A Putaruru school serving up compulsory breakfasts and hot lunches for just $1 a meal says the benefits are showing in students' dental records.
Te Wharekura O Te Kaokaoroa O Patetere, a Maori immersion school with 120 children, provides breakfast and lunches at the weekly cost of $10 a head to make sure its students are eating well.
On a shoestring budget of between $120 and $200 a meal for the whole school, students are served roast meat and vegetables at least two days a week, and scrambled eggs and baked beans some mornings to go with the staple of cereal and salads and fruit.
Principal Keith Silveira said providing meals was not a response to poverty but to make sure children were eating well. He said a major benefit was the students having among the lowest rate of tooth decay and dental work in the Waikato because they were not exposed to junk food.
"We used to find that kids would stop at the shops and buy pies or whatever they do before they go to school anyway," he said. "Way back in the day we thought no, we don't want a tuck shop, we want to control the nutritional intake of these kids right from the get go and we want to have breakfast and lunch as part of our normal school programme."
He said it also made life easier for parents and instilled responsibility in the children, who were also rostered on either set-up or clean-up duties.
Any financial shortfall was made up through donations, subsidy programmes offered by Sanitarium, Fonterra and Gilmours, and good budgeting by the school's chef.
"The rules for the dining room are you don't waste anything but you can have what you like."
The school was highlighted in a report released last week by Poverty Action Waikato looking at the need to provide affordable food. Missioner Karen Morrison-Hume, whose organisation works with Poverty Action Waikato, said having schools provide meals was a more effective way of ensuring that children whose parents might use food banks were getting their nutritional requirements.
She said the social benefits of students eating around a table together were numerous and also removed the barrier of inequality.
Waikato DHB community oral health service manager Diane Pevreal said good diets with few carbohydrate or sugar snacks reduced the frequency of acid attacks on children's teeth.
Cheap options on menu
* Parents pay $10 a week for 10 breakfasts and lunches.
* Provided as part of the school programme.
* Breakfasts include cereal, Milo and hot meals such as baked beans and scrambled eggs.
* Lunches include fruit, salad and a hot meal such as sausage and mash, macaroni and cheese or a roast.
* School has one of the best dental records in the Waikato.