Kaitaia Primary School principal Brendon Morrissey has put a stone-cold lunch that arrived two hours late down to "teething issues", after an unimpressed parent approached NZME with her concerns.
"Our kids went without lunches today; they arrived at 2.35pm and this is what was in them," the parent said, the photograph showing a small portion of spaghetti in tomato sauce topped with shavings of cheese.
Morrissey described the problem as a "hiccup".
However, he admitted the meals had not had as much to them as many would have hoped, but prior to that the service had been superb. The other days' lunches had been "awesome".
"Our kids are blimmin' lucky to get those lunches," he said.
Te Rarawa-owned Bells Produce, which provides 1500 lunches to four schools, including Kaitaia Primary and Kaitaia College, every day, offered an apology via Facebook.
"We are sorry cooked kai to schools was delivered late to certain schools across the day."
Retail manager Dion Harrison said what was needed to ensure the cooked lunches were of the quality they needed to be had been under-estimated.
"We have learned a lot regarding the hot lunches, and we will ensure our standards of food quality and timely delivery are better managed."
Hot lunches would now be split over two days, which Morrissey described as a smart decision.
Meanwhile, Bells acknowledged complaints about portion sizes and the type of food served, saying that while it was working to the Ka Ora, Ka Ako guidelines, it would review the menus and see what could be added or changed.
"Every day we are constantly reviewing menus, portion quantities and how we can improve," Harrison said.
Parents with children at three Te Hiku schools, with different providers, have said the food is of such poor quality that they have resumed making lunches at home.
"I've told my children that if they like what they're given they should eat it, but if they don't they should leave it for kids who need it," one parent said.
"That way kids who need feeding can have two or three servings, and benefit more from it."
She agreed that provided lunches were better than the alternative, for some children, of going hungry, but thought it would be better to give the job of providing meals to someone within the school community who was a good cook and knew what children wanted and needed.
■ Ka Ora, Ka Ako/Healthy School Lunches Programme was a 2020 government initiative to deliver a free and healthy daily school lunch to Years 1-8 students with high levels of disadvantage. In response to the Covid pandemic, the programme is being expanded to reach around 960 schools delivering lunches to almost 215,000 (25 per cent of all) students by the end of 2021, including secondary students.
There are 89 Northland schools in the programme - 56 in the Far North, 21 in Whangārei and 12 in Kaipara - involving 14997 students.