A children's charity supports Labour leader David Shearer's policy to give free daily meals to all children in low decile schools, but believes a targeted approach to supporting the most needy children should be the key focus.
KidsCan Charitable Trust said it supported business, the community and government working together to address the issue of children going to school hungry.
In his keynote education speech yesterday, Mr Shearer announced the policy that could cost anywhere between $3 million to $19 million, depending on the model used.
Labour would partner with community and voluntary organisations to get free food into all decile 1 to 3 schools.
KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said there was a responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable children were receiving the basics they needed to get to and through the school gates in a position to learn.
"Schools and teachers have enough to do without worrying about where they will get the funding to continue to provide food on an ongoing basis for children who are going hungry.''
But she said a targeted, discrete approach which supported the most needy children in a school with food that could be given at any time of the day was the most effective and financially prudent approach.
"As the Prime Minister said today not all children in low decile schools need a food programme. What is needed however is a national food strategy and we believe we have, over the past seven years, developed a sustainable model which has proven positive educational outcomes.''
But Mr Shearer said groups that 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.''
Labour's policy also included extending reading recovery programmes to all New Zealand schools and increasing the number of six-year-olds who did it by 5000 a year - a change estimated to cost an extra $20m annually.
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.
Reading Recovery is an early literacy intervention programme designed to significantly reduce the number of children with literacy difficulties in schools.