had estimated at least twice that went to school with no food.
"For those who say the country can't afford this, I have a clear message for them. We can't afford not to."'
Mr Shearer said that children who turned up at school without breakfast, without shoes or sick because of cold homes were not getting what they needed to do well.
"I hear people argue that this is the responsibility of parents. We can debate that endlessly, but it won't change this reality: tomorrow morning kids will still turn up to school hungry."
He said the Reading Recovery programme was "gold standard" and had a success rate of more than 80 per cent, yet was not universally available - only 59 per cent of low decile schools had it compared to 73 per cent of high decile schools.
The goal was to lift the proportion of 6-year-olds doing Reading recovery from 14 per cent to 20 per cent - about 5,000 more children a year on top of the 11,000 who currently did it. Labour also wanted to introduce a similar 'maths recovery' programme for 7 and 8 year olds.
In other pledges, Mr Shearer said Labour wanted to introduce new easy to understand reports on schools so parents knew what they were like. Labour would also work more on the transition between education and the workforce.
Teachers' union the NZEI said Labour's commitments would resonate with teachers.
"We look forward to engaging in genuine consultation about building an education system where the views of teachers and parents are valued and the expertise of teachers is recognised and affirmed,'' NZEI president Ian Leckie said.
Mr Shearer's speech offered some common sense solutions to the problems teachers dealt with in the classroom every day.
"Children who come to school hungry are not able to learn to their full potential. And schools have been frustrated that they have insufficient resources to intervene early to support all the children who are struggling with reading and maths.
"So more investment in Reading Recovery, in numeracy programmes and in food in schools is a timely and practical response.''