It's lunchtime at Hora Hora Primary School. A class of 6-year-olds wearing wide-brimmed green hats pours out of a classroom and on to the painted benches outside.
They crack open their lunchboxes to reveal cling film-wrapped sandwiches, muesli bars, fruit and small pottles of yoghurt.
Staff wander past, helping them open tricky lids and casting an eye over their lunches. Principal Pat Newman says they're checking to make sure everyone has enough. In an average week, the school will have to provide food for about 10 per cent of its 350-400 pupils.
Teachers say the problem of hungry schoolchildren is getting worse.
In 2013, the Government increased funding for Fonterra and Sanitarium's KickStart breakfast programme so it could run five days a week in decile one to four schools, and eventually roll out to all schools that need it. It put up half the cost, of $9.5 million.
Fonterra also offers free milk to children in primary schools, although only 72 per cent of schools have taken up the offer.
But they are drops in an ocean, according to KidsCan, which says schools' need for food is increasing rapidly.
A year-and-a-half ago, KidsCan was giving food to 15 per cent of the country's schoolchildren on average, says chief executive Julie Chapman.
"That has increased to 20 per cent. When I started the organisation nine years ago there was poverty and hunger but I have seen it get worse."
About 750,000 children are in our schools. KidsCan provides food in 441 schools, feeding 14,500 children a week. It has more than 6000 children on its waiting list. This year, for the first time, it will introduce hot meals in winter.
How significant our children's diet is - and its long-term impact - remains a hole in our knowledge. Now, a new research project aims to fill that gap.
The School Lunch Project, led by Professor Bernhard Breier, chair in human nutrition at Massey University, is designed to provide the first objective measure of our children's eating and its effects.
"We're looking at how many children have nothing, what schools get, and for those who bring their lunch, what is the nutritional quality.
"That has been a real eye-opener," says Breier.
"People watch Campbell Live [which ran a campaign about school lunches], or see stories in the media and all that information is valid but we're using a scientific approach."
The research project is in its infancy and the first findings are expected within a few months.
Breier says researchers are working with a number of schools to look at what pupils bring from home, what they eat at school and what they get from other parties, such as charitable organisations or the schools.
The study will look at the relationship between good nutrition at school and short-term and long-term learning and performance, as well as children's enjoyment of school.
The number of children coming to school without food is significant, but it varies. Some schools have a serious problem and in others, few kids go without.
Not all studies agree, but Breier believes one thing is clear: nutrition has an impact on academic performance. "Appropriate nutrition during that period has immediate effects on growth and development. Everyone can see that.
"But appropriate nutrition over that period, particularly at primary age, can have important long-term effects not only on health but on economic performance, income."
Overseas studies have shown that 20 years down the track, those who eat a good breakfast and lunch in their school years earn much more than their peers.
"The important thing is to help the school to help the children because they'll pay more attention, behave better and be more motivated.
"Children also think there's someone who cares. The child who realises people care - that's important ... these are the kinds of experiences we've found quite amazing."
But even Breier's certainty around long-term impacts is disputed.
In 2012, an expert advisory panel recommended the Government introduce a food in schools programme but Treasury argued there was no evidence it would work.
"Evaluations of school food programmes do not indicate [they] are necessarily effective at achieving their intended outcomes," its briefing stated.
"For example, a 2012 Auckland University study found a New Zealand breakfast programme had no statistically significant effect on attendance and no effect on academic achievement or student conduct."
That sort of dispute has meant food in schools has long been a political football. Two bills are tackling the question of whether and how to feed schoolkids.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei took over Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's Feed the Kids Bill when he did not return to Parliament after the last election.
The bill would make it a legal requirement for decile one and two schools to feed their pupils.
Its first reading was repeatedly delayed last term because it did not have the numbers.
It is due in Parliament for the final part of its first reading within three weeks.
Turei says it's not her preferred model but she wants National to back its first reading so the issue can be debated.
"I'm open to a different model being the final outcome but I don't believe that we will have that national conversation, unless it gets to select committee."
Turei says Green Party calculations indicate it would cost $11 million to give every hungry child in New Zealand lunch. "It's not expensive."
The Government's preferred position is the partnership approach, first proposed by the Office of the Children's Commissioner, where the Government supports schools to set up arrangements with community and business providers.
Turei says the Government may argue that is what it is doing with its partnerships with Fonterra and Sanitarium.
But a community-based model would be a better fit.
"Rather than fund a large corporate to provide it, schools could work with local community organisations to deliver food."
The other option is Labour MP David Shearer's Food in Schools Bill, which has been drawn from the ballot.
The bill as it stands would make decile one to three schools eligible for assistance in providing free breakfasts and lunches at a cost of about $10m.
The Ministry of Health would help determine eligible schools.
But Shearer wants to revise it. Instead of handing out food, he wants to help children and their families develop better, more self-sustainable habits. The former Labour Party leader ran food programmes for starving children overseas, including one for 30,000 children in Somalia.
But those programmes were designed to be temporary. There is a risk that a new culture of dependence will be institutionalised if the Government programme of handouts goes too far, he says.
Instead, he has been impressed by examples of low-decile schools that have introduced more holistic programmes.
He cites Owairaka District School's Garden to Table programme, which gets kids involved in the process of preparing food, from sowing the seeds to cooking the meal.
"I'm going back to the drawing board so we can address the issues of nutrition and encourage self-reliance," he says.
He wants the bill to help set children up with good habits for life, rather than just feeding them within the school gates.
Shearer is talking to other parties in Parliament about supporting the bill as it is through its first reading so it can then be revised.
"I think there's a better way of doing this that will teach them long-term self-reliance, rather than a short-term fix."
But where are the parents in all this? Education Minister Anne Tolley says the finger shouldn't be pointed solely at Government to solve the issue. Parents, communities, the Government and businesses all have a role to play in helping feed children at school.
"The vast majority of kids are fed by their parents, so providing food for every child every day would likely be a waste of money that could be better spent in targeting resources towards the households who need it most."
If politicians are deciding whether to fund food in schools, Breier hopes his study of the economic impacts will help make up their minds.
"The preliminary calculations are that a very small amount of money per child can make a major impact.
"We're not interested in politicising it but really finding out what is happening, what can we do and what are the potential benefits and cost?
"Children in that age range cannot easily provide economic returns but if you look at this on a much longer time scale, it does have an economic return."
And although money talks, principals such as Newman say if there's a way to help children, we have a moral obligation to do it.
He says cases of parents truly shirking their responsibilities are rare.
Most parents at his school are working but few earn more than the minimum wage and once rent and other bills are paid, they would be lucky to have $20 a week left.
"When you're feeding three or four kids, paying rent, it doesn't go far. And I couldn't give a stuff if it was the parents' fault the kids aren't eating. Kids don't learn on an empty stomach.
"I do get really pissed off when people are so self-righteous. What do you expect? That we leave the kids hungry?"
Newman says too much time is spent arguing about how many kids are going hungry and not enough on doing something about it.
"People talk about 260,000 children in poverty.
"Even if it's half that number, that's not the New Zealand I want to live in."
Only the best in the box
Fruit, a gluten-free muffin, home-made energy bites and a love note are the keys to a great lunchbox, says Wick Nixon.
The mother-of-three decided to share her ideas for healthy school lunchboxes on Facebook.
Within a month almost 600 people had signed up to receive her 21-Day Marvellous Lunchbox Makeover.
Those who signed up when she launched last year received a daily tip to transform the lunchbox into a healthy box of treats kids will eat.
"It gives them different options other than sandwiches. I thought I might get 20 or 30 people sign up but I have had 590 people. It has been phenomenal."
Nixon, whose children are 9, 8 and 6, runs Wicked Wellbeing, a business designed to inspire and motivate people to be healthy.
She says a healthy lunchbox could include a blueberry coconut muffin, energy bite bacon and egg bakes, toasted pita crisps, grapes, home-made hummus with carrot and cucumber batons - and the all-important note to your precious child.
She is starting the challenge again on March 9 and parents can sign up via the Wicked Wellbeing Facebook page.
"I think there is such a need for mothers to have their hands held with what to put in lunchboxes. They're so hungry for it."
The ideas are foods that Nixon's own children like, such as chicken kebabs and fruit kebabs. "I want people to focus on food to fuel their bodies and give them energy rather than food that makes them sluggish and tired."
Nixon says a lot of parents don't realise it's easy to prepare nutritious food.
"Being prepared and organised is the key. If you have a bake-off on Sunday, you're sorted. You can make lunchboxes for the week in five minutes flat."
'How to give kids the best start in life'
John Campbell visited a low-income family for a story in 2012 and asked if he could open the fridge.
"In it, there was a two-litre milk carton with very little left in it, a fish head in a white bowl and half an onion. It was like the opposite of going into Narnia - you open the door and it's a whole awful world."
In September that year, Campbell Live compared two primary school classes. The high decile schoolchildren all had lunch. At the low decile school, only 14 of 27 had food, just a bag of chips sometimes. This week, the same experiment was repeated at different schools. The situation had not improved. Campbell Live's stories led to two Lunchbox Days and viewers raised over $1.5 million for KidsCan. He says although work by KidsCan and Fonterra is helping, it is not addressing the root problem. He believes the solution lies in people who can afford it supporting businesses that pay a "living wage" of $19.25 an hour.
"We can have discussions about housing ... but the most important discussion is how to give our children a good start in life. If children are as successful as they can possibly be, our future is better."